“That’s a great question.”
Neil Reynolds pauses to think.
In fact, it could be construed as quite a spiteful question to ask the manager of fan-owned footie crusaders FC United in what has been a quieter period in their brief history.
Founded in an anti-Glazer fever-dream some sixteen years ago the Man United breakaway club larged it in the lower leagues for ten years or so before infighting, debt and relegation finally came to bite them on their Bolshie bums.
Reynolds is the former headmaster who has taken a £30k pay cut, so he tells me, to step in and sort out the football side. The reason it doesn’t sound like a curveball question to him is that, from where he’s standing, what’s been needed to steady the ship is to draw a line under hubris of the past.
“As the manager of a football club I joined three years ago…the manifesto, why the club was built, the Red Rebels walking away from the Glazers…I wasn’t there. That must have been such a heart-wrenching moment for people to walk away from Old Trafford. They made their decision to do it and start their own club.
“But if you speak to the vast majority of fans now…apart from the song I don’t hear about the Glazers and the takeover and so on. I hear about FC United.”
With club debts racked up to £1.8m the current re-structuring involves expanding the commercial side while maximizing funding potential across the club’s senior, junior and women’s teams. Reynold’s handling of the playing budget is very much central to his brand.
“Being the head teacher of a high school running a £5m budget I couldn’t go over, so there was no way I was going to go over here,” he says. “I said to the club, while I’m here no more players will dictate to FC United. No more contracts, no more bonuses…let’s keep to the budget.”
Is a similar dose of realism required on the pitch? “You can’t coach at this level,” the former Stalybridge Celtic manager Liam Watson once told me. “You have to find the best players you can within your means and get them as fit as possible.”
Reynolds’ predecessor Karl Marginson, by contrast, took out a sheet of paper, drew a 4-3-3 on it and showed me the maximum number of passing triangles available to the team prepared to strive for passing style.
“Well I don’t agree with Liam and Karl is and always will be a legend at this club,” says Reynolds, himself a former academy player at Plymouth in Neil Warnock’s time. “We don’t waste a second in training I can assure you of that.”
He sets off telling me about his 4-2-3-1 with his defensive square and his midfield rotation and his lion-hearted captain Michael Potts (“me on the pitch.”)
While his first season in charge brought relegation (“best thing to happen to the club”) the two cancelled seasons since saw promotion challenges and a hatful of goals from striker Tunde Owalabi, since moved on.
The present campaign – for the team with the top facilities and the bottom three wage bill – has seen a bit of a slide down tier seven.
Loss to Lancaster City on Tuesday night was the fourth in six games.
With that pay cut whistling through his pockets Reynolds may not want to be slumming it for very long. Though he insists he sees himself at Broadhurst Park in the medium term, he isn’t shy of advertising his credentials in his new secondary career.
“Yes, there’s been a lot of interest from clubs higher up,” he offers. “League Two noise, League One noise, National League noise. But my future’s here, I want to turn this club into a National League club. We’re on the start of a journey.”
As Paul Morley’s biography of the late Tony Wilson edges closer to publication book-sellers are doubtless divvying up table space on which to pile high the 604-page doorstopper. Digesting our own advance copy after it thudded onto the About Manchester doormat this morning ago proved a task comparable to Robin Cook’s famous 45-minute skim-read of the Scott Report.
In tribute to the late parliamentarian’s evisceration of the Arms to Iraq affair, then, here’s our Top Five Absolute Best People You Could Spot in Waterstones Scanning The Index For Their Own Name – along with the points you win for surreptitiously papping them discovering the bad news.
5. Andy Burnham. Not a million miles from a plausible photo op: 10 points.
4. Tom Bloxham. May have monetised Wilson’s city living dream but no non-fic Fac recognition for the Urban Splashmeister. 20 points.
3. Fred Talbot. Will he see which way the wind blows on this or will the popular meteorologist feel compelled to check? 30 points if you catch him at it.
2. Bob Dillinger. There may be a long lost hangdog look from Granada Upfront’s erstwhile guitar-slinging gag-meister. 40 points if you pap it.
1. Dominic Noonan. Had his own ideas on how to run the Hacienda door – but is his contribution not recognised in the end matters? 100 points and a phone call to the old bill if you see him.
With its posh eateries and lounges the new billion pound Terminal Two at the airport is all very well – but couldn’t you change the sign on the door to ‘Climate Emergency Theme Park’ and not have to change a single thing?