There’s an attempt at a coup d’etat going on in football in this country at the moment, and it feels as if point is rapidly approaching at which supporters of all hues will draw a line in the sand and say “enough.” Indeed, that point may already have been reached this week with the confirmation that, having originally promised that there would be a period of consultation with supporters and then apparently going back on this by stating that protestors “can die as soon as they want”, Dr Assem Allam’s Hull City has submitted a formal proposal to the Football Association to change the club’s name to “Hull Tigers” from the start of next season.
Allam’s overwhelming desire to desecrate Hull City AFC has publicly been reported as being related to a belief that the use of the name “City” is “common” – he might have preferred to use the word “commonplace” there lest his words be left open to misinterpretation, but that’s by the by – but it has also been reported that this move may be due to something a little more prosaic, that being the local city council’s refusal to sell him The KC Stadium and land surrounding it. To be clear, the KC Stadium is a community asset in the most obvious of respects. The local council paid more than £42m towards the cost of building the stadium and it is, in a city in which association football vies for popularity with both codes of rugby, also used by the Hull FC professional rugby league club.
His reasons and rationale, however, are not out concern this evening. This article in Marketing Week (a publication which, we may reasonably assume, should know a thing or two about this sort of thing), published yesterday, cut a sizeable hole in whatever his argument might have been in favour of changing the name – “Much of the “marketing theory” being quoted by Mr Allam is, quite frankly, nonsense, but the one area he has completely failed to grasp is brand engagement,” states its writer Mark Ritson with the withering tone of somebody who understands marketing and has heard far too many people who don’t understand it discussing it as if they did in the past – and many now suspect that this is more a matter of ego and a hard-headed need to get his own way on the part of Allam than anything else.
Something, however, is most definitely in the air. The Football Association, who are surely plenty mindful of the outrage that would follow Allam getting his own way on this matter, felt compelled to issue a public statement this afternoon which stated quite bluntly that, “As part of the evaluation of the request a consultation process will be undertaken with various stakeholders including supporter groups,” and if this public annoucement can be interpreted as acknowledgement on the part of the FA that they are dealing with a matter which, if approved, will infuriate the supporters of many clubs, then we might equally surmise that the governing body has no excuse to get their decision over this wrong.
On the basis of Allam’s ill-advised to the point of sheer stupidity comments on the matter over recent weeks, it has felt as if, despite the best intentions of the FA to introduce a reminder of the need to consult with supporters on this matter, the owner of the club is unlikely to have a great deal of interest in seing this through. After all, how else are we supposed to interpret the insults that he has thrown at Hull City supporters who have already expressed their anger at this proposal in recent weeks? So, if we work to the assumption that any attempts at a “consultation process with various stakeholders including supporter groups”, then can supporters who are angry at this new generation of club owners who seem to believe that their millions of pounds grant them a divine right to alter the very fabric of professional football in this country rely on the Football Association to act as a bulwark to protect the integrity of the culture of the game in England?
The answer to this question is difficult to gauge, but cynicism is the current default position of the average football supporter and the governing bodies of this game hardly have a blemish-free record in this respect. When Wimbledon FC was franchised to Milton Keynes a little over a decade ago, the Football League and the Football Association passed the overall decision over this between each other like a hot potato before absolving themselves of responsibility by passing the matter to an independent commission, who approved it. It is understood that this decision and outcome was not the one that the FA had been accepting. Back in the present day, when the Football League were offered their opportunity to act as bulwarks against the departure of Coventry City to Northampton with a perfectly good stadium sitting vacant in the city of Coventry itself, they dropped the ball and allowed it. Neither body, then, has a particularly glorious history in this respect.
In a press release issued this afternoon, Supporters Direct went one step further and stated that the governing bodies should ensure that, “Certain matters regarding the intrinsic identity of a club (colours, name, badge home ground) should only be changed with the agreement of a club’s supporters (through a simple and open democratic process),” and that, “this requirement be included within FA rules so that it is mandatory for all clubs.” This seems like an eminently sensible policy for the Football Association to incorporate. Football, as SD so eloquently state, is not a business just like any other and we, as supporters, are reaching a point at which there is now a small group of football club owners who behaving so disgracefully that we are left with no alternative to say that we will surely have to raise our game as supporters, as a collective, in order to put a stop to this dismal succession of events.
Meanwhile, a petition created by the City Til We Die protest group is hurtling towards ten thousand signatures, while the #NoToHullTigers hashtag has been doing brisk business on Twitter this afternoon. This isn’t, as we have pointed out, a matter of “foreign owners.” Nationality is irrelevant when all that matters is surely an understanding of the fact that football is quite emphatically not merely a business – it means considerably more than that to millions of people. Should Assem Allam, The Cardiff Red Dragons’ Vincent Tan, Sisu or any of the other wretches who are currently trampling all over our game like the bubonic plague in pin-striped suits wish to get involved in “mere” businesses, they are reminded that there are plenty of other avenues of business available for them to approach. If they can’t abide by our culture, then they should get the hell out of professional football and indulge themselves in some other way. These people are not welcome here, and it’s about time we stepped up a gear in terms of reminding them of this. And if the Football Association and the Football League can’t keep these people in line, then they might as well not exist in the first place.
We also recommend reading Dave Boyle’s incisive take on the gap between people who are paid by football and people who pay for football.
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