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Friday, 26 August 2011

What Price Success?

What Price Success?

Being a football supporter is by its very nature a divisive pastime. Tribal loyalties separate us from each other. There is one thing that unites all fans though, irrespective of the team they support, be it Manchester United or Accrington Stanley. All football fans share a dream of success. No matter how deeply in the doldrums your club currently resides, there is always a time when you allow your mind to wander, thoughts of administration are cast aside and you imagine your team popping champagne corks on the Wembley turf. It is the same trick of the mind that lets you believe that with just a little more luck you would have ‘made it’, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

“I would give anything for just a taste of success”. We have all uttered words to this effect at some point during our tenure as a football fan. When you’re watching your side of over-paid prim-donnas struggling to string two passes together, with the rain lashing down and the irritating fan that sits next to you having turned his obnoxious dial up to 11, a glimmer of hope would be seem a fair trade for your (footballing) soul.

The thing is, the Devil is out there, and the deal is on the table.

No more mid-table mediocrity, the transfer window will cease to be a time of depressing departures, instead it will be a time of exhilarating arrivals, Tuesday and Wednesday nights will be more Champions League than Carling Cup. The question is though, what is the price tag on these promises?

Manchester City fans are currently basking in the glory of an FA Cup win, along with their entry into the most exclusive of clubs, Champions League contenders. It is certainly an exciting time if you wear the sky blue. The triumphs of Man City however, are in the eyes of many, tainted. Many of the jibes aimed at City, and their wealthy owners can be attributed to jealousy, however, I wonder, are there some City fans who feel that in amongst all the excitement and celebrations, something is being lost? Is the club they associated themselves with changing beyond all recognition? If so does that lessen your emotional attachment?

Chelsea fans may feel a similar way. The Abramovich reign has brought unprecedented glory to the Bridge, however it must have been galling for those who have stuck with their side through the good times and the bad, to see Ray Wilkins, a man they hold in the highest esteem, discarded so casually by the Russian, and the treatment of a thoroughly decent, and successful, man in Carlo Ancelotti certainly did not cast the club in a positive light. Defenders of Abramovich say it is his club, he paid for it, and can therefore conduct his business in whatever way he sees fit. Now that may be technically correct, but the fear that a football club, steeped in history, is now little more than a plaything for a mysterious oligarch is a very real one.

Reservations about the conduct of whoever runs the club are one thing, what may be more relevant is the lengths clubs are now prepared to go to, to increase that ever important revenue stream. Man City now play at a stadium named after the national airline of the United Arad Emirates, Leicester City play at something called the ‘King Power’ stadium (no I have no idea either and can’t be arsed googling it). They are not alone, while stadiums were previously named after the area in which they, and their core support were resident, now they are named after whoever writes the biggest cheque. Protests against such moves have been noticeable but not exactly vociferous, we will learn more about how much fans are willing to accept, in the name of improving the ‘bottom line’, if for example, the new owners of Liverpool decide they have to sell the naming rights to Anfield. Would Liverpool’s fans awareness that times have changed, that they have fallen behind their rivals be enough to over-ride their sense of history?

The drive to maximise a clubs income won’t stop at re-naming the stadium though, how about changing the name of the club itself to incorporate the name of a sponsor? Maybe commercial potential could be increased by changing the teams’ colours? In fact how about re-locating the club somewhere else entirely? The new breed of football club owners are not in it for the love of the game, they are motivated by profits and profits alone. It is up to the fans to decide how much of their traditions they are happy to let slip away in the name of success.

There is a further problem though, this deal that was offered at the start of this blog isn’t as straightforward as it seems. The Devil has played a trick on us all. Now his side of the deal has changed, to sooth the pain of watching the club you hold so dear being stripped of all its integrity (Blackburn Rovers anyone?), guaranteed success is no-longer on the table, it has been replaced by an offer of status quo. As it becomes ever harder just to stand still as a football club, soon enough, our footballing soul will no-longer be sold for success, but mere survival.

It is a heavy price to pay for such a scant return, but it is the inevitable consequence of footballs transformation from sport, to business.

This article first appeared on

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