There are three football clubs at which the Christmas period may well prove to be a period of reflection. The circumstances that have engulfed these three clubs over the last few weeks and months have come to act as something of a barometer for the state of professional football in this country at the moment. None of them are sufficiently insignificant as clubs to be easy to sweep under the carpet – two of them, for goodness’ sake, are in the Premier League – and the behaviour of their owners have heaped shame on what used to be a game, as well as causing thousands to start reconsidering whether this “game” is even worth bothering with any more.
It used to occasionally be said that, over the course of your lifetime, you were statistically less likely to change your bank than you were to change your husband and wife. I’m not entirely sure whether this situation is still the same but I’d say with a degree of certainty that, even in the footloose and fancy-free twenty-century, when we’re all encouraged to treat every interaction in our personal lives as consumers, that we’re still less likely to change our football team over the course of our lifetimes than just about any other aspect of our lives. It’s only through this prism of attachment and self-identification can the decisions of those who allow themselves to be treated like dirt by the football clubs that they give their support to can be viewed.
No-one in their right mind would suggest that to walk away from a football club, to withdraw that support, to draw a line in the sand and say “enough”, is ever going to be anything like an easy thing to do. It’s not just just a matter of the emotional pull of a football club, either. At many clubs, a majority of those that do to turn out to attend are season-ticket holders, who have paid in advance to turn out to matches. These people have made a financial commitment to a football club worth hundreds of pounds, and to walk away from that, again, requires a degree of resolve so great that to not do so, to continue to pitch up every other week, close one’s ears and imagine that everything is just continuing as per normal – just as it always has done, just as we all presume it always will do.
There those for who it suits a broader argument to suggest that supporters who make this sort of decision, as if the only sort of blind loyalty is the only sort that is worth anything. The only thing to do, for people of this persuasion, is to full-bloodedly support the owners of a football club, no matter who they are or what they do. “Get behind the team!” they cry, as if there is anything within the relationship between supporters and players that is in the slightest bit reciprocal. This call to loyalty, however, is very effective. Even at clubs at which the treatment of supporters would necessitate the intervention of the RSPCA were is to involve animals rather than them, there have been few very clubs at which there has ever been a mass divorce between a football club and its supporters.
But things don’t always don’t always go on as per not. It has happened elsewhere before, though. It happened at Enfield, at Wimbledon, at FC United of Manchester, at Chester and at Northwich Victoria, where the supporters of a football club saw that line in the sand and couldn’t or wouldn’t step over it. Are the supporters of those clubs necessarily “happier” than the supporters of other clubs, though? Well, you might argue that no-one has a divine right to happiness, but it has certainly long felt as if the supporters of clubs that at which that sort of schism has occurred, or where the club has indeed died and risen again, seem at least able to concentrate upon football – You know, the actual game itself, with players and a pitch and a referee? Do you remember that? – rather than any of the peripheral bullshit that has become so distracting in recent years.
At Coventry City, a huge proportion of the supporters of the club may have begun the process of drifting away from it. No-one knows for sure how many might return should it ever return to the city – or even somewhere near it – but what we know with a degree of certainty is that it won’t be happening in anything like the immediate future, and that once the habit of going to the football on a Saturday afternoon has been broken, it can be extremely difficult to pick it back up with anything like the enthusiasm that you held for it before. At Hull City and Cardiff City, the circumstances are slightly different. It doesn’t quite feel yet as if the owners of these two clubs are dug in for a war of attrition in the same way that the owners of Coventry City are yet, and the levels of condemnation currently being hurled at them over their indiscretions means that they could yet be reversed. Hull City AFC is not yet called “Hull Tigers.” Malky Mackay remains, for the time being, the manager of Cardiff City, even if the club remains an abomination while it’s wearing red and black.
So, where does this leave us at the end of a trying year for the supporters of these three clubs? Well, it leaves them all with a fight still on their hands. To fight or to acquiesce? To walk away or to stick it out until the bitter end? Any reaction is understandable, especially when the realisation strikes that this is supposed to be a bloody game, you know, something that you do in your leisure time. Perhaps we’re all so used to being treated like something that somebody just stepped in that we just consider all of this abnormality to be something approaching normal. And on top of all of this, we all already know that we can’t trust those entrusted with overseeing the running of the game in this country to do anything on our behalf. Supporters have to stand up for themselves when their clubs are being desecrated, because we can be damn sure that no-one is going to do it for us.
At all three of the above clubs, we gather a better idea what their long-term prognoses turn out to be over the coming months. How many more Coventry City supporters will continue to leak away from the club, should it continue to become apparent that there will be no return from the club’s self-imposed exile in Northamptonshire? There aren’t that many attending home matches any more as things stand. What will be next in line for the impetuous Mr Tan at Cardiff City? Are his motives behind wishing rid of Mr Mackay as they have been advertised, or is there more to both him and his future plans for the club than initially meets the eye? And what of Dr Assem Allam of Hull City? What form will his consultation with fans groups take before he goes back to the FA with the decision that he already seems to have made? We will find out next year, but the precedents set during 2013 hint don’t give us a great deal of cause for optimism.
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