Reports out of Michigan are that America's amateur darlings DCFC will be hosting one of England's most famous supporter owned success stories - F.C. United of Manchester. The game is intended to commemorate DCFC's move to a new homeground after out growing its old home where the capacity could not contain its fan base. The two clubs, although separated by an ocean and some Great Lakes, are kindred spirits because of the amazing loyalty of their supporters. Although this news is about two weeks old, it came to the forefront of my soccer consciousness when news of events in San Antonio began to spread in the last two days.
It was striking how divergent fan bases can be in this country - and really the whole world for that matter. Coming out of Texas there seemed like an endless stream of excited fans extolling the news that a wealthy (wealthier) group bought out the existing soccer club. The fans are excited because they believe this improves the chances that their city will be able to purchase a franchise in America's top flight league. There was very little, if any sadness that the existing club was about to become extinct. (Note - the dust hasn't settled yet so we don't know what is happening with the San Antonio Scorpions, just discussing fan reaction right now.)
Contrast this with reactions of DCFC and FC United of Manchester supporters. Just this week one of DCFC's most recognizable supporters was on a podcast stating how much he hated MLS and wanted nothing to do with it or any wealthy investors. He claimed that the supporters would not endorse any professional team in the Detroit market not associated with DCFC. Similarly, when the world famous Manchester United was purchased by wealthy owners, via a hostile takeover, a group of supporters broke away and formed their own club. Yes, you heard that right, they also eschewed a wealthy owner!
But they did more than protest in forums - in the context of the supporter culture, what they did next has brought them worldwide renown. In 2005 they created their own club wholly controlled by supporters and operated democratically with the goal of entering the English soccer pyramid. Ok, hold on, some quick dates - the formation of the club under the name FC United of Manchester was announced on June 14, 2005. By July 6, 2005, they had pledges from over 4,000 people and already had £100,000 in the bank - not sure the conversion rate at the time, but it was probably something like in the ballpark of $150,000 to $175,000. This was just the beginning.
The club then held try-outs and began play in the tenth (10th) tier of English soccer - yes they have that many tiers of soccer. Fast forward to the present and our heroes have worked (read, they have been promoted by their play on the field) their way up the pyramid to the sixth (6th) level. In the intervening years they have done some pretty fascinating things to build their club's profile. In their first year in the tenth division they set the single game attendance record with over 6,000, they have created a women's team they entered into the pyramid, and most remarkably they have their own stadium! Yes, just a group of soccer crazed supporters did all of these things without the backing of any wealthy investors. Having your own stadium is pretty cool for a club with no millionaires.
Although not a fully professional team yet, these guys are working their way up the pyramid with nothing more than the hearts and minds of some very loyal supporters. And in an example of trans-oceanic "game recognize game" ethos, their trip to Detroit next year for a friendly will honor DCFC's new home ground and bring some increased attention to the power of supporters and what can happen when they pull their resources together; a very different approach than the one we are seeing from fans in San Antonio.
The story of FC United of Manchester, and DCFC as well, cannot be told in one short post, but if this piqued your curiosity at all, please take the time to look into the stories of these clubs for more details of their journeys - you won't be disappointed. As for San Antonio, the important thing is not that they don't conform to a romantic notion of fandom, but that the fans get the club they clamor for. Good luck all.
Would appreciate any comments and/or impressions about the rise of FC United of Manchester and its upcoming trip to America.