Almost 12 years ago a group of disenchanted Manchester United fans founded their own football club – FC United of Manchester (FC United) – as a radical act of resistance against a club that they felt no longer represented what football meant to them that people had watched this club was going commercialism and a global brand rather than the exist for the community.
FC United was born on 14 June 2005. Members could purchase a single share for a nominal fee and become a co-owner each with an equal vote when it came to decisions about the club. One member, one vote was to form the heart of the club’s ethos.
The core principles of the club were as this. These would underpin the club and how it was run:
- The board will be democratically elected by its members
- Decisions taken by the membership will be decided on a one member, one vote basis
- The club will develop strong links with the local community and strive to be accessible to all, discriminating against none
- The club will endeavour to make admission prices as affordable as possible, to as wide a constituency as possible
- The club will encourage young, local participation – playing and supporting – whenever possible
- The board will strive wherever possible to avoid outright commercialism
- The club will remain a non-profit organisation
(FC United of Manchester in the Community, 2005)
These principles are heading in contrast to the policies adopted by mainstream football clubs. However, it’s arguable that as the club has become more successful, there has been a degree of friction between these founding principles and the demands placed on an increasingly competitive club. Even if this club is currently holding up well, given that placed 7th division in England which is known as semi-professional stage, things will totally be different as they promote to upper levels. In other words, it is questionable whether community-based club will be able to observe all of its ethos as declared at the beginning.
In fact, there was a crack in 2015/16 season the board faced increasing criticism from the club’s fans for involving in being ‘profitable’ by raising ticket price and ‘political promotion’ by having a photo shoot with a Conservative Party government minister perceived as a lack of transparency and democracy in the way the club was run. At the last home game of the season, this frustration reached a head and a number of fans staged an on-pitch protest resulted in four board members resignation including Andy Walsh, the club’s general manager and also the decline of membership numbers.
For these series of bad events and conflicts between members and board members, roles of the board are recognised to be renovated proposing three things by priority: Club identity, Club culture, and Lack of transparency and accountability
In terms of club identity, the club still maintains its ‘anti-establishment’ perspective that is opposed to commercialization and the Glazer-takeover of Manchester United. The board needs to evaluate the strategic direction of the club and create an identity based on the club itself, rather than its opposition to events more than a decade ago.
For the club culture, FC United’s community activity better seeks advice and replicate how AFC Wimbledon have regulated and maintained the club’s members. AFC Wimbledon has created ‘The Dons Trust’ web page and a webjam. These websites allow the club to regulate the forums and the culture of football club represented online. This strategy allows AFC Wimbledon an insight into fan culture and to implement their own culture through the fans.
When it comes to the lack of transparency and accountability, although this is obvious, the board will ensure governance information is publically available and the website is kept up to date, in line with the expectations of A Code for Sport Governance (UK Sport and Sport England).
In addition, the board needs to perform a full formal and rigorous annual evaluation of its group members and overall board performance. Several evaluations of the board over an extensive amount of time will be needed in order to improve board performance, improve board cohesion and effectiveness.
The future of FC United is certainly an interesting one. Can this club that currently sits mid-table of the National League North tier of English football, really continue to be anti-commercialization in the world of football? Can the club continue to survive sticking in 100% fan ownership?