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Football supporters are less political these days. When I say that, I don’t mean that we no longer hold opinions on political matters. What I mean is that we are less likely to protest and demonstrate when something we disapprove of is happening. There was a time when every week there seemed to be an orchestrated attempt to oust a chairman or a board of directors, but nowadays, when there’s a powerful case to suggest that we’re treated with more contempt by clubs, the game’s authorities and and the TV companies, fans aren’t that often seen to be doing very much protesting at all.
Last Saturday the GMB union held a protest outside St James Park before Newcastle United’s match against Liverpool. Six years ago, the South Shields based firm Via Systems, a circuit board manufacturing company closed down, shedding a couple of hundred jobs in the process. The GMB claim that £2.5m is still owed in redundancy payments by the company’s owner, one Tom Hicks. If his name sounds familiar to you, it’ll be because he’s one of the new co-owners of Liverpool. Strange, isn’t it, how these billionaire owners can lavish millions of pounds on new toys like a football club yet, at the same time, overlook paying redundancy money to people whose lives they’ve ruined by throwing them out of a job? It’s fair to say that Mr Hicks wasn’t close to bankruptcy himself. He presumably closed Via down because it wasn’t profitable enough. It’s fair to say, therefore, that he should cough up all of the money that he said it would immediately.
Some of you, I daresay, will feel that football and politics shouldn’t mix. I do feel, however, that we should be preparing to mobilise. In this day and age, football supporters are treated as consumers, but with none of the rights that the average consumer has. If you buy, say, a television set, and it doesn’t work, you can take it back to the shop and change it. If, however, you spent hundreds, if not thousands of pounds on, say, a West Ham season ticket at the start of the season, you are surely entitled to say, “This football team doesn’t work. I want my money back”.
As I noted in my previous thread regarding the shenanigans at Birmingham City last weekend, if you start treating supporters like common consumers, a pattern will emerge. The clubs may be able to rinse them dry for a couple of seasons but, ultimately, the fans will end up taking their business elsewhere – whether it’s to another club or out of the game altogether. We’re through the first phase and into the second now, with crowds starting to fall, outside the top half of the Premiership. Remember this: no matter how much certain people will try to tell you, it’s still our game and, ultimately, we have the power to demolish their spectacle by simply refusing to turn up.
Ian began writing Twohundredpercent in May 2006. He lives in Brighton. He has also written for, amongst others, Pitch Invasion, FC Business Magazine, The Score, When Saturday Comes, Stand Against Modern Football and The Football Supporter. Ian was the first winner of the Socrates Award For Not Being Dead Yet at the 2010 NOPA awards for football bloggers.
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I reckon they could get more people in if they had a monkey-based half time show.
You made some great points here, particularly about treating fans like consumers. The growing concentration of talent and wealth in the Big Four is in danger of alienating many real fans.
In the short-term this might not concern the likes of Tom Hicks, but in the long-run, it’s a serious danger to English football.