Some two decades ago, I wrote a letter to the South London Press newspaper voicing my disgust at the sponsorship deal agreed between Millwall Football Club and the London Docklands Development Corporation (LDDC). My disgust was at the thought of a true working class club being sponsored by a corporation that was systematically removing many of the club’s local and traditional fan-base from their homes and livelihoods in the name of regeneration. Unfortunately – but also probably unsurprisingly – the newspaper chose not to publish the letter. At the time, I felt very much a lone voice. It’s a shame that with the passing of time, the passing of the letter and its contents have disappeared. Its sentiments though have not.
However, given the recent developments in English football and the way in which it seems to have been taken over by what can only be described as a rampant and obscene capitalism, I do feel that my original disgust has in many ways been vindicated. Nowadays, fans are merely a by product of a money making business enterprise that is much more focused on global television rights, sponsorship deals, and tours of far off parts of the world in the hope of opening up ‘new markets’ (the term ‘new markets’ having superseded the term ‘fan’). Where then, in the same way that I asked the South London Press back in the 1980s, is the role and place for the traditional fan in today’s football marketplace?
Nowadays it seems that quite irrespective of who are buying the clubs, if the money is available, they can be whoever they want despite the fact that they are supposed to be ‘fit and proper’. From oligarchs with questionable histories (Chelsea) through exiled former prime ministers with allegations of human rights abuses (Manchester City) to Arab ‘Donald Trump’s’ with royal family connections (Manchester City, again), if the money is there, then ‘fit and proper’ go out of the window. Sadly the same applies to the fans also, where if there’s even a sniff of money being bandied around, then everything else can be conveniently swept under the carpets. Oh how I long for the good old days and the now almost inconsequential mercenary Peter Kenyon and his consumerist commodification of Manchester United.
And all this is said without any hint of bitterness, resentment or jealousy. If Millwall had some foreign oil baron/ drug dealer/ arms dealer/ dictator/ member of royalty suddenly declare their undying love for one of the country’s most unfashionable clubs especially if they had never been to London, didn’t know who the manager was, or what the club’s history was, I would be highly suspicious: even more so than I am with the people running Millwall Football Club at the moment. Yes, our inherent greed and desire to win may initially cloud our judgment through the provision of rose tinted glasses for the fans to wear but that shouldn’t stop us from being true to ourselves and realising that the club – let alone the increasingly overlooked and invisible fans (or consumers maybe) – is merely being used as a pawn in the pursuit of greater profits and even more money. Temporal success can fog our perspectives but you only need to take a sideways glance at Newcastle United or Hearts for instance to see how quickly that fog can clear. For the fans of both of those clubs, the money hasn’t achieved anything.
If nothing more, the influx of foreign businessmen and the increasing commodification of English football has destroyed the very heart of the game. Yes, the Premiership is exciting; yes, it does attract the best players; and yes, it is watched by millions worldwide. But it has also undoubtedly destroyed the national team, youth development and progression, club loyalty, and the tradition of fans being a part of their local club. Nowadays it’s likely that the fans that Manchester United and/ or City are trying to attract are those that are prepared to cough up their hard earned cash in some untapped corner of the globe who will want to purchase the latest third/ away/ clash (delete as appropriate) kit. Rather less desirable is the kid from round the corner who wants to follow in the footsteps of his father, grandfather and everyone else in his family. No more ‘once a blue, always a blue’ to steal Rooney’s much maligned and wholly misguided observation.
It’s true that such a view is wholeheartedly nostalgic: the world of football has clearly moved on. But in referring back to my letter to the South London Press some two decades ago, if the Abu Dhabi United Group wanted to ‘regenerate’ Manchester City – including the systematic removal and eradication of its traditional fan-base or the running of it into the ground as a business loss – then they will without any question whatsoever. And quite frankly, what are you as a fan of any club going to do about it?
This work by Chris Allen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.
It is based on all the contents available to read and/ or download at www.chris-allen.co.uk.