Fan power reigns at groundbreaking Hackney football club
PUBLISHED: 09:30 09 June 2016
Imagine a football team where fans pick the starting line-up - where the club's fortunes are placed firmly in the hands of the supporters and where there is no manager to hook you at half-time.
Those who flood the terraces nationwide each week have an opinion on who should be selected and who should be dropped but, generally, it is only in the realms of Football Manager that they get to make real decisions.
The idea of voting for your favourites is a familiar one in this X-Factor era, yet it is about to be used in the east London football scene – Hackney-based United London are going to let the fans choose the line-up and are billing themselves as “the world’s first managerless football club”.
It is a new project designed to give supporters the power to make informed decisions and to provide young players with a platform to reach their potential.
With the domestic season now over, the club’s chairman Mark North is looking forward to the summer months of recruitment.
“Each year, 700 young players are released from clubs across the country, so it’s important they’re not cut adrift,” he told the Gazette. “Many join academies from the ages of six and seven, but if they’re released 10 years later, their dreams are left in ruins.
“United London aims to give those players a second chance at the home of grassroots football – Hackney Marshes. But it’s also about the fans. Supporters have a voice but it’s too often ignored at the very top. The idea is for those who champion certain players to call the shots.”
Trials will take place next week on the Marshes, with professional coaches on hand to select a squad of 30 players for the forthcoming campaign.
North, who would like three players for each position, admits that one of the challenges of the fan-powered club will be managing team morale if certain squad members are finding first-team opportunities limited.
He is hoping to emulate the success of League Two side AFC Wimbledon – the club founded by supporters in 2002 – and there are plans to spread the concept further afield should it take off in the UK.
“Using social media, we can create a really engaging platform for fans to feel totally immersed in team affairs,” said North.
“We’ll be filming all four of our pre-season games and each player will feature at least twice, so supporters will have a good idea of their preferred line-up.
“There’ll be plenty of online coverage and weekly player reports from coaching staff, physios and scouts so fans can make considered judgements on team selection – and we’ll even be setting up a fantasy football element so supporters can compete against each other!
“United London is a pilot, but I’m hoping to go global with teams in Europe, Australia and New Zealand. I’ve already had managers from Switzerland and Croatia getting in touch so that’s something for further down the line.
“Right now, we’re focused on uniting fans over here. Tribalism plays such a big part in our game, but we’re here to unite football supporters from all clubs. We’re never going to compete with the very biggest sides, so we want to become every Londoner’s second team.”
United London, whose coaching staff will include Hackney-born former Port Vale striker Leon Constantine, will enter at the 12th tier of English football in Division Three of the Essex League.
The club have launched their website and the first round of trials will take place next Saturday, June 18, at Hackney Marshes.
“Anyone interested should email firstname.lastname@example.org.