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FC “United”?

I’m not in any position of being ‘in the know’ but decided to share this post as I thoroughly enjoyed working with this Club, FC United of Manchester.  I brought some funding its way – and when on the Stockport County Co-operative Board, collaborated on joint fundraising.  I have to say in my time (including taking Robin Pye to Turkey as a Speaker at our FC Sports Marketing Conference) I found, the Club, Robin and the out-going General Manager, Andy Walsh, to be sound examples that many a club, could, and in my view, should, look to replicate in several ways.

Recent descriptions of alleged turmoil have surrounded this article.  Robin has recently written an authoritative response, and I felt on balance, this blog could air it to add to the debate.

“Daniel Taylor’s article about FC United of Manchester (How the togetherness turned into disharmony) gives a comprehensive overview of the internal disputes and debates the club has been having since the move into our new ground at Broadhurst Park.

His article includes an accurate presentation of various criticisms about decisions the club has made in recent months and I agree with some of those criticisms.

However, his article is fundamentally flawed because it does not get to grips at all with the fact that our club is a democratically-run fans-owned club and does not ask the obvious questions about how the democratic processes in the club are being used to make decisions about how the club is run.
Taylor describes FC United as ‘a club built on togetherness and shared principles’ which has ‘been undermined by the kind of infighting that could never have seemed imaginable’. Actually, it is a club built on democracy and as Taylor will understand when he looks at other democratic organisations and societies, that means that disagreements (infighting, he calls it) will occur.

Taylor describes John-Paul O’Neill, as ‘the man credited with setting up the club in 2005’. Again, this suggests that he hasn’t fully understood what FC United is. O’Neill, was of course, an early proponent of a fans-owned club for Manchester United fans, he may even be the earliest proponent of it, but our club is a fans-owned club. It can’t be set up by one person. It can only be set up by lots of people.
Because he does not ask any questions about actual votes that have been taken in actual meetings, Taylor resorts to reporting that ‘an internet poll shows 84% of supporters … have no confidence in the board appointing the right person as Walsh’s successor’. I am presuming this is an internet poll hosted by a website where many people post abusive messages about other people who cannot find the time or the motivation to respond. It indicates nothing.

Not asking any questions about democratic decisions that the club’s owner-members have taken does not stop Taylor from quoting ‘club founder’ O’Neill who says, “There is a fundamental deficit in democracy, transparency and accountability between the club and its members.” What exactly this deficit is, Taylor cannot explain. Neither is there any indication throughout the article about the outcome of the votes we have taken on many of the issues he discusses. So if there is a deficit in democracy and transparency, Taylor’s journalism does not address it.

For example, in his discussion about our ill-fated ‘Code of Conduct’, Taylor writes ‘questions were asked about the reaction if the Glazers had done the same at Old Trafford’. What a shame he did not actually tell his readers that when the Code of Conduct came in for heavy criticism on our members’ forum (quite rightly, in my opinion, it was a stupid document), our democratically-elected Board members promptly withdrew it. The question I would ask is what would happen if the fans of a privately owned football ‘club’ were to oppose a proposed code of conduct on an internet forum. Unfortunately, the answer is of course, very likely, nothing.

Keen to include all the issues that have spilled out into our members’ forum over the last few months, Taylor tells us that ‘the people running the club have recommended Peter Thwaites, the voluntary HR official who puts contracts in place, inserts a confidentiality agreement for the new programme editor’. The ‘people running the club’? This can only mean our democratically-elected Board members or the club employees they hold to account. These are club employees who are in the main also members and, therefore, owners of the club.

And right there is the real dilemma that Peter was asked to help the club to address. What rules do we need so that people who are employed by the club don’t abuse the additional power and knowledge that gives them when they participate in democratic debates within the club? One approach to this could be the approach taken by trade unions, local authorities and the civil service in this country – if you are paid by the club you keep quiet in democratic discussions about the club.

And there is the clue as to why Andy Walsh has resigned. Is he about to get involved in our debates? What does he want to say? That is the story that was sitting under Taylor’s nose the whole time.”

A well written piece – which you can make your own judgments on. I have to admit to a wry smile at the appointment of David Boyle in the article and irony.  Would be a shame if the turmoil isn’t resolved swiftly and I say that even though FCUM is a rival of my “County”.

FCUM nearly home

FC United of Manchester (“FCUM”) has raised in excess of £1.5M from its community shares issue.  I am delighted to have worked with this Club in the UK (and Turkey).  This experience reflects my commitment to the concept of greater supporters’ involvement and governance being a potential model for ‘clubs’ stewardship’.

The achievement means that only £71K is needed to build the Stadium and ancillary facilities in Moston.  I have no doubt that this will be achieved.  I’ve even had a recent notification of another bid for FCUM being successful.  Indeed, they are asking me to meet in the morning?

The Club has received planning permission from Manchester City Council to build a football ground and community facility in Moston, North Manchester, and is looking to raise £4.6M in total.  This Site after an earlier proposed site at Ten Acre Lane and a ‘spiritual home’ at Newton Heath fell through.

The Appeal illustrates something that I have been excited by for some time as another string (of many!) in running the sport and financing in non-traditional ways.

FCUM’s Andy Walsh, General Manager comments: “Raising over GBP1.5m in the current economic climate has been a Herculean effort and we believe is the largest amount ever raised by supporters independently. With 95% of our share target now achieved, and brilliant progress made on other funds such as our Development Fund, we just need a final push to raise the remaining GBP71,000 by 15 March, which will unlock other grant funding and enable us to start building in Moston”.

The FC United community share scheme has a minimum share purchase of £200 and is open to all investors, whether individuals or organisations. The share issue has been given advance approval by the HMRC Enterprise Investment Scheme and subject to personal circumstances this allows individuals to claim tax relief of up to 30 per cent on the amount that they purchase in the share scheme.

FCUM punk

Initially, I wondered why ‘punk’?  Instant perceptions hardly pertinent to trustworthy, reliable finances and professionalism – I refer to music groups, the likes of Sex Pistols, The Stranglers, Cockney Rejects, Angelic Upstarts etc.

But “Punk Finance” is a new branding allocated to the concept of community groups and societies raising funds without the need to approach traditional ‘High Street’ lenders such as banks and building societies.

Inherent in the formation of this terminology is FC United of Manchester somewhat resulting from its own successes in generating funds towards its objective of owning its own stadium.  It has raised over £1.2 Million from shares so far.  Andy Walsh, General Manager at FCUM says “The community shares model we have developed with Co-ops UK and the legal framework that we have put together with Cobbetts [solicitors] offers a route to financial stability.”

It is thought that FC United’s model can be adopted by many other smaller organisations and in partnership with Cobbetts it has produced a booklet which promotes the ‘punk finance’ model.

I have already started to look at its application in football, athletics and multi-sports capital projects that I am working on or might be commissioned towards shortly.

Healthy FC

Today launched the start of a ‘healthy eating campaign’ in Tameside using the football clubs of FC United of Manchester (FCUM) and Stalybridge Celtic FC.

I was able to secure the funding towards this initiative from The Community Club Development Fund.  This is a partnership between the Football Conference, the Premier League and the Professional Footballers’ Association.  Both the Premier League and the PFA have committed to contribute £400,000 each to the Fund in this its first year. The Scheme is designed to encourage member clubs develop their work in their local communities. 

It was a real joy to witness, Robin Pye – Community and Education Manager and  Karl Marginson – First Team Manager (note the First Team Manager!) educating the Year 4 pupils with such enthusiasm and skill.  As was the purpose, the children learned valuable lessons on healthy eating (it was notable early on  just how well they could recite the Domino’s menu on mentioning the pizza food type!). 

Anyone interested to know more can see: but from my perspective it was pleasing to see something I got funded being delivered and witness FCUM doing it well as they so often do.