This time. Perhaps this time. FC United of Manchester have been once bitten and can certainly be forgiven for being twice shy over their planning application for a new ground of their own, to be built in the Moston area of the city. Their previous attempt to do exactly this in Newton Heath ended in failure after government cuts slashed their hopes, but this time there should be no such concerns. This afternoon, Manchester City Council approved their planning application for the new ground, which will also house a community centre and training facilities, and the well of hope amongst their support base, which had been tempered by their previous disappointment, can begin to hope again.
In the attempt to build a football ground near a residential area, the club ran into vocal opposition, which was represented at this afternoon’s meeting. Attempts to reach out to this group failed and it was rumoured that the “no” group had been using tactics to secure signatures for a petition which may have been considered underhand. If true, this was probably a mistake on the part of the campaigners to adopt this tactic. It certainly gave the impression of a group willing to descend to whatever level they could in order to win this debate on points rather than relying of depending on the merits of their case.
As things turned out, it was an irrelevance. The Charity Commission, who had the final say over a covenant held over the land, confirmed that they had no objections to the proposed development. There had been a feeling of optimism amongst the supporters of the club that their case was water-tight, but the celebrations didn’t start until the announcement was made and for some the champagne may even remain on ice until a spade hits the ground at the site and the foundations begin to be dug out. It is also worth pointing out that the club doesn’t yet have all of the money in place to complete the construction of the ground. As such, the innovative Community Share Scheme, which has already raised around £1.5m, needs to step up another gear.
The good news for the club is that it has the volunteer base to be able to achieve this. If there is one thing that FC United of Manchester represents more than anything else, it is that people can and will join together for a cause that they believe in, and that they can create a football club of which they can be proud. There have been obstacles in their way at every turn since their formation in 2005, of which the end of their hopes of securing a home of their own at Ten Acres Lane was possibly the biggest of all. The club has, however, continued to work diligently and competently towards securing their new ground and today’s decision is an absolute vindication of all of the work that they have put in over the last few years or so.
There may be some that are wondering this evening why this new ground is so important for this club. After all, they have been ground-sharing at Gigg Lane, a ground with excellent facilities, for the last six and a half years. Setting aside the fact that Gigg Lane will always be somebody else’s home, there is a practical imperative for the club to build a home of its own as well. It costs the club in excess of £100,000 per year to rent the ground for league matches, and they also occasionally have to move matches to other venues – such as Stalybridge Celtic’s Bower Fold – when Bury need to use it. In spite of regularly achieving excellent crowds for the level at which they play, they have been struggling financially in recent years in no small part because they will not compromise on a founding principle of keeping ticket prices as affordable as they can. The future prosperity and wellbeing of the club was in no small part dependent upon today’s decision.
For now, there is little else to say other than congratulations to all those at the club that have put in such a tremendous effort to make this project happen. It is also to be hoped that previous objections and disagreements are set to one side, and that the club does everything possible within its power to demonstrate to objectors what benefits this venue can bring to their neighbourhood. There is no reason whatsoever to believe that this won’t happen – this is a unique football club, one which will ensure that it maximises every opportunity that the new facility offers them. If the last six years or so have been an adventure for those that have given their all for this club, then the future this evening looks considerably brighter. And it couldn’t have happened to a nicer bunch of people.
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