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Here is the third and final part of our season review where we look back on the period February through to May which kicked off with a Euro friendly against Salzburg followed by a few Nathan Lowe’s wonder goals, a General Meeting, the ‘If the Reds should play’ event, a fitting tribute to Nobby Stiles and a bit of silverware to round things off, plus a couple of end of season fundraisers.

Here is the third and final part of our season review where we look back on the period February through to May which kicked off with a Euro friendly against Salzburg followed by a few Nathan Lowe’s wonder goals, a General Meeting, the ‘If the Reds should play’ event, a fitting tribute to Nobby Stiles and a bit of silverware to round things off, plus a couple of end of season fundraisers.

If you have missed Part 1 and 2, click on the links below



The tills are alive

The following Saturday it was all about Salzburg not Salford as with no league match scheduled for the first weekend in February FC invited fellow supporter owned club SV Austria Salzburg for an international friendly match at Broadhurst Park. The Violetten have much in common with FC United with the club having been formed in 2005 following a hostile takeover of their club by the Red Bull energy drink brand and continue to swim against the tide of rampant commercialisation of the game that we love. Like FC they recognise that football is about more than football and that it has a role to play in wider society in promoting social engagement and integration.

The occasion was a tremendous advert for supporter owned football and the tills were alive as a pre-match Course You Can Malcolm and beer festival filled the Main Stand Bar again. On the pitch FC ran out comfortable 3-0 winners but the SV Austria Salzburg supporters brought plenty of noise and colour to the far end of the Main Stand with their non-stop singing, flag waving and bouncing around. The proceeds from the match were shared equally between the two clubs, a wonderful gesture of solidarity with a club that is also experiencing financial problems.

FC were only six points clear of the relegation zone following a 2-1 defeat at Stockport in front of a league record crowd of 5,630 supporters including nearly a thousand FC United fans. And when we were two goals down at half-time away at Gloucester City the following week it looked as if we were heading towards an inevitable relegation scrap. But the Reds staged a remarkable second half comeback, one of the highlights of the season, with two late goals, including a spectacular strike from Nathan Lowe who lobbed the keeper from inside his own half (file under “audacious”) to snatch a dramatic 3-2 win. The travelling support, in fine voice throughout, could barely believe what they had just seen and the ensuing goon was perhaps the finest of the season.

Ten pints of bitter please

This was the first of three consecutive league wins including a fine performance to beat promotion chasing Kidderminster Harriers 1-0 and another late Nathan Lowe screamer was enough to see off Tamworth. By mid-March the Reds had pulled themselves clear of the relegation scrap and sat in twelfth position. But the following week they looked to have taken the foot off the gas a little as they lost 2-1 away at a struggling Alfreton Town.

Off the pitch the home match with FC Halifax Town was preceded by another Course You Can Malcolm featuring something you don’t see too often at a football match, live competitive painting as three artists from Art Battle went easel to easel for half an hour in the Main Stand Bar to produce something on an FC theme with the audience then voting for their favourite painting. The winning effort by cartoonist Tony Husband, a name familiar to readers of Red Issue and Private Eye, was auctioned off and raised a few hundred pounds for the Development Fund.

As March drew to a close members voted, at an earlier than usual General Meeting, in favour of continuing with our pioneering “pay what you can afford” season tickets for next season with a minimum price of £100 for adults, £65 for concessions and £21 for juniors. The meeting had been brought forward by several weeks specifically so that the sale of season tickets for next season could commence as soon as possible thus providing a much needed boost to the club’s cash flow.

The suggested donation of £75 on top of each adult season ticket price represented an increase of £15 on this season’s suggested average donation of £60, a decision that was driven by the seriousness of the club’s financial situation. If there is one lesson that we must take from the events of the last year it is that moving forward FC United must be run responsibly, sustainably and professionally with a credible and robust financial plan.

The General Meeting also saw members voting in favour of the club introducing a limited number of three year season tickets at a price of £1,000 each with the tickets to be issued on a first come, first served basis and limited to a maximum of 200. The aim is to build a pot of up to £200k of working capital to strengthen the club’s underlying financial position and support a number of infrastructure projects that will allow us to reduce costs or generate additional income on match days or through community use. For example, the club currently spends over £8k per season on renting portable toilets but by having the capital to invest in building more toilets we will not only have better toilets but the savings generated will ensure that they pay for themselves in little over a year.

A touch of class

With the pressure off the rest of the league programme was fairly unremarkable until the Reds roused themselves for the final two league games. Indeed, the penultimate match on a sunny afternoon at Nuneaton was perhaps one of the highlights of the season with the Reds attacking with an urgency not seen for several weeks and winning 4-1 in front of a travelling support intent on having an end of season party and who never stopped singing throughout. The sight of a group of younger Nuneaton fans buzzing off the atmosphere and coming over to join us on the terraces to join in the singing will live in the memory for quite some time. Making friends and all that.

Off the pitch a brand new pre-match event “If the Reds Should Play” took place before the Brackley match and was all about bringing supporters together to celebrate and share stories of the days when we used to go down to Old Trafford to watch a team in red and partly a nod to the wonderful success of the club’s Sporting Memories Group that meets every Friday afternoon at Broadhurst Park. The first “If the Reds Should Play” was all about the trip to rainy Rotterdam in 1991 for the European Cup Winners’ Cup Final with former Red Clayton Blackmore entertaining us with his memories of that match and what it was like to be playing for United at the time. Oh and he might have mentioned that free kick at Montpellier too. The perma-tanned utility player seemed to enjoy the event as much as the rest of us packed into the Main Bar as he posed for pictures with supporters afterwards.

There was more good news off the pitch in April as the club’s bid for Power To Change funding to develop the space under the St Mary’s Road End of the ground was approved. The hope is that this work will take place over the summer thus allowing the popular bar under the SMRE to continue to open next season.

On the final day of the league season more than four thousand supporters packed into Broadhurst Park to see FC finish the season on a high note with a 5-1 thrashing of Gainsborough Trinity, the Reds biggest league win of the season. An initiative to give 1,700 free tickets away to residents living in the M40 and M9 postcode areas and local schools and community groups proved to be very popular and hopefully they’ll be back for more next season. George Thomson picked up both of the club’s Player of the Season awards and celebrated with a spectacular second half goal from outside the box.

It was great to see youngsters from Moston Juniors FC on the pitch at Broadhurst Park once again and as the season closed FC announced a new arrangement with Moston Juniors that will see players aged 16 to 21 from both clubs form a team called Moston United FC that will compete in the Lancashire and Cheshire League next season. An exciting initiative that offers, for the first time, a potential route for five to six year old players playing for Moston Juniors to ultimately make it through to the FC United first team and is a reflection of our flourishing partnership with the junior club.

The Gainsborough match also saw Lewis Unwin presented with the inaugural Nobby Stiles Shield as FC United’s Academy Student of the Year. The award had been renamed in honour of the Mancunian footballing legend and in recognition of our own deeply founded Manchester United roots. Unfortunately Nobby’s decline in health meant that he was unable to attend the match but members of his family, including his son Robert, were at Broadhurst Park to present the shield to Lewis before the match.

It’s particularly fitting that Nobby’s name should be linked to youth football at FC as he was youth team coach at Manchester United in the early nineties playing a key role in the development of the likes of Giggs, Beckham, Butt, Scholes and the Nevilles. After the match Robert Stiles contacted the club to thank everyone on behalf of his family and described the occasion as a “fantastic day” and remarked that the club “did everything with a touch of class”. “I know my dad would have been very proud and honoured to have his name associated with the award and with such a good club” he added. In a season when we’ve buzzed off performances by young players like Kieran Glynn, Nathan Lowe, Jason Gilchrist and Sam Baird it was a fitting way to close the league season.

She wore a scarlet ribbon

And it was another of those young players, full back Jake Williams, who scored the winner in the Manchester Premier Cup Final a few days later, in the first week of the merry month of May, as FC beat Stalybridge Celtic 1-0 at Oldham’s Boundary Park to win the competition for the first time and our first cup since 2008. The scenes at the end were fantastic as captain Jerome Wright celebrated his 400th appearance for the club by lifting the trophy and then taking it to the fans at the front of the stand as players and supporters celebrated as one.

In a nice touch by the board and Chief Executive eight members of staff and volunteers were invited to make up the club’s official party at the final in recognition of the hard work and dedication of all our staff and volunteers. Without the efforts of our wonderful volunteers it’s no exaggeration to say that there would be no FC United of Manchester. Whether they’re manning the turnstiles, pulling pints, dishing up tater hash, selling programmes or Pound For The Ground draw tickets, marshalling traffic, keeping the website up to date, commentating on the match for the radio or television, organising regular matchday events like Course You Can Malcolm or fundraising events such as the popular Punkertainment quiz nights, writing board reports or counting cash the club’s dozens of volunteers do us proud and represent everything that is ace about supporter ownership.

The men’s Manchester Cup triumph followed hot on the heels of FC’s women’s team winning the Manchester FA Women’s Challenge Cup on the preceding Friday night. Jade Parker scored a hat trick as the women produced a brilliant all round team performance to beat City of Manchester Ladies 5-1 in front of a tremendous crowd of 208 at the home of West Didsbury and Chorlton FC. And days later the women’s team made it a cup double following an epic 6-4 win over Bury Ladies in the Argyle Cup final.

In the league the women’s team finished in second position five points behind champions Merseyrail Bootle; a tremendous season all round for the women under new manager Luke Podmore. Francesca Davies of the women’s team will join up with an FC United squad, captained by Jerome Wright, that will take part in an indoor football tournament in Lille in June.

The season closed with two big fundraising events for the Development Fund. First up was a Supporters’ Dinner at Broadhurst Park where around a hundred supporters enjoyed a cracking evening of entertainment provided by the comedian Sam Harland, performance poet Tony Walsh (aka Longfella), our own DJ Pace and special guest former United player Norman Whiteside. Norman was full of admiration for what the club has achieved and was blown away by the warmth of the welcome he received. His scouse busting conquests of old clearly haven’t been forgotten.

And a week later the club’s third ever Gala Dinner at the Midland Hotel in town was also a memorable evening with over three hundred people, a tremendous turnout, enjoying a three course meal and a feast of entertainment including Terry Christian, Tony Walsh, the legendary Hacienda DJ Dave Haslam and three blasts from our Manchester United past in the form of ex-manager Tommy Docherty and former players Gordon McQueen and Sammy McIlroy.

Of course, there’s still much to do to establish a stable financial footing for the club but after a year that has tested our resolve to its limit let’s at least allow ourselves a collective smile at everything that we’ve managed to achieve over the last year. Thirteenth in the league might not sound anything special but it’s no mean achievement when you look at how competitive the league is and when we factor in our considerably improved goal difference it represents our best ever league finish.

And an average league attendance of 2,667 meant that we were the sixth best supported club in non-league football; a tremendous level of support week in week out, particularly when you realise that the only clubs with bigger average crowds are all well established former league sides.

Meanwhile off the pitch whether we’ve been singing ourselves hoarse in tiny English towns, drinking beer festivals dry, sponsoring matches, collecting cuddly toys, donating big coats, quizzing, attending fundraising dinners, sticking our pocket money in the Development Fund barrels, communicating better or watching cartoon pandas and battling artists; the faith to fight for the future of FC United is well and truly alive and kicking.

The days of us sitting back and saying “we’ll leave it to them, they know better” are thankfully over. It’s been a season of supporters pulling together to help “our” football club.

We’ll carry on through it all.

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First Posted ~ 17:57 Fri 9 Jun 2017
News ID ~ 7481
Last Updated ~ 17:23 Sat 14 Oct 2017