The real price of success?

by Charles Pulling

“My dislike for the word ‘City’ is because it is common. I want the club to be special…..It is about identity. ‘City’ is a lousy identity. Hull City Association Football Club is so long.”

Assem+Allam+Hull+City+v+Cardiff+City+npower+P39zOdaZ06XlThose are the words of Assem Allam (right) announcing to local media that the club he took ownership of in 2010, known for 109 years as Hull City AFC, would now be known as ‘Hull City Tigers’ within the UK and simply ‘Hull Tigers’ worldwide. The change, which was officially instigated this spring, was kept under wraps by the board until its official announcement, and no input or consultation was sought with supporter groups or representatives.

If social media can be used to gauge the public’s reaction it seems the that majority, outside of Hull City fans, seem pretty amused by the decision. Many are scrambling to create memes with a certain frosted cereal flake spokesperson or thinking up ‘humorous’ alternatives to other historic sporting institutions. Hilarious stuff altogether. But hey, them not us right? So why not have a self satisfied poke at one clubs misfortune.

Well no, if you did agree with the end of that last paragraph then you’re wrong. Because things like this are becoming more common place season by season. Last year Cardiff City, a proud footballing institution which has served one of Britain’s largest cities for over 110 years was rebranded by Malaysian business tycoon Vincent Tan. The Bluebirds became extinct, and the Red Dragons swooped in. This year Hull City AFC get the treatment, next year who knows? To paraphrase the Manic Street Preachers ‘If you tolerate this then your club could be next’..

What needs to be illustrated is that the current trend of club ownership in Britain’s top tiers is heading in a dangerous and unprecedented direction. Foreign ownership itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and this article isn’t a rally cry against it. It just so happens that the major investors in Britain’s top football tiers are coming from abroad. They come in with millions (or in some cases billions) and are handed the keys to clubs with histories and community ties to do with what they please.

Very often the result is a club being owned by an individual who see’s a business opportunity. Very few multi-millionaires suddenly get the urges to splurge huge sums of money into a football club without any chance of a fiscal return. If they had that sort of business ethos its very likely they wouldn’t have become multi-millionaires in the first place. Even the oil rich billionaires of Chelsea and Manchester City have a point where they expect to see a return on investment.

The reality is that they see a brand in the most famous sports league in the world ready to be mined for profit. This investment plan, in no way dissuaded by Football’s governing bodies, is seen as a legitimate way of running a football club: profits come first. This plan is doomed from the start, and unfortunately as always seems the case, its the clubs and their fans that suffer the consequences

The truth is, in a way, so big that those chasing the football shaped golden goose miss it completely. Football clubs aren’t here and never were here to be profitable. They were never intended to be businesses. Clubs were formed, flourished and existed for over 100 years because they are essentially community clubs, no different to a scout hall or bingo night or boxing club. They exist to fulfill a function to their local community, to provide a social hub and a common ground for those who live within its radius. Any notion that the societal benefits a club provides could be translated into profit is pure folly, and yet it is a notion that so many ‘astute’ businessmen (And women) persue.

We have already seen the damaging pursuing a profit based policy can have on a club; Hick and Gillet at Liverpool, the Glazers at Old Trafford, the Venkys at Blackburn. Which in a way brings me to the other partner in these business plans. Us, the fans.

How much do you want success for your club? Its a abstract question really, I mean don’t we all want to taste glory whilst wearing our colors..But at what price would you be willing to pay for glory? Would you for example be willing to change your 100 year old crest and colors tradition for Premier League glory? To what extent then does the glory still ‘belong’ to you? How can you fully feel joy at something attained by selling off one of the very few permanent things your club owns.

Or would you be happy knowing that your star striker was paid for not by trophy winnings or shirt sales but by an advert that saw your club crest branded on a packet of noodles from Japan or American range of automobiles?

Does the glory of a Premier League medal get sullied when the money used to pay for such talents came from the pockets of a undemocratically elected head of state, whose wealth is ensured by human rights abuses in his home state? Does your ‘local’ team become less local when it files its tax returns in the Cayman Islands? Why not move the club to a more ‘profitable’ location? A different country perhaps?

Those questions, while not being asked, are sadly becoming more relevant each passing season in English football. And with the footballing authorities seemingly happy to play along and rake in ever-increasing television monies it falls to the fans, the real owners to make a change. And like all changes you can only start with yourself first.

Someone sat on a barstool next to me once said being a football fan is essentially years of misery punctuated by fleeting glimpses of the glory that lies behind the curtain. Nick Hornby so expanded on this concept with the fantastic ‘Fever Pitch’. Yet in as Football becomes ever more ‘immeadiate’ the clamor for success and glory is reaching a type of fever pitch itself.

And we as fans have a duty to not just our own self-motivated desire to bask in the collective glory of our club’s successes but also to the clubs themselves, to make sure they remain true to the premise that they were set out on so many years ago.

2 Responses

  1. Red Star Blanch says:

    The global footballing market the English clubs are trying to exploit doesn’t care about tradition and community etc, they just want televised entertainment. For every Man Utd fan who switches to FC Utd of Manchester, a football day tripper from Ireland or Norway (or the far east) will take his place. The only winner in this model is the shareholders, while the big losers are the communities where football has been player for generations. Ireland has some of the oldest football clubs in the world but fans are more interested in televised eye candy!

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