AFTER a less than impressive 2015-16, FC United of Manchester will be hoping for a significantly improved 2016-17 season. Oliver Mackenzie runs the rule over the club that call Broadhurst Park home…
FC United of Manchester commence their second season in the National League North in ‘much better shape than last year’ according to manager Karl Marginson.
The long-serving manager has a point; last season saw the Red Rebels struggle to adapt to the step up in quality after five long years in the Evo-Stik Premier division.
Karl Marginson’s men only picked up six wins between the start of the season and the turn of the new year.
The club did recover in 2016 though, and narrowly missed out on a top-half finish, ending up 13th in last season’s final league table.
There was controversy off the pitch as well though, with protests over the rescheduling of games for TV coverage/public transport services that went against the principle of the club and irked fans who insist on traditional 3PM Saturday kickoffs.
A much bigger controversy though took place during the last game of the season against Solihull Moors, when an element of FCUM’s support stormed the pitch in protest against the state of democracy at the club.
However, with resignations at board level that have cooled protests, and a squad that has a season of National League North football under its belt, things are looking up for the Moston club as it looks to push towards a top-half finish.
First five games:
- Chorley (A) – Saturday August 6
- AFC Telford United (H) – Tuesday August 9
- Stockport County (H) – Friday August 12
- Salford City (A) – Tuesday August 16
- Worcester City (H) – Saturday August 20
Manager Karl Marginson described his club’s transfer policy as ‘shopping at Lidl’ whilst other clubs were at Fortnum and Mason.
Showing loyalty to his current squad throughout his career and signing big last season to keep the club away from the drop zone, it shouldn’t be surprising that FCUM haven’t broke the bank this transfer window, however have still made a couple of signings to boost the depth of their squad.
Jason Gilchrist (from Burnley, trial): Brought in on a trial basis, the St.Helens born youngster has impressed throughout pre-season, including a hat-trick against Mossley, and was one of the best players on the pitch against Rochdale last Saturday. The striker who can also play left-wing possesses power and pace, and has a raw athletic ability that allows him to score goals that many players simply wouldn’t be able to score. The former Manchester City youth player looks certain to sign at FCUM, and will most likely serve as the club’s fourth striking option behind Matthew Wolfenden, Tom Greaves and Rory Fallon.
Jamie Frost (from Burnley, free): Another youngster from Burnley, Frost, like Gilchrist, is a striker who has been capped for Scotland at U19 level. Described by Burnley boss Sean Dyche as a ‘grafter who will do anything for his team’ the 19-year-old will also provide additional depth to FCUM’s attack. He’s been tipped for big things and the technical forward will be a viable impact player in United’s squad.
Zac Corbett (from Rhyl, free): The 20-year-old is a midfielder who can also play at centre-back, starting out at Rhyl, the youngster made a couple of appearances for The Lillywhites before switching to English football. Marginson was told about Corbett, by the same contact who introduced Charlie Raglan to the club in 2013, and by all accounts Corbett is in a similar mould to Raglan. Expect Corbett to be pushing the likes of Dean Hope and Rory Fallon for a place in midfield, especially with the latter’s fitness for the opening game questionable.
James Doyle (from Blackpool Youth, trial): Another trialist at the club, however Doyle as a striker who is only natural in one position has become a slight afterthought in recent weeks. Former Blackpool academy player who was released this summer; a contract at the club remains questionable with the youngster only making appearances off the beach in pre-season.
Karl Marginson has shown immense loyalty to the current group of players by retaining most of them for the following season. Whilst it has almost become assumed that teams at this level have a high player turnover year on year, FCUM have parted company with just four players.
Greg Daniels: The 23-year-old has decided to take a year out of football to go travelling. Daniels had made 166 appearances for the club over a period of four years at the club, scoring 29 goals in the process.
Dean Stott: FCUM’s most notable departure is the loss of their captain. Stott signed for Colne FC in the summer bringing the curtain down on an illustrious five years at the club, and manager Karl Marginson spoke about his departure: “Dean has been a great servant to the club over five years during which time he captained the side and was part of a very successful group of players. Everyone at FC wishes him good luck at Colne and all the best for the future.”
Craig Linfield: Never adapted to the National League standard of football and struggled throughout last season. Fans will remember his superb performances in the Evo-Stik Premier, a league he returned to on loan in March with Ashton United. With six strikers already on the books Lindfield’s departure to Marine always seemed likely.
Liam Brownhill: Has signed permanently for Ashton United after having a sucsessful loan spell at The Robins during the back end of last season. Like Lindfield he struggled to adapt to National League football.
Matthew Wolfenden: United’s best player in recent years has been the winger come centre forward. The Oldham-born player broke the 250 appearance barrier for FC United last season, as him and forward Jerome Wright remain the two longest serving players at the club. Wolfenden can be described as being in a similar mould to Thomas Muller in terms of play style, drifting into space and often making undetected runs. Wolfenden also possesses an intelligence and speed of thought that makes up for his lack of pace and when played in attack as a secondary striker can act as a hook between FC’s midfield and a more conventional non-league centre forward.
Tom Greaves: As the chant goes ‘I want to tell you about a player scoring goals just for fun so it seems’ Tom Greaves has been FCUM’s main attacking outlet since signing from Bradford Park Avenue in 2013, and is nearing the 100 goal barrier at the club. Greaves struggled at National League level towards the back end of last season, but a brace against Solihull Moors on the final day put him firmly back in the first team plans. Expect him to be a regular starter once again and to smash the remaining 17 goals he needs to reach his ton at the club.
Adam Thurston: With Dean Stott out of the club the right-back position is now Adam Thurston’s to lose. Used more in midfield whist Stott was still at the club, Thurston should now be a regular starter in his natural position this season. A youngster at Manchester United before switching to FC, Thurston is a modern dynamic full-back, who often cuts inside to support the midfield when FC United are in possession. Thruston is also a solid defender with good marking and tackling ability for this level of football, and could also be played at centre-back should Marginson lack numbers in that position.
Now that the vast majority of the squad can call themselves National League North regulars, FCUM fans should probably expect a lot better from them going into this season.
A solid start will be crucial with a trip to Moor Lane being the pick of their opening games. A win there would cement the team’s top half ambition, and would break from FC’s tradition of starting out slowly and building from there.
Despite this though, with the division bursting at the seams with ambitious clubs it would be too bold to tip FC for any sort of title challenge, but Marginson’s men will be aiming to do a lot more than just survive, and will take advantage of their huge support to turn Broadhurst Park into a fortress this season.
If that happens then they could be an outside bet for promotion through the play-offs, but would have to rely on many other teams such as Halifax Town, Altrincham and Chorley failing to live up to their expectations.
Local pride may not count for much at this level of football, however FCUM could get the bragging rights of being the best National League North team in Greater Manchester this season.
Stockport County look to have settled at this level after their fall from grace in recent years; Salford City are a total wildcard due to their vast finances; and Altrincham usually make a meal of their re-promotion campaigns.
The most important goal for FC however, will be keeping the drama on the pitch and the gates up, because a fan-owned club can only grow as its attendance does.
By Oliver Mackenzie