One thing all fans want is to have some influence in the direction in which their football club moves. Everyone wants to feel as though their football club is more than just a hobby and that to their football club they are more than just a punter. Isn’t that what the western world is all about anyway? The power of the people, of collective decisions in which all have their say? Well it would be if the average person was informed and intelligent enough to know what was best for them. Instead we have representative democracy where we vote for a local man or woman to make those kinds of decisions for us. So the same rules apply within football. We might all have opinions, but not all opinions are equal, and not all are valid. After all, what do 99% of a club’s supporters now about the expansion of a business on a global scale, or the inner financial and logistical problems faced in the daily running of a football club? As much as I love the club I support, and there are certain issues in which I would like a say, I don not feel as though I, or any other fan, should necessarily be the one to decide the fate of my club. This begs the question: how much power is too much for supporters? And how much of a role do they really have in England?
In a league where half of the teams are under the ownership of foreigners it is understandable that fans should want to step in, make their presence known, and ensure that the new owners’ intentions are aligned with those of the fan base. After all, we have seen what can happen to clubs under the wrong ownership, clubs who are managed by ignorant and arrogant owners, clubs whose owners are frivolous with their new club’s finances and suffer as a result. There is also the worry for many fans that the new owners, whether they are foreign or English, care little for the history of the club. Two such clubs are Chelsea and Newcastle who both recently voiced their objections to goings on at their respective clubs, both with different results.
Take Newcastle for example. Understandably they raised objections to the renaming of St James’ Park as the Sports Direct Arena. What could they do about it? Nothing. Did they have the right to attempt to block the move? Well that too is debatable. Would fans want success at the cost of tradition? Because that is what Mike Ashley is trying to achieve. He recognises the need for financial aid to take Newcastle to where he wants them to be and he is doing something about it. Personally I believe that all football clubs, just like all businesses, must move with the times or risk falling behind their competitors. It is all well and good having tradition in the first place, but what’s the point if you cannot have enough success in today’s game that would create more history for your club. Take Woolwich Arsenal for example. I’m sure there were a few people unhappy about moving the team to north London, seemed to work out alright though. I’m not saying that the renaming of Newcastle’s ground is going to be the catalyst for greater success, but the progressive thinking behind the idea could be.
Similarly the Chelsea Pitch Owners were unhappy about Abramovich’s plans to redevelop Stamford Bridge. They are one of the few fan bases that have the sort of power that they do. The reason the Chelsea Pitch Owners was set up was for precisely this reason: so that they could stand up to wealthy owners. However, do they really have the right to a) block the attempts of a man who has turned their club from a decent side in to one of the top clubs in the world and b) hinder the progression of Chelsea FC for future generations? What is exceptionally hard for fans is to separate emotional attachment and sentimentality from their ideas on the future of the club. Perhaps it is precisely because the owners may have less emotional attachment to the clubs then, as long as they are not an idiot or incapable of running a business, they are able to view the direction of the club more objectively. Without the emotional attachment they can make those sacrifices that may prove too difficult for the supporters to ever do. I’m sure there were many Arsenal fans that did not want to leave Highbury, and even more who didn’t want their new stadium at Ashburton Grove to named after an airline company. However, both of those decisions have undeniably helped the club to secure its future.
So how much power is too much for football fans? That is a question with a variable answer. Fans should not be looking to influence every decision made by their club. Yes, they can have their say and make suggestions. However the primary role should be to act as united sovereign of the club. Providing accountability for the owners of the club rather than helping to run it. The fans should be there to step in ‘as one’ in truly desperate times, apart from that their power should be limited to voting at AGMs and influencing public opinion through media.
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