Watching the class of 92 documentary it was interesting listening to the views of long standing Salford City fans. A number of them interviewed said they were unhappy with the ex-Man Utd players takeover “as it will never be the same.”
Equally numerous QPR fans say they preferred QPR when the Chrysalis’ records founder Chris Wright owned QPR (96-2001) over Briartore / Ecclestone / Fernandes / Bhattia / Mittal, the recent owners over the last 5 years. Mercenary footballers are not fun to watch and the likes of Chris Samba and Joey Barton being paid £80k a week without showing enough on the pitch rankled with many QPR fans. Also the ridicule with which they were relegated after a succession of managers in Neil Warnock, Mark Hughes, Harry Redknapp, Chris Ramsey was embarrassing, fans on Twitter say it is “circus like.”
Manchester also has its divided fan base, FC Manchester now thriving was set up as people were upset at the “leveraged” buyout of Man Utd by the Glazer family saddling the club with £600m worth of debt. The interest payments on the debt pile far exceeded the investment in the squad and that angered many hardened Utd fans as did the ramp up of prices and forcing fans to buy Cup tickets to retain their right to buy other match tickets. Changing the kit every year was also seen as an affront to the fans in its early days, even though it is subsequently now undertaken by most clubs.
Many Man City fans disliked the take over by Thaksin Shinawatra the ex-Thai prime minister and the later takeover by Sheikh Mansour. They felt the club lost some of its identity and the distance between the fans and the club grew. The influx of overnight money is also ridiculed as “buying success” by competitor fans.
Ticket pricing after a high profile buy out often rises at the detriment of local fans who can no longer afford tickets. This has led to a whole theory about why crowds are no longer raucous, people citing tourist fans due to the high prices displacing more vocal local fans who are well versed and steeped in the songs and the traditions of the club.
Massimo Cellino the Leeds owner has entered into a declaration to sell Leeds United to a fan consortium providing they can raise the requisite funds. Cellino is quoted as saying “the fans are Leeds United’s only asset.” Leeds is almost a virtual club and own neither the Elland Road stadium or their training facilities. So Cellino is both factually and metaphorically right “the fans are the only asset.”
By logical consequence the soul of any club is its fans and fan base. They will be there long after any multitude of owners. Clubs like Wigan and Swansea have visited every League on their way to greatness and for Wigan on their demise in fortunes of late too, and a core loyal fan base has witnessed every step of the ride up and down.
Liverpool fans were radically splintered by the ownership issues of Hicks and Gillet and then by Brendan Rodgers’ tenure, and have only now discovered new found unity due to the appointment of almost universally acclaimed manager Jurgen Klopp.
As Gary Neville recently quoted “it’s impossible to keep all fans happy (at Salford) so it’s ludicrous for that thought to even enter my head.”
Wimbledon Football Club uprooting sticks and moving into the National Hockey stadium in Milton Keynes is another example of the “soul” being displaced of the football club. To expect loyal Plough Lane fans to travel 65 miles to home games in Milton Keynes obviously completely shatters your fan base. AFC Wimbledon the new club has split that fan base in two.
The tribal nature of football and different mentalities (perhaps geographically) to the definition of the soul of a football club vary enormously.
The “soul of a football club” is a moving beast, and means something different to almost any segment of fans. However it’s hard to move away from the Leeds owner Massimo Cellino’s premise that the “only asset of his football club is its fans.”