FC United of Manchester

FC United: The renegade soccer club that predicted chaos

May 5

By Martin Rogers
FOX Sports Columnist

On May 26, 1999, perhaps the greatest and certainly the most dramatic on-field moment in Manchester United’s long and illustrious history took place. With just a few precious seconds left in the Champions League final at Barcelona’s Camp Nou stadium, United and Bayern Munich were tied 1-1.

Then, suddenly, David Beckham swung in a corner kick from the left, Teddy Sheringham nodded it goalward, and substitute Ole Gunnar Solskjaer jabbed out a foot to send the ball crashing into the roof of the net for one of soccer’s most spectacular game-winners ever.

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For lifelong fan Adrian Seddon, celebrating in the Catalan stands, it was the highlight of his life, at least back then, before kids and other, real-world achievements took over. He’d gotten his ticket for the showpiece game because of his loyalty, supporting United at every game, home and away, as a season-ticket holder for 10 years.

He’d been a fan since childhood, displaying utter devotion to the club and even venturing overseas for not only meaningful European games but also preseason tours. This game was the ultimate payoff.

Yet six years later, he would give it all up, and he hasn’t been back to United’s famed Old Trafford home since.

In 2005, Seddon was one of the founding members of FC United of Manchester, a team formed by supporters who were disgruntled about the takeover of Manchester United by the American ownership group run by the Glazer family.

The fears back then centered on over-commercialization, a commitment to financial profit at the expense of the soul of the club and a departure from taking fans' feelings and wishes into account.

Fast-forward to the current day, and Seddon is chairman of FC United, Solskjaer is head coach of Manchester United, and those same worries have come into the sharpest focus possible because of the seismic events of the past two weeks, with the ill-fated European Super League proposal having ignited fury across the continent.

"There is no joy in having been proven right," Seddon told me via telephone Wednesday morning. "FC United of Manchester was set up for people who felt they didn’t want to go to Old Trafford anymore and felt things were changing in a way they were not happy with.

"Back then, the general feeling among United fans was that the takeover was done as a bank-balance exercise more than anything. Some decided to stay and fight from within, and some broke away to form our own club."

FC United plays in the seventh tier of English soccer but is a genuine success story. Manchester United legend Eric Cantona has regularly conferred his backing, and the club is run under a membership scheme that ensures all key decisions are made by fans.

FC United opened its own stadium in 2015 after years of sharing with other local teams, and now — after the EPL giant from which it spawned became one of 12 teams to sign up for the Super League, only to abandon it 48 hours later — little brother is experiencing a surge of interest.

Seddon said 1,100 memberships have been sold for the current year, far in excess of what might usually be expected, and the club has sold 700 season tickets toward its target of 1,100 – with three months to go before the start of the Northern Premier League campaign.

Fans who have turned up for the past 16 years aren’t seeing the finest players money can buy, but they are part of a genuine community.

"We welcome the new people coming in now because they are coming for the same reasons that we felt all those years ago," Seddon added. "Following a football club is something people base their life around, and deciding to step away is an agonizing decision.

"For a lot of people, this is the last straw. If the ownership’s mindset was all about getting the absolute maximum amount of profit, then a European Super League was always going to be a natural progression. But it fails to take into account what sport is all about."

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The Super League was to include elite teams from around Europe, and the 15 founding members were to be assured of their places each year, with no threat of relegation. Revealed via a clumsy series of statements backed by little in the way of full explanation, it was a gigantic bust.

In English soccer, there is no other topic anyone wants to talk about. On Thursday, Manchester United will play Roma for a place in this season’s Europa League final, a competition could bring the club its first trophy in four years.

On Wednesday, Solskjaer held a news conference to talk about the match, his team’s cheery prospects (they lead 6-2 after the first of the home-and-home legs) and his tactical thoughts.

He didn’t get the chance.

Even on the eve of one of the most significant nights of his club’s season, the entire round of questioning had little to do with on-field matters and everything to do with the ongoing crisis at perhaps the world’s most famous soccer entity.

After fan protests caused the cancellation of last weekend’s English Premier League clash between United and Liverpool, soccer itself is the last thing on anyone’s mind.

Before the Liverpool match, extraordinary scenes saw supporters protest outside the Lowry Hotel, where players stay the nights before games, and within Old Trafford itself, taking over the pitch, with some fans even gaining entry to the locker rooms.

They are making their feelings clear, and they are stepping things up even further. Fans have already written to several of United’s sponsors and commercial partners to threaten a boycott.

As the furor raged this week, British television channel Sky News tracked down owner Avram Glazer near his Florida home and offered him the opportunity to address fans, but he offered no comment.

Solskjaer, in his briefing, revealed that he had received an apology from the Glazers about the way the developments had overshadowed team matters.

"They’ve all accepted it came out wrong, and it was the wrong thing to do," Solskjaer said.

Meanwhile, across Manchester, Seddon and FC United have their own issues to contend with. The pandemic has not been kind to the already stretched finances of lower league soccer teams, though some relief came when precisely zero fans asked for a refund on season tickets after COVID-19 cut short the schedule.

"People find their way here when they reach a certain point," Seddon said. "They draw a line in the sand and say, ‘As fans, we are not going to accept this anymore.’ Some of us got there a long time ago. And for some it is just happening now."

Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and the author of the FOX Sports Insider Newsletter. You can subscribe to the newsletter here.

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