Fans delighted as Uniteds bring back joy
What would you rather be part of?
A small but growing team that you owned and had a say in the way it was run or a massive team that treats you as a number/customer intent on separating you from your hard earned cash?
On Saturday, a pair of United’s from Manchester played two similar but very different games of football and though at the opposite ends of the footballing spectrum, both performances had the ‘beautiful game’ close to my heart.
In front of 5,362 at the Withdean Stadium, FC United of Manchester, the team some would say are the real essence of what Manchester United should be all about, played a classic second round FA Cup tie against Brighton & Hove Albion, a club four divisions above them.
To call this epic, breathtaking, edge-of-the-seat stuff would be doing this renegade bunch a disservice because it was so much more than that. Yes, for once the FA Cup really did live up to its reputation for romance, surprise and giant killing. Or nearly so.
The ten-men of United not only had the gall to lead through Nicky Platt but then had the stones to grimly hang on as Brighton, led by former FA Cup winner, Gus Poyet, threw enough blows to knock out Manny Pacquiao, but not this lot who must have chins of granite.
The brilliant injury time penalty save by goalkeeper Sam Ashton was just reward for the ‘Red Rebels.’ The replay revenue with the Seagulls will go a long way into paying wages, administration costs and hopefully a hefty down payment on their proposed new ground.
Around about the same time Ashton was being mobbed by his teammates, 200 miles north of the Withdean, 74,850 fans were rising as one to acclaim the Premier League’s top goal scorer, Dimitar Berbatov. The Bulgarian, who earns more in a week than the FC mob does in a year and can frustrate and delight in equal amounts, had just become the 4th player in Premier League history to score five in one match.
One could say Berbatov was due though, considering he’d not scored since his hat-trick against Liverpool way back in September. Throw in the fact that Blackburn didn’t bother to get off the bus upon arrival at Old Trafford and it’s a wonder that double figures weren’t reached for the first time in Premier League history.
Yes, Blackburn was that poor but this isn’t about Rovers or Brighton, it’s about the Red Rebels and Red Devils, the buzz that they provide and what they mean to football fans.
The story of the Glazer family and their takeover of Manchester United is well known. The Americans loaded the purchase with debt and a club that had previously turned a healthy profit became a slave to interest payments. This led to unhappy supporters turning their backs on the true love of their lives to form their own club, FC United of Manchester.
This club is now six years old and growing stronger roots by the season. It is owned by the fans, for the fans. For about $20 you can become a member of the Red Rebels and receive a share along with a vote into how your club is being run. Investment is encouraged but not for those looking for a quick buck. Instead it’s a throwback to a time when football wasn’t a business and the bottom line is about community.
Whether those ideals can be retained as the club grows is another story altogether but in the meantime, the Corinthian spirit is almost the antithesis of what is happening a few miles away at Old Trafford.
And yet, as we’ve seen, it’s almost impossible for the majority to stay away from the Theater of Dreams, despite their hatred of the American ownership. Massive crowds flock every other weekend, record turnover bulges the books and the team is going from strength to strength on the field. Sir Alex Ferguson’s team is still unbeaten in every competition and if this run continues, we’ll have to start thinking about whispering the word 'Invincibles.'
Love them or hate them there is no denying that the brand of Manchester United is a force of nature that will not be slowed down. However, sometimes in football there is an equalizer to this power and it is called the FA Cup.
As the draw was made at Wembley for the third round on Sunday morning, I bet there were more than a few sweaty palms in the Manchester area praying and willing number 54 to be paired with number 24.
Alas it was not to be as the Red Devils were handed a home tie versus Liverpool. For FC United of Manchester, their reward if they can overcome Brighton is 2008 winners, Portsmouth, but the dream still lives on and ultimately whether you support Manchester United or FC United of Manchester, that’s what we all want to be part of.