The red rebels, the other United | sports

With its tin roofs, its red-sealed steel beams, its 4,400-seat grandstand dyed in the club’s colours, and its charming exterior cladding, Broadhurst Park is the symbol of a utopia come true in the suburb of Moston, one of the the niches of the working class north of Manchester, where the landscape is taken over by the exposed brick of endless rows of terraced houses. The name of FC United of Manchester, in the English seventh division, shines and presides over the main façade of the stadium with the same pride that a warning hangs from one of the access doors: “We are fans, not customers”.

The slogan proclaims the spirit in which the club was founded in 2005 through an initiative of crowdfunding. At that time, some 2,000 fans decided to break the umbilical cord that linked them to Manchester United before the entry into the shareholding of the club they adored of the millionaire American Glazer family. “It was very difficult for many of us because Manchester United was, and for many still is, a big part of our lives and you can’t ignore it, but with FC United we keep the spirit alive without the worst aspects of modern football,” he explains. Tim Browning, founder of a club that is owned by its fans, nicknamed since its split the red rebels (red rebels). “We knew the Glazers weren’t football fans, but corporate raiders who would buy anything they felt they could make money on. So far they have made a lot of money out of the club, raising prices and introducing an automatic ticketing system. Since Sir Alex Ferguson left, success on the pitch has waned, but they still reap dividends every year, even though 17 years later the club is still £400m in debt. They have alienated the fans and are ready to take United to the European Super League as soon as they can, not for sport, but to make more money. They backed out last time, but we would be very surprised if they don’t want to be a part of the next try.”

The nickname of the red rebels impregnates T-shirts that are marketed together with others that have groundbreaking serigraphs of the Punk Football type. The clothing has been an example of the democracy that prevails in the club and of the sensitivity towards its fans. One year the entity refused to enter money with a new shirt because the fans preferred to keep the one from the previous season. “We have a huge debt to pay to cover the cost of the ground that we finished in 2015. About 2,000 fans come to the stadium, but a lot of the money we raise pays off that debt. We have more than 1,300 subscribers, a record in the last five years, but what is more important is that we are 3,000 co-owners, which is vital for our democracy. We sell commercializationwe receive donations, we do raffles and we have some sponsorship, but we have never had a sponsor on the shirt. We made the decision that it should not be a billboard for rent. However, we welcome other ethical sponsors.”

Browning’s story is that of a proud and happy fan because he said enough is enough to the imperatives of the football industry that distanced him from purism and the endearing traditions that encouraged him to go to Old Trafford since he was a child. He hasn’t been back since 2005, he says, “but a lot of our fans have. It is difficult to give up years of support and it is their choice, although they are always welcome back at FC United and some have done so because our experience of going to football is based on the motto by the fan and for the fan. During the days that gave birth to the Super League, that slogan was adopted by most of the English fans who stopped the project in the streets of the cradle of football. “The big clubs have forgotten that they are part of a much bigger ecosystem, and they think they can keep all the money for their product. They forget that soccer is the best game in the world because sometimes David beats Goliath. Competition is key to making it a compelling game to watch, but they want to eliminate it so their bank accounts earn the most.”

The philosophy of FC United, which also has a women’s section, is the opposite of the Super League. It is a club at the service of its fans and committed to the community. “We wanted from the beginning to have a club rooted in its community, and we want that to exist on and off the pitch, we always applaud our players, win, lose or tie. Our coaches tell the players to ‘Work hard and have fun’ and those two things are very important and translate into the many volunteers we have, without whom the club could not function. The work must be done by ourselves, and we cannot depend on sweet daddy to fund us.” Every Thursday, free technical classes are held at the club’s facilities for the kids in the neighborhood and last week there was a food collection to send to Ukraine.

“We enjoy the freedom we have. This football is much more social, especially because we only play on Saturdays at three in the afternoon and they don’t tell you a few weeks before that a match is changed due to the god of football that television has become, “continues Browning . With that traditional and fixed timetable, in these 17 years the followers of United FC recovered the custom of going to pubs before and after the matches without suffering from untimely hours. “We would like to think that we have shown that fans can run a club in the best long-term interests and as an asset to a community. Football is the game of the people, built by workers for more than 100 years and we must prevent corporations from taking it away from them, taking control and making sure it lasts another 100 years”.

You can follow EL PAÍS DEPORTES on Facebook and Twitteror sign up here to receive our weekly newsletter.