Punk Football: How fans reclaimed football clubs for the people that made them

In a couple of weeks time, FC United of Manchester, the club set up by disillusioned Manchester United fans in the wake of the Glazer family's Old Trafford takeover, will embark on their 10th competitive season. Once famously dismissed as a bunch of 'attention-seekers' by Sir Alex Ferguson, they are poised also to give up their nomadic existence of the past decade and move into their own home.

A £5.7 million 5,000-seat stadium is nearing completion in the New Moston area of Manchester which will bring to an end the days of groundsharing.  Once Broadhurst Park opens its doors this autumn, playing home fixtures at Bury's Gigg Lane and Stalybridge Celtic's Bower Fold will be consigned to history.

Along with AFC Wimbledon, the club formed by supporters disenfranchised when their club moved to Milton Keynes, FC United are the high profile flag bearers of a movement popularly known as 'punk football'.

They are clubs run not by Russian oligarchs or Arab sheikhs, or in Manchester United's case by American sports entrepreneurs who had to load the club with debt to facilitate their takeover, but by the fans for the fans.

Punk football became the moniker for fan ownership not because the people in charge are anarchists with mohican haircuts and safety pins through their noses but because, just as the original punk rock was do-it-yourself music, clubs such as FC United and AFC Wimbledon and several others besides represent DIY football.

It is a concept that has become the subject of an extensively researched and well-written book by freelance writer and blogger Jim Keoghan and recently published by Pitch Publishing.

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In Punk Football: The Rise of Fan Ownership in English Football, Keoghan explores the history of punk football from its birth in the 1990s, when fans of Northampton Town rose up in the face of prospective extinction to form the first supporters' trust, raising money to save the club and taking a place on the Board with the aim of ensuring that its future was built on a democratic and financially prudent platform.

He charts how the Northampton example inspired others to follow suit and how supporters' trusts proliferated over the next decade, with some even taking majority control, as happened at Exeter City, Brentford and York City, before AFC Wimbledon demonstrated that not only could fans band together to save existing clubs, they could actually create new ones.

There are interesting chapters, too, on how the supporters of Swansea City demonstrated that even at Premier League level it is possible for fans to have a major say in the running of their club and on the history of supporter involvement in the running of football clubs in Europe, particularly in Spain and Germany, where punk football has been a phenomenon for much longer.

Yet Keoghan does not gloss over the failures, looking at where the model did not work so well, such as Stockport County, Brentford and York City, and at the sorry story of Notts County, where the supporters' trust formed to salvage the club from one financial disaster in 2002 unwittingly created another when they were duped, along with Sven-Goran Eriksson and others, into falling for the false charms of Munto Finance.

The examples of AFC Wimbledon and FC United of Manchester, though, stand as testimony to what can be achieved.

Romantics among FC United fans wanted their permanent home to be in Newton Heath, the district of Manchester in which the Old Trafford club has its roots.  That dream died when local government funding cuts forced Manchester City Council to withdraw vital support.

But the ground taking shape at New Moston will be a fine addition to the Manchester sporting landscape and an inspiration to everyone who wants to claim back football for the fans and follow the punk football ideal.

Buy Punk Football: The Rise of Fan Ownership in English Football, by Jim Keoghan from Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith.



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