Good things come to those who wait and for the 1,400 fans and supporters of FC United of Manchester this could not be more true. After three years of planning, they are finally celebrating after raising the fantastic sum of £1.6m to help finance a new football ground and community facility in Moston.
FC United of Manchester is one of the first pilot projects supported through the Government backed Community Shares project nearly three years ago and I have been privileged to support and observe their ambitious plans. Through sheer energy, enthusiasm as well as a sound business plan they have been able to raise £1.6m from a community share issue to fund a new football ground and community sports facility in Moston, north Manchester. Reaching the £1.6m target will help the club unlock the grant funding they need to meet the costs of the £4.6m project and enable building to start on the Moston site in the spring.
The club was founded in 2005 and is a semi-professional football club, currently playing in the Northern Premier League. The club regularly attracts crowds of more than 2,000 – several times the league average - and boasts many on and off the field achievements including three consecutive promotions and a number of trophies.
It is unique at its level of English football in having its obligations to its fan communities and local communities written into its Club Objects (the constitution is available on our website). FC United seeks to change the way that football is owned and run, putting supporters at the heart of everything. It aims to show, by example, how this can work in practice by creating a sustainable, successful, fan-owned, democratic football club that creates real and lasting benefits to its members and local communities. The stadium development isn’t just about football, it’s about creating a community facility with open access to the people of Moston and north Manchester. It’s about proposals that create the opportunity to enhance the existing provision in the local area.
Community shares is unique and allows all shareholders to have one vote regardless of the number of shares they hold, preserving the common ownership of the club. It is a preferable way of raising finance to borrowing from banks and more sustainable than relying on wealthy individuals who may not always have the best interest of the club at heart.
FC United of Manchester has helped pioneer community shares, working closely with Co-operatives UK. The share schemes are designed to enable co-operative organisations like FC United to raise finance from local communities to support expansion and development much more effectively than through traditional methods such as bank borrowing.
As we celebrate the United Nations International Year of Co-operatives this year, it is also good to see an international element with many football clubs around the world demonstrating that being owned and controlled by their fans is a better alternative. Further afield, Keta Sandlanders football club in Africa, in the coastal port Keta, once Ghana’s second largest city but now in decline. They see football as a way to encourage young people to stay in the community and to encourage business back. The Keta Sandlanders football club enthuse that the club is bringing economic development to the area. During the international year they aim to further come together with other co-operatively run clubs around the world to strengthen the voice of supporters and to assist those fans seeking to take ownership of their own clubs. They will highlight how fan-owned clubs can both empower supporters and be used for the benefit of our communities, particularly by engaging young people and using football to assist their development.
Tlhere is a nice twist to this global story in that FC United of Manchester will be one of the clubs taking part in the international tournament which will bring clubs like Keta Sanderland together with other international teams.
Other examples of fan owned clubs were first highlighted in the Co-operatives UK report (Barca) Fan ownership and the future of football. As well as being one of the world’s most successful football clubs, FC Barcelona is owned and controlled by its fans. The way to improve football in the UK, is to follow the approach of leading Spanish clubs and hand them over to their fans.
It feels that there is a real wave of enthusiasm to look at alternative models of ownership which engage local people and supporters and more sustainable methods of raising finance. Well done to FC United of Manchester and good luck to everyone else on this journey.