A well written, readable but wordy insight into the formation of FC United, says Adam Wiseberg
Confidential often receives review copies of books and invariably I don’t get more than a dozen pages in before deciding that it won’t interest our readers. So it was a pleasant surprise to open Red Rebels and get past the introduction finding myself wanting to read more.
John-Paul O’Neill is clearly a football enthusiast who has supported United since he was a child. At eleven he was standing in the Stretford End without any parental accompaniment having done daily paper rounds to earn the money to pay for admission (£2.30 in 1990).
He was one of a large number of United fans who were dismayed at the takeover of the club by the Glazer family in May 2005. Many of them believed that the time had come for a new football club which was owned and controlled by its fans, and O'Neill helped to form the first Steering Committee for FC United of Manchester. Remarkably, within three months they had a ground share agreement with Bury FC, a Board of Management, a manager and a football team and were playing in the North West Counties Division Two.
The support was phenomenal and whilst NWC Division 2 games usually attracted a few hundred spectators (many had fewer than a hundred), FC were immediately playing to crowds of three to four thousand and breaking attendance records for the Division at every ground they visited.
They were promoted for the first four seasons of their existence and then spent six years in the Northern Premier League Premier Division. Promotion to the Conference North followed at the end of the 2014/15 season and there they remain.
Having abandoned formal education at fifteen (despite taking his GCSEs a year early), O'Neill is clearly a proficient writer.
The book devotes the first two chapters on the post-Munich history of United explaining how the structure of the club was changed over the next thirty years until bought by the Glazers. Although brief this part is fascinating. Readers will be particularly interested in the way the author portrays Alex Ferguson’s part in this drama.
The next couple of chapters cover the formation of FC and the first season, then we seem to go time travelling. Virtually the entire second half of the book deals with O’Neill's various arguments and fall outs with successive FC Boards and, in particular, the first General Manager, Andy Walsh, who was in control from the start until June 2016.
O’Neill believes that the Club suffered from Founders Syndrome and it certainly appears that it was not well run during many of its formative years. With a new General Manager in place and under a significantly revamped Board he thinks that many of the problems have now been addressed.
It’s clear that O’Neill has not seen eye-to-eye with many of the people who have been responsible for running FC and the second half of this book delivers chapter and verse (nine chapters to be precise) on these travails.
O’Neill manages to compress 47 years of United’s history from the Munich tragedy until 2005 into two chapters. I think the book would be an easier read if he’d managed to cut fifty pages from the second half.
Nevertheless, if you are interested in football or United you’ll probably find this a fascinating book. It’s well written and readable, but would have benefited from an editor's pen.