'Ted of Manchester' - the character and soul of FC United's new home

FC United
FC United have climbed to within two promotions of the Football League

Standing at the top of a freshly installed and impressively steep terrace, surveying the pitch and the lovingly constructed stands around it, it's impossible not to catch your breath in amazement.

The biggest problem new-build football stadiums can have is a lack of character and soul, but at Broadhurst Park - the new home of FC United of Manchester - it's everywhere. This whole place is built on character and soul.

Go into the dressing rooms, and the benches have been built by a fan with carpentry skills. Walk around the pitch and the hoardings have been painted by volunteers from the support base.

Outside the main entrance, the decorative bamboo plants and shrubbery were grown in the gardens of club members until they were established enough to be transported to the stadium. As the original motto says: "Our club, our rules."

FC United flag

FC United, after their latest promotion to the National League North (the new name for the Conference North), are just two divisions away from the Football League. The stadium is up to that standard already.

It is an incredible achievement for a self-funded club that started out a decade ago with little more than a well of determination and a whip-round for the required funds to prove to the authorities they could last their first season in existence. Their new stadium is proof the football experience can grow from big ideas as much as big money.

Examples of that attitude permeate every aspect of the club. They crowd-funded more than £50,000 to fit out the kitchen at the ground. Recognising some fans find it difficult to afford entry, they have a pay-what-you-can scheme for season tickets. It's a minimum of £100. They recommend £160 to help the club break even but are averaging more than that.

They have an army of volunteers who do everything from managing cash on matchdays to a nutritionist and conditioning coach who lend their expertise to the first team.

Over half of the £6.3m needed to build Broadhurst Park was generated by the fans. The rest came from grants from Manchester City Council, the Football Foundation, and Sport England. Part of the reason they felt compelled to help was the community spirit underlining everything about the club.

"The community is our core business," says founder member Adam Brown. "It is not an add-on. It's not charity on our part."

FC United's Broadhurst Park under construction
Adam Brown was a Manchester United season ticket-holder from the 1980s but felt disenchanted with the way his club was being run

The expanse of 3G pitches adjacent to the stadium where the team will train will also be available for local use. The function rooms can be used as classrooms during the week for education programmes running in this area of north Manchester. They want to offer their resources to athletics, rugby league and possibly other sports such as table tennis in the area.

Home. Such an evocative word in any lexicon. We are about seven miles, yet also light years, away from Old Trafford, the behemoth stadium that is a sort of relative to FC United of Manchester. This club was born out of the disenchantment and disenfranchisement some die-hard Manchester United supporters had when the Glazer family took over in 2005.

Even closer, we are just over three miles away from the Etihad, the stadium handed over to Manchester City after it had been built for the 2002 Commonwealth Games, and site of a huge regeneration project funded by City's Abu Dhabi owners.

The contrast with fans chipping in for themselves to construct their own dream arena at FC United could not be more marked.

Brown was a Manchester United season ticket-holder from the late 1980s, but increasingly felt differently about his role as a fan as the years went by.

The life and times of FC United
2005: FC United are formed after the buyout of Manchester United by the Glazer family2010: They reach the first round proper of the FA Cup for the first time in their history, then reach the second round with a win over Rochdale. They are knocked out by eventual League One champions Brighton
2006: They win the North West Counties Division Two title in their inaugural season2014: FC United yet again fall at the play-off stage - their fourth defeat at that stage of the season
2007: A second title in as many seasons as they complete the league and cup double with promotion to the Northern Premier League Division One North2015: They finally win promotion to the Conference North - only two divisions away from the Football League
2008: On the march once again, this time to the Northern Premier League as they earn promotion with a play-off final win over Skelmersdale United2015: FC United get ready to move in to their new home with a test match - they host Portuguese giants Benfica on 29 May

"The disillusionment was both in the way it was run in terms of finance, but also the way supporters were treated at games," adds Brown. "There was a long-running thing at Old Trafford with supporters being chucked out for standing up and ticket prices going through the roof. The whole experience became fairly sanitised.

"FC United of Manchester evolved from the desire to show things can be run differently. Rather than just campaigning against something, it was about forming something new. That first season felt liberating. It was very refreshing."

Nomadic for most of their existence so far, to have a proper base means a lot. They are the largest fan-owned club in the country and are going places. Last weekend they ran their first test event. There were tears as people who have been part of this astonishing story effectively set foot in their own home for the first time.

There was still snagging and drilling going on just a few days in advance of the test run. Electricians were needed to sort out the main sign as the 'FC UNI' part was not working, leaving the lit-up entrance welcoming visitors to 'TED OF MANCHESTER'. There were a few laughs at that, as there have been on so many of the difficult steps to the grand opening.

"If it feels last minute, you're right," grins Brown. "It is all coming together."

The club are hopeful the council will give them the green light for their official opening at the end of the month against grandiose opponents - Benfica.

The game takes place on the anniversary of the Portuguese giants playing Manchester United in the 1968 European Cup final at Wembley - Sir Matt Busby, George Best, Sir Bobby Charlton, Eusebio and all that.

FC United's main stand at Broadhurst Park
The terrace behind the goal comes from Northwich Victoria, who fell into administration

Like a lot of things with FC United, those connections between the giant across town and the new kid setting down roots in Moston are important.

"If you look at the name of the club, the colours we play in, where most of the supporters have come from, there is a connection with Manchester United because we were Manchester United supporters," explains Brown.

"One of the things we said in the early days was we were setting up FC United to be the club we wanted Manchester United to be. That still rings true. Within the fanbase there is every shade. There are a few who still go to United games, some who still watch them on TV, others for whom it is much less important, and some who have come to FC United who have no previous connection with Manchester United."

One of those is co-owner and spokesman Andy Walker, who originally hails from Middlesbrough, watched his boyhood football at Ayresome Park, and has bought completely into the culture of this new club. "You have to pinch yourself," he says, from the top of the terrace behind one of the goals. "Ask any football fan. Having a home of your own is paramount."

The sizeable terrace from which Walker speaks was a big deal. It was voted on by members as a crucial part of the design of the new ground and how they wanted to experience football. It is in fact recycled, once belonging to Northwich Victoria, who fell into administration.

In the corners of the main stand there is space to trial a "safe standing" area in future, when they have raised the funds to install it.

"We have what we call a 90/90 culture here - 90% of the fans singing for 90% of the time," says Walker. "We have proved there is no need for people to be marginalised."

FC United v Wimbledon
FC United came into existence as a reaction to the Glazer family and their purchase of Manchester United in 2005

Their average crowd last season was 2,100. Next season they will compete against teams such as Stockport County. "Who knows where we can go?" adds Walker.

Some fans want to stay more or less where they are, mindful that they have to start considering sponsorship (they have none on their shirts) or dealing with agents (they flatly refuse so far) if they climb higher up the football pyramid.

Others want to shoot for the stars. "The higher we go with our principles, the more powerful it is," says Brown. "If we can get into the Football League in the same structure we are - not having shirt sponsorship and the rest of it - then that sends a much more powerful message to other people that this is achievable at a higher level."

One thing is for certain, this leopard is not about to change its spots.

"All the leagues we have ever been in have rules about directors wearing shirts and ties in boardrooms and nonsense like that," says Brown. "They are still operating as if they are 1970s public schools. We have to agree to those rules in the leagues we are in. But you won't see me in a shirt and tie!"

Their club, their rules, and now their home. Theirs is an extraordinary achievement.