The root of all evil

Everyone wants a Sheikh Mansour or an Abramovich, don’t they?

If you look at football as only being something which takes place on the pitch, then the takeovers of Manchester City and Chelsea were the greatest thing to happen to the clubs by some distance. It’s helped to bring the European Cup to London for the first time, while Sergio Aguero gave most Manchester City fans the best moment of their lives on a sunny May afternoon in 2012.

Whether it’s Everton or Enfield, you can be sure that many supporters have looked on enviously ever since, wondering when it will be their turn for a giant sack of cash and a South American striker to arrive, with all the glitz and glamour that ensues.

The problem is, football is really only all about success for people who don’t attend matches. If you watch on Sky Sports or an illegal stream before boasting to your mates in Shanghai about Manchester being blue, then it is indeed only results which are important. After all, what do ticket prices or atmosphere matter if you have no intention of experiencing them anyway?

No, the problem comes for the supporters of these clubs who have followed the clubs all their lives, and now find themselves supporting a very different club to the one they fell in love with. You see, these people were there when they were playing Bradford City instead of Barcelona, with Slaviša Jokanović or even David James playing upfront instead of Diego Costa and the aforementioned Aguero.

The change at Manchester City has become increasingly noticeable in the last two seasons, with the fan culture at the club maintained fairly successfully until this stage. In 2007 I moved to the north of England and made a number of friends who supported City, and they would occasionally take me to a game with them. Even though the mega money arrived during this time, it was still fun to go to the matches. By the time I moved to the Netherlands in 2013, the signs of change were evident. I went to the European Cup matches against many of Europe’s biggest clubs (and Ajax) and was amazed to see the change that had taken place. While there was (and still is) a noisy pocket of fans in the block to the right of the away end, much of the stadium was quiet. I took the video below which I believe shows the contrast in support perfectly:

It’s got even worse since then, with ‘supporters’ pictured taking a photo of Wayne Rooney and smiling after he’d just scored against them in a Manchester derby, longterm supporters being moved from their seats to create more corporate boxes and insisting on forcing their pre-approved ‘matchday experience’ on people. After so many years making fun of the atmosphere at Manchester United and the way they act more like a brand than a football club, the same thing has happened to City.

Despite the fact I’ve focused on them so far, this is far from just being a Manchester City problem. Chelsea away used to be one of the most intimidating fixtures in the football calendar for an English football fan. The Shed End had a reputation as one of the biggest collection of nutters around, and you could count on it to be loud, passionate and occasionally violent. These days, the most dangerous thing which could happen to you at the Bridge is accidentally getting poked in the eye with a selfie stick.

Perhaps inevitably, especially in such a wealthy area of the city, Chelsea has become a cool place to be seen, like the theatre or a Broadway show. With these people able to pay considerable sums of money for a ticket, it’s no surprise that the corporates have come in and the nutters have been relegated to watching at home or in the pub more often than not, picking and choosing their games due to prices and availability.

And so this…

 

chelsea1

Becomes this…

 

chelsea2

 

It’s not just England where this is a problem. In France too, the arrival of money and success has caused serious problems for the supporters who would be there whether it was a European Cup match against Real Madrid, or they were taking on Bourg-Péronnas in the early rounds of the cup. I am of course talking about Paris Saint-Germain, the most recent European goliath. In 2007/08, just as Manchester City were taking the first steps towards superstardom, PSG narrowly avoided being relegated – finishing just three points off the drop zone. A few years later the club from the French capital had another extremely disappointing season, finishing in 13th place while their hated rivals Olympique de Marseille stormed to the title.

Despite this season being a nightmare on the field, the PSG ultras continued to make a name for themselves throughout Europe, with several different groups coming together to create a fearsome atmosphere. Supras Auteuil, Lutece Falco, Authentiks, Boulogne Boys, Karsud, Tigris Mistik… all of these groups competed to be the most impressive both visually and vocally, and the result was something to strike fear into the heart of the opposition fan – while providing a place for the working class people of Paris to express their emotions and pride in their city.

In 2010 it all started to go wrong – with strict measures put in place from the club itself and the French authorities to replace passion with profit. Many of the fans groups were forcibly disbanded by the club, while those that remained suffered such restrictions that it was impossible for them to continue. Knowing that the end of their journey was near, the ultras gathered for one final ‘au revoir’ – putting on this spectacular display against Montpellier towards the end of the 09/10 season.

For those of you who do not speak French or cannot view the video, the first banner reads ‘Paname United Colours’, the united group of Supras Auteuil, Authentiks and Grinta. Another banner follows in English stating “This is the end”, before one final banner in French which reads “You are killing our club”.

It only got worse once the Qatari investors officially arrived on the scene, with the working class men and women of Paris no longer wanted by those in charge. Instead, the target audience became children whose parents would spend money in the club shop, and rich businesspeople who would impress their potential clients by renting out a suite for a game.

It also became impossible to reserve a particular seat in advance for any PSG game, with supporters instead taking their seat once they arrived at the stadium. This makes it very difficult for a tifo display to be arranged or for likeminded passionate supporters to gather together, further sanitizing the Parc des Princes fan scene. There are some hardcore supporters who remain inside the stadium and do their best to replicate the atmosphere of days gone by, but it is like trying to bail out the deck of a sinking ship using an ice cream scoop.

Now look at what has been happening back in England in Manchester and London. It is no longer allowed to hang up flags in some sections of the Etihad, with club sponsored ‘digital flags’ showing up in these spaces instead. This way the marketing suits can promote a nice clean message of their own, without having to worry about those nasty supporters doing something to upset a sponsor or the eager TV audience. At Chelsea too, the club sponsored plastic flags have become a running joke for supporters of many other clubs, with Liverpool fans in particular using this as a stick to beat them with.

While the plastic jokes are tired and over-used, the point is a valid one. The rich owners of the club do not want the supporters to have their own voice, and instead want them to sit down and be a good little customer. Sing the right song when you’re told, wave the right flag when we ask you, pay what we tell you and if you complain about any of it, the manager will criticize you in the press for not supporting the team properly.

Whether it’s Barry the Manchester City fan, Dave the Chelsea fan or François the PSG fan, the story is the same. They were there for their team when they were crap, and now they’re good, they no longer want to be seen with them. Like the lottery winner who leaves their wife to run away lingerie model, I’m sure they’re enjoying life right now, but what will be left for them when the money runs out? If you show supporters that you don’t need them, they will very quickly believe you.

Let’s say that Chelsea and Manchester City enjoy another ten years of success before the owners go elsewhere. They’ll leave behind a shiny new stadium, a greatly extended trophy cabinet and millions of replica shirts in the Far East, but will they leave behind a single trace of the fan culture that once was? Of the friends I mentioned who used to watch Man City on a regular basis, there are already plenty of them who don’t go anymore. With season tickets set to increase in price for the coming campaign, many more of them are likely to be driven out.

This is all fine while the clubs are successful and there is someone to take their place, but if you drive enough people away, all that will be left is an empty plastic seat. Look at Cardiff City, who enjoyed superb crowds during their stay in the Premier League despite the supporters who were lost due to the rebrand and Vincent Tan’s general insanity. However now the club has returned to the Championship, more and more people are becoming disillusioned and attending less matches. I believe the same thing will happen with Chelsea, Manchester City, PSG and any other club which seems to be living the dream, it only takes a moment in the modern game for a dream to become a nightmare. Look at Anzhi Makhachkala, the club who made headlines around the world for signing Samuel Eto’o, Roberto Carlos and many other well known players. Heard of them recently? Last season they were relegated with the least points of any top flight club in Europe, winning just three games.

So if your club is rubbish, broke and unsuccessful, you might just be the lucky ones. If you can buy a ticket for any game you want without having to sell your kidney on eBay, if you can jump around an away end without being told to sit down and be quiet, if you can look around the stand without seeing an iPad or a split scarf, if Sky Sports doesn’t control your fixture list…well, you have something more valuable than any trophy.

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Posted on April 14, 2015, in General. Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. This is all very true but it lays the blame totally on the super-rich owners who have bought into our clubs. Is this fair? Why have they spent their millions (perhaps billions), to buy potentially successful, high profile football clubs? The answer is because of the world-wide exposure that these clubs can achieve and the world-wide commercial opportunities which this exposure can produce.

    But this is only possible through TV beamed by satellite across the home country and to football fans across the globe. And who makes this possible? Satellite TV subscribers… football fans around the world. So we, the football fans, are the reason why billionaires buy our clubs and change them to suit their own financial ends.

    Well actually not ‘we’, but ‘you’. I refuse to have satellite TV in my house. I saw very early on just where it would lead & what damage it would do to football as I knew it. But, like Canute, I also knew that I could not achieve that!

  2. Oops! Final sentence should read, “But, like Canute who tried to stem the flow of the tide, I also knew that I could not achieve that!”

  3. Parisian Feyenoorder

    For Paris, it is even worse. With the help from the government they stopped 13,000 season cards (yes…) It were the ones of all the guy from the two fanatics stands, Boulogne and Auteuil. Of course there were plenty of reason for this, one of those being that someone got killed before a match during a fight between two rivals group of Paris but seriously, instead of trying to fix the problem with the hooligans, which was well known, with people the police had known the identity for years and years, they decided to do what they always wanted to do: kick everybody out to offer a good looking product to the Qatari.
    The next season was terrible, no one was going to the stadium. A lot of guys from those stands stop to watch football and a very few moved to watch two lower Parisian teams (Red Star and Paris FC). For a Europa Cup match, there were only 2,000 fans in the stadium, and 8,000 against Borussia, where their fans were making so much noise that it was totally humiliating. I never came back to the stadium since then.
    It is highly frustrating when you think that you were going to support the team when it was composed of shit players and that they were fighting against relegation, that you were going mental after a goal of Amara Diané or a victory against Strasbourg, and that this one, the first one of the season at home in… February, gave you so much emotions.
    Anyway, now the stadium is full, the club tries to enrole people to remake the atmosphere there was back then, but it will never, ever, be the same…

  4. David Davies

    You forgot about `split scarves’. There is a special place in Hell for the niwit that dreamt up that one.

  5. So football began to change and sell it’s soul when money came into Chelsea, City and PSG? What utter crap, you’re about 30 years too late with that shout I’m afraid. I’m a City season ticket holder and have been going for over 30 years and my team means just as much to me today as it did when I first went to Maine Rd in 1983 to see a 1-0 defeat to Charlton.

    Whilst many of your points are valid it infuriates me when this accusation is only levelled at City/Chelsea while the likes of United, Liverpool and Arsenal are lorded as bastions of football. If anyone cares to do a little research you might find that in 1983 5 clubs (Man utd, Liverpool, Arsenal, Everton and Spurs) threatened to break away from the Football League unless they got a greater share of the sponsorship/TV money that was split equally between league clubs at that time. They got their way.

    Fast forward 8 or 9 years and it happened anyway with the emergence of the Premier league and Sky, this is when football began to change with ticket prices, transfer fees and wages increasing year on year, long before Abramovich and Mansour came along. It wasn’t just the case in England, you only have to look at the stage managed commercial beast that is the Champion League to see that, a competition that has been selling it’s arse for over 20 years, but Madrid, Barca or Bayern aren’t lambasted for filling their pockets off the back of it are they?

    I’m sick to the back teeth of listening to pious halfwits who follow these clubs talk about ‘earning’ their money and sustainability etc, oh what so you’re dependent on selling club branded tea cosies and shirts to a global army of glory hunters? Well what difference does it make where the money comes from if the same negatives to football still apply. As I say you make some very valid points but football has been heading this way long before City, Chelsea or PSG had a pot to piss in. Have a think about what attracts Billionaires to football in the first place.

    • Perhaps you should read more of this blog before making comments! Where, exactly, has Mr Dudley “lorded [the likes of United, Liverpool and Arsenal] as bastions of football”? If you had read more of this blog, you’d see that Mr. Dudley celebrates efforts to rebuild clubs that have been destroyed by modern football like FC Utd of Manchester – https://supportersnotcustomers.com/2013/08/27/the-other-manchester-derby/
      or AFC Wimbledon –
      https://supportersnotcustomers.com/tag/afc-wimbledon/
      and has lambasted big clubs like Barca for selling out in recent years: https://supportersnotcustomers.com/2014/01/30/how-barcelona-became-just-a-club/
      Finally, while Bayern is easily envied for their riches and success, the club still retains many elements of pre-modern football, including standing terraces and cheap tickets, although they too are guilty of chasing its largest ultras group, Schickeria. Also, Bayern isn’t stingy with its money – the club has bailed out several German clubs facing bankruptcy over the years, including St. Pauli and Dortmund. Can you imagine Abramovich or Glazer doing that? I do not.

      I can understand your frustration with your club, but then, I think the author faced the same frustration with Vincent Tan! I guess your only options are (1) accept what modern football has brought to your club and own it, take pride in it. (2) Organise other fans who are unhappy with what has happened to your club and start a new club (e.g. City of Manchester FC) (3) do what the author did, and find a smaller local club to support, like Salford City. or (4) quit supporting football. It’s your choice, if you select option 2, I’ll bet the author will write about your club!

      • I have read a number of articles written on this blog but likewise there are many I have missed, however it is this particular article in discussion.

        My accusation regarding “United, Liverpool and Arsenal being lorded as bastions of football” isn’t directly aimed at the author but at the media/fan stance in general as is most of my rant, something I should have made clearer.

        My overall point however is that despite the investment of billionaires in football, the game was some way down this commercial path anyway. I’m pretty sure that if Mansour or Abramovich hadn’t come along then ticket prices at Chelsea and City would still be overpriced and you’d still be told to sit down and eat your £5 pie.

        I was at Ajax away in the Champions League a couple of seasons ago when they had a big protest banner depicting a Sheik with a bag of money, no banners about the fact away fans were being stung €85 a fucking ticket for the game by their club.

        I agree the German model is as good as any in modern football but the commercial prowess of Bayern doesn’t make for a competitive league. Unfortunately most fans around the world only want to watch Bayern which is a shame, I was at 1860 v Arminia Bielefeld last season and had a great weekend and look forward to another German trip early next season.

        For the record I think this is a really good blog and it makes a change to have some intelligent debate with knowledgeable fans instead of the childish squabbling you get on most forums.

  6. Nice reply Nico. Let’s not forget those groups of “Top” teams across Europe. Utd arsenal bayern Barcelona Madris and the Milan clubs that stitched the TV revenue money up and pushed for the fair play nonsense just so they could stay at the “Top” table….mmmmm

  7. The selfie-takers and tourists are essentially an extension of Roy Keane’s “prawn-sandwich brigade.” I kind of agree with Nico although with the likes of PSG, Chelsea and City, the growth was less organic and more was entirely bankrolled by individuals – that’s the main distinction.
    To put a cat amongst the pigeons, does nobody else the ‘split scarf’ as a replacement for the match programme for many people who cannot go to many games? I’d never buy one myself but they don’t offend me. If I go to a club I’ve never visited as a neutral, I always buy a home-team scarf.

  8. Nico, the reason that Arsenal, Liverpool and United (and you could include a lot of Continental teams as well) are held up as the antithesis to the likes of Chelsea and City is that they have built up their cash reserves and income stream over many. many years of providing attractive (well perhaps not ‘attractive’ so much for Arsenal) successful, trophy winning football that people want to watch; this is the thing that grabs the interest of people from all over the world and makes them become fans and contributes to the income stream.

    Other clubs, and again there are many Continental clubs but lets stick with the British clubs, have been bought by sugar-daddy owners loaded with petrodollars to be either a plaything or a marketing platform for their business interests. I don’t have the stats to prove it but I rather expect that the likes of Chelsea and City had a considerably smaller world wide fan base before the arrival of Roman Abramovich and Sheikh Mansour but their fan base is growing and maybe, just maybe, one day they will be up there with the likes of Real Madrid, Inter Milan, Juve, Liverpool and United and they will no longer be accused of being ‘sugar daddy’ clubs.

    • I don’t dispute that is the case. The point I’m making is that money in football, from whatever source, has impacted on the cost of following the game. The points made in the article ring true for modern football at professional level as a whole, so why is it only City, Chelsea and PSG get accused. People in glass houses at.

  9. Football fans everywhere should start “Divest from fossil fuels” campaigns, specifically targeting owners whose wealth is derived primarily from them! This carries a nice “green” message too, that would appeal to fans outside the AMF movement.

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