By Alan Jones
A HUGE banner that was unfurled among the fans before kick-off declared “The boys are back in town” – and after ten years in the making, FC United of Manchester celebrated coming home on Friday night.
For a club that was born a decade ago after a meeting in a local curry house, this was the moment they had all been waiting for, as the ribbon was cut on a packed Broadhurst Park and the new £6.3m stadium declared open.
Fans were welcomed by the sound of beating drums and some even arrived by open-top bus, with a sell-out crowd of 4,232 ensuring this landmark occasion turned into a night that will long be remembered.
They came for a party, and while the result against Benfica’s B team may not have gone their way, there was no relenting in the noise levels or the overwhelming sense of pride.
Against the backdrop of a carnival atmosphere, this almost felt like a coming of age for FC United, whose move into their new surroundings follows a fourth promotion to earn a place in next season’s Vanarama National League North.
For the supporters who own the club, this plush new stadium is a symbol of the progress made and Jerome Wright, FC’s longest-serving player and record appearance holder, has witnessed the evolution first-hand.
“Getting here is a massive step for the club,” said Wright, a United player since 2006. “I’ve seen how far this club has come over the past nine years and so much hard work has been put into achieving this.
“The fans have literally built this stadium themselves and they deserve it more than anyone. As players, we’re very fortunate to have a facility like this.
“Playing against a fantastic team like Benfica was a great way for the club to celebrate but it’s only another step in where we want to be.
“There were almost 4,500 fans here tonight and the atmosphere they created was really special. It was difficult for the players to hear ourselves on the pitch at times!
“It makes such a difference to have somewhere that’s our own home and this needs to become our fortress.”
As well as boasting one of the largest banks of terracing in Non-League, Broadhurst Park is a fully functional community facility, complete with 3G and grass pitches, function rooms, class rooms and a medical centre.
A fan-owned club themselves, Benfica provided the opposition 47 years to the day after they contested the European Cup final against Manchester United.
Diogo Goncalves scored the only goal with a fine strike at the near post six minutes from time, though FC more than held their own and either Tom Greaves or Callum Byrne could easily have claimed the distinction of being Broadhurst Park’s first goalscorer instead.
As a community club, the project has been a collective effort, but underpinning it all is Andy Walsh, who himself has made the transition from the terraces at Old Trafford to become FC’s general manager.
“You’ve got to pinch yourself to think a club only ten years old can build something like this,” he said. “We saw how important it all is tonight when the fans were chanting that this is our home. So much love and hard work has gone into this and you can feel it all around.
“There have been some setbacks along the way but nothing worth having in life is ever achieved easily.
“Ordinary people given the opportunity can achieve extraordinary things and what we’ve done here stands testament to that.”