Fan Power 123

Tom Hardwick and Sport Editor Mark Sleightholm talk about three times when football fans grouped together for the love of their sport.

Mark Sleightholm
13th November 2017
AFC Wimbledon are now in League One. Image: Geograph

FC United of Manchester- By Tom Hardwick

Perhaps one of the most impressive showings of fan power is when a set of Manchester United fans, disgruntled at the Glazer takeover of their club, decided to act. What began as an idea generated around pub tables soon evolved into a football club that now sits in the Conference North, the sixth division of the English football pyramid.

From its formation in 2005 to 2008, FC United of Manchester achieved three successive promotions, rising from the North West Counties Football League to the Northern Premier League. There were four failed playoff campaigns to follow before the club was finally promoted to the Conference North in 2015, going up as champions of their division.

Since then the side has established itself in this league, but perhaps even more impressive than the on-field success is the building of a £6.3 million stadium, opened in 2015 with a friendly against Portuguese giants Benfica.

Although the stadium development was delayed and significantly over budget, it has ultimately provided a home for fans who had been travelling to Bury’s Gigg Lane for home matches from the club’s conception.

The club is lauded for its fan culture, with a vocal and passionate support and the third-highest average attendance in their division this season which proves the potential successes of a fan owned football club.

Each member of the club pays for one share, and has one vote on any club matters, such as who is elected onto the board of directors. Although there has been controversy surrounding the perceived commercialisation and politicisation of the club in recent years, including the raising of programme prices for the Benfica friendly and lack of transparency regarding finances, a new board of directors was soon established, and the power of the fans certainly has not diminished at this football club.


Gallowgate Flags – By Tom Hardwick

Fans can display their power in several ways, but acting as the twelfth man may well be the easiest way to do so.

Newcastle United are famed for their vociferous home support, even when the team has been unable to use this backing as inspiration for on field success. In recent seasons this support has become much more organised, somewhat resembling the ultras groups more commonly associated with European football.

Wor Hyem 1892 is a supporters group promising to “bring back the noise” according to their twitter, and their emergence in November 2016 has coincided with considerable success for the club.

Relegation from the Premier League is hard to take, but even harder is waging the battle for promotion from the Championship. Many clubs recently relegated have struggled to reclaim their place at the top table of English football, but not Newcastle. After their relegation in 2015-16, they had a brilliant season that culminated in a dramatic final day, on which they clinched the Championship title courtesy of a last-minute equaliser for Aston Villa against Brighton.

It would be over-idealistic to suggest that the introduction of this supporters’ group was the sole factor behind this success, but initiatives such as establishing a singing section in the upper tier of Gallowgate and Corteo’s, a procession of fans involving chants, flags and flares, have certainly contributed to the kind of atmosphere both inside a football ground and around a football club that can only help to breed achievement.

In addition, Wor Flags are a similar group devoted to adding to the matchday experience with flags and tifos. This has given Gallowgate an appearance reminiscent of any of the great stands in football, with Liverpool’s Kop being one such example.

With Newcastle now attempting to consolidate their position in the Premier League and dispel the negativity of Mike Ashley’s reign with new ownership, the fan power of Wor Hyem and Wor Flags may finally be channeled into the success a club of Newcastle’s stature undoubtedly deserves.


AFC Wimbledon – By Mark Sleightholm

Sport’s contribution to Wimbledon life __ tennis, but from 1889 to 2002 Wimbledon FC represented the town in the footballing world. The Dons won the FA Cup in 1988 and were a founding member of the Premier League, but relegation in 2000 and serious financial troubles saw the club announce a move to Milton Keynes, some 56 miles away.

Fans were horrified to see their club taken away from them, and in May 2002 a group of loyal supporters decided to set up their own version. Just a few weeks later trials were held and a team was cobbled together. AFC Wimbledon entered the Combined Counties League, finishing third in their opening season, and quickly rose through the football pyramid to reach the Football League in 2011.

Wimbledon FC’s 1990s financial woes were heavily linked to a need to find a new ground, and when AFC Wimbledon started up the club needed to share nearby Kingsmeadow in Kingston upon Thames.

The Dons later took over ownership of Kingsmeadow and plans are underway to relocate the club back to its traditional Plough Lane home, or at least a newly-constructed stadium on a site nearby its predecessor.

The club is owned by the Dons Trust, placing control firmly in the hands of its supporters. For just £25 a year anyone can join the trust and get an equal say in major decisions affecting the club, which currently plays in League One.

Aside from a few full-time members of staff, most of the running of the club is done by volunteers. Running a football club on a shoestring budget obviously has its challenges, but in its first 15 years of existence AFC Wimbledon has been going only in one direction, suggesting that maybe footballing success isn’t as linked to massive financial investments as we often assume.

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