It may seem unusual for a new concept of how to run a football team to be dreamt up whilst watching X-Factor but then again United London FC is not your standard football club.
With the autumn nights getting shorter and Simon Cowell and his fellow judges putting paid to the dreams and aspirations of hundreds of “singers”, Mark North chose that moment to conjure up a new way of running a football club.
Thus United London was born.
With their acceptance into the Essex Alliance Football League, United London will begin life in step twelve of the league pyramid on Saturday 3rd September as they host Old Esthameians.
Signings have been made, twenty five in total but the starting line-up for the season opener will be decided by their manager twenty four hours before the big game….or should that be managers!
The concept created by North has made United London the first managerless football club
in the country, with supporters registering on the club’s website to vote for their favourite players to make the starting line-up for the latest game.
And North explained how watching Saturday night television helped him create this new idea.
He said “I was sat watching X-Factor when the idea came about.
“I starting thinking why are there no voting shows for football fans like me and nothing like this has been done for what is our national sport.
“8.5 million people watch ballroom dancing on a Saturday night yet there is nothing for football fans.
“I went away and spoke to the PFA and they said there were 700+ players released at the age of eighteen so they must be given a second chance.
“Some slip through the net so the timing worked out and the idea went from there to use United London to engage with fans, used technology like Periscope and Facebook Live and bring everything together. I think it’s an exciting concept”
Just as Cowell and his cohorts get to witness X-Factor hopefuls audition and perform, so too will United London managers with their twenty five man squad.
Managers will be armed with statistical data and videos to help them make an informed decision on their team selection and give former Leeds United striker and United London coach Leon Constantine the players he will work with on a game-by-game basis.
However, as North explained, the club will retain control on other matters.
“It will be ran as a football club in every other way with coaching and backroom staff.
“We just let the registered managers a tool to analyse the squad and each player individually. If you think your favourite player should be starting then you vote for him, it’s a democratic system.
“During the game the coaches will make all over the tactical decisions and they will choose the formation on a Monday so that managers can vote players into it.
“We have Leon Constantine as a coach, a former Port Vale and Leeds United striker so we have experience on our side and now the managers can help him by selecting the strongest line-up in their own opinions”
Initial take-up on the concept has been impressive.
At this point in time, with a month to go until the season kicks off, United London has just over one thousand registered managers.
The majority of interest has come from within the United Kingdom, but North admitted his surprise as new managers registered from around the globe as strives to hit a self-imposed target of 81,000 managers by the end of the season.
“At the moment, without kicking a ball, we have over one thousand managers signed up” he said.
“They come from all over the place and including managers from Australia, Portugal, Argentina, Switzerland and Italy. It is a global fanbase at the moment, not just a local one.
“I wanted to set a measurable target for us for managers and I wanted one per cent of London’s population so that would be around 81,000 managers signed up by the end of the season.
“That is the figure I had in mind and I think we can reach it”
Many questions have been asked of North and United London.
Many onlookers ventured the opinion that they will be ran as an anti-establishment club.
However North explained that the idea that they would be against the authorities or the bigger clubs couldn’t be further from the truth as he seeks to harvest a fully-inclusive environment with the club.
“We will be in the Essex Alliance Premier League and we are affiliated to the London FA.
“I think we are slightly different and people ask if we are like AFC Wimbledon and FC United of Manchester, are we slightly against the establishment?.
“We are not going in with that mindset, there are a lot of rivalries in football but we want to be everybody’s second team.
“We aren’t aiming to take an Arsenal fan away from Arsenal, that isn’t our aim. But we can become a second club for supporters and we will be inclusive”
Naturally, there has been scepticism.
The idea is similar to one ran at Ebbsfleet United between 2008 and 2013 as web-based venture MyFootballClub allowed members to vote on players transfers, budgets, ticket prices and other key decisions within the club.
There was initial success on the pitch but in April 2013 club members voted to handover two thirds of their shares to the supporters trust and the remainder went to one of the club’s majority shareholders.
The United London concept is a different one from what was used at Ebbsfleet with managers only in control of team selection and voting between three options should a player leaving the club need to be replaced.
And he feels that, despite scepticism from a former manager, United London can offer something “a little bit different” to any football supporter.
He said “I did an interview on BBC Five Live and there was a former professional manager on there that said it was too gimmicky and wouldn’t work.
“Maybe he thought it could put him out of a job but we aren’t looking to do that, we are not looking for any other club to do this.
“We just feel the timing is right for something a little bit different to happen.
“I have spoken to other non-league chairman that think it is great to get younger fans looking at other places rather than just at the Premier League.
“We want to help non-league football and we hope it will get as much exposure as possible, this isn’t just about United London”
A twenty five man squad has now been selected with players released from professional academies and players from abroad making up the options available to the club’s managers.
And North believes that if they are to win a place in the starting line-up, just like Russell Crowe’s character in Gladiator, they must “win the crowd”.
“We have been open and honest with the players and I guess it is a bit like watching Gladiator, you have to win the crowd.
“There is an element of the players having to play at their best to impress the managers around the globe.
“We are recording games using software called Video Observer and producing stats on the players to send to our managers.
“These a great tools that only the top end clubs tend to have and it means that scouts can tap into their stats, with videos, and see what they are about.
“Our managers can use them and we do want clubs to come and look at our players to move them up the pyramid, give them their second chance and move them on to bigger and better things.”
The club has already received a lot of publicity and North revealed they have also been handed the chance to be part of a new television show targeting football supporters.
“We are going to be part of a new football TV show that starts next month called Fan TV.
“The mechanics of their coverage of United London are still being worked on but I think they will cut to us to get the latest from the club and hopefully that will put a spotlight on grassroots clubs.
“It’s all really exciting moving forwards”
More information on United London FC can be found here
Interview: Mark Carruthers (@marknldaily)
Images: www.actionimages.com / United London FC