This is a clearing up exercise, really – all the things that I have been pondering over the last few days. I haven’t spent this week only thinking about old football computer games, I promise. Firstly, I have noted with interest a couple of mentions elsewhere to Reading and Wigan Athletic not being “proper football clubs”. There is definitely something in this statement with which I agree, but how does one define a “proper football club”? It’s clear to me that Reading and Wigan aren’t “proper football clubs”. The shiny new grounds count against them, as do the multi-millionaire benefactors and Johnny-Come-Lately supporters. In fact, Wigan can’t lay claim to any supporters. Even playing Manchester United last weekend, there were 5,000 unsold seats at the JJB Stadium. I don’t mind this in the slightest. When I was growing up, Wigan was “a rugby league town”. They were very good at rugby league. Wigan didn’t need football, football didn’t need Wigan, and the arrangement seemed to suit everyone just fine. Reading are a very old club (founded in 1871, fact fans), but apart from their near-miss in 1995, they’d never played in the top flight. They had a crumbling, ancient ground (the much missed Elm Park), and troubled no-one. Over the last couple of years, they’ve both been propelled into the Premiership, and, let’s be honest, they’ve bought their places there. Neither Reading nor Wigan would have got there without massive cash injections. I know it makes me a snob, but I don’t care. They are not proper football clubs. The same goes for the following: MK Dons, Rushden & Diamonds, Grays Athletic, Dagenham & Redbridge and Stevenage Borough. Sorry, but you’re not part of our gang. Dagenham are, almost. They only need to drop the “& Redbridge” from their name, and I’ll let them (albeit grudgingly) in. The rest of them… forget it. Never going to happen.
Okay, so, if we’ve established some of those that aren’t “proper football clubs”, how do we define those that are? I need create a set of rules, by which these clubs can be defined. It’s not a simple black & white issue. Not many clubs will score full marks. But you should, with this handy cut out and keep guide, be able to work out how “proper” your club is.
1. A proper football club should have at least one great team, no matter how long ago. With the likes of Manchester United and Liverpool, you’re spoilt for choice. But supporters of smaller clubs shouldn’t lose heart. This is a relative issue. Walsall fans, for example, can stake a claim for the team that beat Herbert Chapman’s Arsenal in 1933. Bournemouth supporters can lay claim to the team that beat Manchester United in the FA Cup in 1984. You should be able to pick a year and a reason without hesitation. Example: Brighton. 1983. FA Cup Final.
2. Your club should have a proper ground. It helps if it’s name ends in the word “Park”, but this isn’t required. For example, Wolves can stake a claim here with Molineux, and Bristol City can with Ashton Gate. Anyone with the name “Stadium” on the end of their name are instant losers in this category. Manchester City lost their point in this category by moving from Maine Road to The City Of Manchester Stadium. Minus one point from your total score if your ground has a sponsor’s name. I don’t care how much your club needed the cash. And don’t even get me started on The Walkers Bowl.
3. Your club should have a motto. There’s something about a club with a motto that gives it a feeling of history. It’s better if it’s in Latin for that authentic old-school touch (cf: “Arte Et Labore”, “Nil Satis Nisi Optimum”, “Audere Est Facere”), but, again, it’s not completely necessary. Wolves (again) score highly here for the suberbly ironic (and a touch pretentious) “Out Of Darkness Cometh Light”, and Rangers are simply “Ready”. There can be few better ways to pass the time, by the way, than to sit with an English-Latin dictionary and invent a new motto for your club.
4. Your club should have an authentic local rivalry. Size, contrary to what some may tell you, does not matter. I grew up in the home counties, and I can say with a degree of authority that Watford-Luton can be as just as tasty as Liverpool-Everton. No points awarded here for rivalries that have been stoked up by league positions, or those that have been invented in recent years. So, sorry Chelsea, but Arsenal’s derby match is, no matter what Sky Sports say, Tottenham rather than you.
5. History: Fairly simple, this one. You need to have won a major trophy or caused a major cup upset. By a major trophy, I mean the FA Cup or the Premiership (or it’s equivalent). I’m certainly not counting the League Cup here. Sorry about that, Middlesbrough, Norwich and Stoke. By major cup upset, I’m again only referring to the FA Cup.
6. Your club needs to have played at Wembley. Perversely, considering the post above, I am including the League Cup here, but I’m not including play-off finals, the Auto Windscreens Shield (or whatever the hell they’re calling that these days), the Millenium Stadium. For our non-league afficianados, I’m talking about the FA Amateur Cup, the FA Trophy or the FA Vase here.
7. Your club should be easily identified by the colour of their kit. Certainly no points here for anyone that based the basic layout of their kit more than once in the last twenty-five years. Blue shirts, white shorts and white socks? Everton. Yellow shirts, green shorts, yellow socks? Norwich. A point for almost everybody here, though it’s a close shave for Crystal Palace.
8. Your team should have had at least one close shave with death moment. I’m not counting relegations here. They don’t count. No club has ever gone bust solely because it got relegated. Not even clubs that have been relegated from the League have managed that (not even Newport County – they were heading for extinction before they were relegated into the Conference). I’m thinkiing about thinks like Brighton getting evicted from their ground, three of the four stands at Molineux being closed, or (for those with a good memory) those locked gates at Ayresome Park. Supporters of the bigger clubs may complain about this being included, but most of the other categories here are massively biased in their favour, and football is not all about the big clubs.
9. Your club should have a nickname that everybody knows. I’m not particularly fussed about clubs that change their nicknames, because the nickname isn’t something official that can be owned by the club. It’s the property of the supporters. Did you know that, until the mid-1970s, Brighton’s nickname was The Dolphins? The Seagulls was created and adopted by the supporters. Clubs, of course, have sought to retain control over this. In the early 1990s, Stockport County’s board tried to change the club’s nickname from The Hatters to The Cobras, after they signed a sponsorship deal with a brand of lager called Cobra. You can probably work out for yourselves how long it lasted.
10. Every club should have one story that everyone knows. The sort of thing that a grandfather can sit and tell him grandchildren. It doesn’t even have to be true. In fact, it’s even better if it doesn’t. But such a story should at least exist, and be passed from generation to generation, like nursery rhymes or folklore.
Apologies to our non-English readers, but I’m sure you can see what I’m getting at here.