Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Who'd Be A Football Fan?

With apologies for continuing the stories from yesterday's transfer madness, the issues raised on a day of crazy football dealings continue to rumble on.

The 'he said, they said, we said' saga that is emerging on Tyneside highlights that there is one group of people who will never be taken into account, other than to bolster the bank accounts of those within the inner circle, the football fans.

Today it is the turn of the Newcastle United fans. Come to think of it, over recent years, it has often been the turn of the Newcastle fans. However, recently it was Liverpool fans gnashing their teeth. The list is lengthy and could include Plymouth Argyle, Portsmouth, Leeds United, Chester City and many, many more. All clubs who's fans have been forced to watch from the outside as events unfolded that would make or break their clubs.

Football fans may invest heavily in the teams they follow, in emotional as well as financial terms, but when it comes to events that affect their clubs they are nothing more than spectators. Often, they are spectators with a very poor view of what is unfolding at their beloved clubs. Many of us have experienced the joys of having a seat near a pillar at a football match, craning our necks to make sure that our view is not momentarily obscured. When spectating events off the field the converse is usually the case. We crane our necks to get a glimpse of the truth from behind a solid wall of secrecy, deception and downright lies. Referring to this situation as the converse is a deliberate play on words. The irony is that in these matters clubs are very reluctant and selective in how they converse with their fans.

In the case of the Newcastle fans, just as fans of other clubs would have done, they have invested heavily in supporting their heros. Many thousands will own replica shirts with Andy Carroll's name emblazened on the back. For those unlucky enough to have purchased an official club calendar, they will suffer the ignominy of turning the page for a new month to be met with the sight of Andy Carroll in his Newcastle strip. At least February is the shortest month of the year.

Club owners may be the ones who have invested their own millions to purchase and develop football clubs. However, they should not forget that they do not do so in isolation. They also rely on the continued goodwill and financial support of fans, many of whom invest a far larger proportion of their own wealth in providing this support. Nobody is suggesting that they should consult each and every fan before making decisions that affect the club. Nothing would ever get done. For every thousand fans there are probably nine hundred different opinions on the right way forward. What every fan can reasonably demand, however, is more transparency, communication and honesty from the club and players towards themselves. Basic respect for the support they show.

Newcastle United fans have lost a hero. A local lad who has developed from boyhood at the club, had his off the field problems, but by and large retained the support of the majority of fans. They have watched him grow and develop, bought replica shirts with his name on to help pay his substantial wages and shouted support from the stands as he plied his trade for his hometown club. That support does not give them the right to own or control Andy Carroll. It does, however, give them the moral right to ask for the truth in knowing why he left.

This morning's newspapers and internet sites are full of stories and counter-stories claiming that he was pushed out, demanded to leave, held the club to ransom or was a pawn to line Mike Ashley's pockets. With all of the contradictory versions of events flying about it leaves the Newcastle fans confused and more than a little let down. They deserve better.

Why did Newcastle allow their star striker to leave without following Liverpool's example and making sure they had a replacement lined up first? Why did Andy Carroll go from declaring that he wanted to spend his whole career with the club to demanding a transfer within a few days? What genuine attempts did the club make to keep him, or the player make to stay? All questions that the Newcastle fans have a right to ask, and have answered honestly.

If Andy Carroll had come out and said "I'm 22 and was offered the chance to earn three times as much money, and couldn't say no" the fans may not have liked it but they would have understood. Some may even have respected it. If the Newcastle board came out and said "we felt that £35 million was too big an amount to turn down, and even though we cannot replace him now we can invest in the summer" then again at least fans would have known what was going on. They may not have liked it, but they would be given the opportunity to make an informed decision on whether to keep offering financial support to the people running the club.

Instead they have been offered only glimpses of what went on behind closed doors. Somebody, if not all of them, is trying to mislead the fans. That is not good enough.

Fans of other teams may be enjoying seeing the Geordies squirm. They shouldn't! The issue of fans involvement, and knowledge of what is happening at their clubs, goes beyond tribal loyalties. Your team may be in the position of buying star players rather than selling them. However, as the Uefa fair play rules come into affect, teams will be judged - and penalised - on their ability to make the books balance. Transfer fees are costed over the lifetime of the contract. Balancing the books is not about having rich owners who throw millions at the club. It is about being able to bring in, through day to day activities of the club, enough to match what is spent on wages and transfer fees. TV rights and sponsorship play their part, but so do replica sales and gate receipts. If there is a shortfall, who do you think will be asked to pay?

The way that your club is run affects every football supporter. It should be a right of all supporters to receive honest and clear communication about the runnings of the club that they support. Success can quickly turn sour. Ask Leeds fans. Beware the clubs who are allowed to carry out all of their deals in secret. They might give you a nasty surprise one day.


  1. Great Article :)

    I'm a Leeds fan and we have been through a lot! most don't agree with the way the club is been run but Ken Bates is a specialist at making the books balance (or trying).

    Transfer deadline day for us consisted of us not buying; a much need CM or a first choice CB to go with O'brien, no it consisted of loaning in a 3rd choice goalkeeper and releasing 5 or else 6 rubbish players, not what us fans wanted but not wasting money on pointless signings!

    I feel sorry that Carroll went because how much of that money will you see? too many numpties running football clubs.

  2. Thanks for the comments Paddy. I think most genuine football fans (bitterest rivals aside) were sorry to see what Leeds fans have been forced to endure. Hopefully you will be back in the big time soon.

    Balancing the books is not the most popular role for any football chairman, but perhaps we should be grateful for it when you consider the way so many clubs have nearly gone, and sadly, the way I suspect many clubs may yet go in years to come.


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