On Wednesday night, FC United of Manchester lost 4-1 to Bradford Park Avenue in the Northern Premier League. It was a bitterly disappointing result against a team with whom they have built up something of a rivalry over the last couple of years, but as most that support FC United are concerned it’s all about the long game and this is a game that they are still well-placed to win. A couple of years ago, Bradford’s owner Bob Blackburn announced ambitious (to the point of absurd) plans for his club to move from their distinctly unsatisfactory Horsfall Stadium to a new, 20,000 capacity stadium. Nothing ever came of those plans, but FC United have been getting on with the job of doing what Blackburn has been unable thus far to manage for his club – identifying a site for a new ground and getting the plans in place to actually build it.
The plans were revealed to club members several weeks ago but were made public at the end of last week, and very impressive they are as well. The new ground will be built at Ten Acres Lane in Newton Heath, the original birthplace of Manchester United. The 5,000 capacity ground will be true to their commitment to their local community, and will also function as what the club hopes will be a “multi-function community space”. Mas que un football ground, if you like. The plan has the backing of the local council, and the club has stated that one of the most important functions of it is that “the site needs to work for 365 days a year and not just for the thirty odd days that we play matches”.
Recognition of this as an extra revenue stream is something that many clubs often seem to overlook. An average football ground of any size only really comes to life on match days and. although in recent years clubs have made strides towards trying to maximise their revenue on non-match days, there are still a large number of grounds that sit empty for twelve or thirteen days out of fourteen throughout the winter and get used even less during the summer. It obvious to anybody looking in from the outside that operating a “profit” of any sort is as far from the raison d’être of FC United of Manchester as it is possible to be, but increased revenue will obviously increase the club’s stability and if it can be tied to benefiting the local community then it is difficult to see how anyone will lose out once it is finished and open.
In the case of Ten Acres Lane, it seems likely that getting the ground built in the first place might prove to be the biggest hurdle that has to be overcome. It is expected to cost £5m, of which the club estimates it can find £1.5m in grants, which leaves £3.5m left to find. It has had a “Ground Development Fund” open for a couple of years, and this has already raised just short of £300,000, but the club itself estimates that it needs £500,000 in order to actually be able to undertake to start building work. No-one, of course, will benefit if the club over-stretches itself but what we know about FC United of Manchester is that none of those in charge of the running of the club are going to do anything that will seriously impact upon the clubs existence. They are in safe hands in the form of the club’s Trust Board.
With £3.5m to find, the obvious thing to do would be to seek lending from financial institutions, but the club believes that there is a viable alternative to this in the form of Community Shares. These will be offered by the club for a minimum amount of £200 and it is hoped that they will offer investors a small return, but financial gain isn’t the aim of the exercise. The aim is to find the money without getting sucked into the interest charges and administration costs of a “traditional” financial deal – to find another way of getting this built without sacrificing the soul of the club to the discredited world of finance. No extra voting rights will come to those that join the scheme – the club will remain one member, one vote – and, in this respect, nothing at the club will change. The opportunity to demonstrate that it can be done, however, is a massive one.
We have noted on this site before that FC United are financially hamstrung by the cost of their groundshare at Bury’s Gigg Lane, which is a constant drain on their finances and means that, no matter how impressive their attendance figures continue to look, their club is unable to spend the money that many might expect that they could afford on players. The opportunity to break out of this particular straitjacket could go on to see them fulfil their potential as a club. The next stage is to go on to the planning process, and it is hoped that they could be in their new ground in around three years’ time. What we can say for certain is that if there is any club that can make this happen it is this one and that if they can provide a template for another way of making this sort of project happen, their decisions and initiative will have benefited the whole of football. We look forward to visiting them at their new home when it is ready.
More information on the Community Shares initiative is available here.
Further information on the new ground, along with artists impressions of it, is available here.