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Winning off the pitch

Submitted by on February 17, 2013 – 6:43 pmNo Comment

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Admittedly a rarity these days, but here is a decent article from Manchester Evening News:

More than a club (més qué un club) is the motto of football giants Barcelona. But a world away from the towering tiers of the Camp Nou, a non-league outfit could justifiably lay claim to that title after a year of ground-breaking work in inner-city Manchester.

In 12 months, FC United belied their status of being in the seventh tier of English football to carry out a staggering shift which included launching school breakfast clubs, working with new migrants and carrying out regular visits to a young offenders’ institution.

The fan-owned co-operative, currently in the middle of a legal battle to build a new stadium in Moston, recently released their annual community report.

Within its pages lie some breathtaking detail about the scale of their off-pitch efforts. The Rebels, set up in protest at the Glazer family’s ownership of Manchester United, helped 55 young adults get into employment, education or training – a group identified as ‘the furthest away from the labour market’.

They include young offenders, people with mental health issues and those who, like FC, have nowhere to call home.

Andy Walsh, the club’s general manager, believes that the work they do off the pitch is as important as what they do on it.

The former United season ticket holder, who became disenchanted with the direction the Reds were heading in under the debt-burdening Americans, explained that a commitment to community work was part of his club’s DNA.

Andy said: “Lots of clubs do some great community work. The difference for us is that it is central to our constitution.”

Heading their commitment to dealing with young offenders is centre-half Adam Jones. Last year’s player of the season had worked with Tameside’s youth offending team and is now the club’s ‘coach educator’.

The report reveals that FC have targeted refugees and those from outside traditional migrant communities.

Andy said: “We have a commitment to integration. A lot of the new immigrants do not have communities and friends like some of the more established immigrants from places like Pakistan and Poland.

“We have also arranged sessions for parents to help their children with homework and make themselves more employable in the process because some complain that they moved to England for their education but the kids aren’t doing as well in school as they thought.”

Tackling anti-social behaviour is also high on the agenda and the document says coaching sessions in Miles Platting have reduced reports of such offences by a third. The club’s community team worked with 22 schools across Greater Manchester, ran coaching sessions for 185 primary school children and gave healthy eating and lifestyle lessons to 700 pupils.

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FC also went into school assemblies to talk about the story of the club’s foundation and the strengths of co-operation and supporter ownership.

And it is not just the young who have benefited. Club members have visited 22 older people and helped with activities including DIY, gardening and going to the shops. Trips for the elderly were also run to FC’s match with Chester.

So how does a club that averages fewer than 2,000 fans – still by far and away the biggest following in their league – manage to fund such activity?

This year they raised £200,000 from various grants, up from £100,000 the year before. They also benefited from the generosity of fans, who each donated an average of more than £60 on top of their season tickets. But the role of 300 volunteers cannot be underestimated. That, said Andy, was at the heart of the club’s ethos.

He added: “Football fans are not customers, despite what the press and some club’s owners seem to think. The majority do not watch football because their teams win. It’s not about the winning – it’s about your upbringing. Your football club says something about you.”

Andy, like the rest of his club’s members, is hoping that the ongoing legal wrangle over the building of the club’s new stadium in Moston will soon come to a successful end. He believes that those opposed to the project, many of whom who live close to the Ronald Johnson Playing Fields site, have nothing to fear and that the report reinforces his point.

Andy said: “FC United is about saying to those who run the game it is not about winning it is about being united as fans. It’s also about improving the community in which you are located which is something we will continue to do.”

Click here for more on the report.

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