Saturday, 30 April 2011

F.A Tardiness Spoils Fans' Celebrations

Easter is behind us, the sun is shining and football fans have frayed nerves. It's that time of the season when fans of clubs up and down the country anticipate the pain of failure or the celebrations of success. All of the ifs, buts and maybes begin to fade away as the range of possible outcomes become narrower and narrower, leading ultimately to the certainty of a final league position. For some that certainty of success has been within grasp for a while.

Finally achieving that goal should be a source of celebration. These are the moments that football fans live for. Past hurts and disappointments are cast aside and forgotten in that moment of euphoria. For a lucky few groups of fans these moments come around with comforting regularity. For the vast majority, however, these moments are both rare and special. They are times to savour and remember for fans who turn up week after week, season after season, only to see their beloved team fall short year after year. Nothing should be allowed to spoil these moments. Cold reality sets in soon enough without any outside help.

For the fans of the teams battling for automatic promotion and play off places in the English Championship there is a real danger that outside factors could spoil the special moments that lie just around the corner. Although there are still two games remaining to play, it is entirely feasible that this weekend's penultimate games could settle all of the promotion and play off places before the final games take place next week. It is the time of year when fans know exactly what is needed by their teams and have worked out every possible outcome to every imaginable combination of results. For some that may mean praying for all but the mathematically impossible, but for the teams at the top of the championship there is no need to hope for the impossible. Any number of perfectly foreseeable results could lead to guaranteed promotion or qualification for the play offs for the top six teams.

It used to be that fans would be stood with radios by their ears, listening to how their rivals were progressing in their games. Nowadays it is more likely fans will be on their iphones, checking tweets and websites to keep up with the latest scores. However those scores are come by the end result is the same. Cheers and groans will go around grounds that bear no relation to events taking place on the pitch. It is the only time of year when the loudest cheer may well be for a goal scored at the other end of the country rather than the other end of the ground. It is all part of the fun, excitement and culture of football - a tradition that goes back further than most fans have been alive. It is a tradition and a ritual that the fans should not be robbed of.

This year is different though. This year a cloud hangs over the specatacle of following your team's push for a place in the Premier League. The ritual will still take place. Fans will still cheer results that go for them and groan at those going against them. However, the groans and cheers will be filled with a little less conviction. Nothing that takes place on the field this weekend can be guaranteed to the same extent as normal. Every fan will know that a hearing on Tuesday could change the picture completely. The only outcomes safe from this uncertainty would be Norwich clinching automatic promotion or Nottingham Forest or Reading securing a play off place. For other teams though the picture will remain unclear.

The fans with the most to lose would appear to be Queens Park Rangers fans. It is their club who must face FA charges of illegal activity in the transfer market. It is the signing of their player, Alejandro Faurlin, which could lead to a substantial points deduction that could significantly alter the final table. Queens Park Rangers are the most likely team to secure success on the pitch this weekend, possibly not even needing to collect a single point if other results go for them. Any celebrations would be muted though with the hearing hanging over the club's head. While it would be a cruel blow to the fans to lose out on promotion as a result of a disciplinary hearing, it is still a loss to the fans even if the club successfully defends the charges. It is a loss because the QPR fans would have been cheated of that moment of celebration on match day. Such moments are rare and not to be squandered.

The situation is also unfair on fans of the team that finishes third, and on those just outside of the play off places. While I am sure that none of those club's fans would complain if they benefited from any QPR penalty, it is not the same to be cheering an FA decision as it is to be cheering alongside your fellow fans in the stadium. The FA's failure to sort this out sooner could potentially rob those fans of a once in a lifetime moment.

It may seem harsh to be blaming the FA for this. After all, if Queens Park Rangers have broken the rules then it is only fair that they be punished - not fair on the fans who did nothing wrong, but fair on the club who broke the rules. It is a red herring to quote the West Ham situation as a precedence. Two wrongs do not make a right. If there has been wrongdoing then Queens Park Rangers should face a suitable penalty, a penalty that takes no account of their league position or the consequences on the league table. If a penalty is deserved then it should be based on the crime and nothing else. However, the FA have not handled this situation well, and should be held to account on two different issues.

Firstly, they are the rulers and government of the game. They need to address the issue of how they control the people who own and take positions of responsibility within football clubs. They cannot wash their hands of this and blame others for doing wrong. As well as being the rulers of the game they hold a position of responsibility as stewards of the game for future generations. Events like these hurt the fans, and without fans the game dies. I cannot imagine the heartbreak and disillusionment that those fans will feel if their team loses out on promotion because of boardroom and behind the scenes incompetence. The FA have a responsibility to do everything within their power to make sure these things never happen.

Secondly, the FA had a moral obligation to sort this out before this advanced stage of the season. A hearing that takes place with only one game of the season to go is unfair on the fans and makes a mockery of the game in this country. Queens Park Rangers were charged with these offences eight weeks before the hearing is due to take place. It is true that QPR asked for more time to prepare their defence, but the FA set the rules and the time limits. In the grand scheme of football finances it would not have been too punitive to force QPR to employ the resources required to prepare for an earlier date. This should have been sorted out long before any possibility of any promotion or relegation issues being decided. Not only is there a long gap between the charges being brought and the hearing taking place, but the FA have been investigating this case since September. Do we really have a governing body that is not competent enough to complete a thorough investigation of suspicions - all regarding one player - in less than six months? If that is the case then perhaps we need new people in our governing body.

Whatever the outcome of the hearing - and everyone is innocent until proven guilty - the way the case has been handled is a farce. Once again it is the fans who are forced to suffer. I have sympathy with the players and staff (especially Mr Warnock if he loses out on a premiership place again through no fault of his own) but most of all I feel for the fans. How long will the game in England keep treating fans so shabbily? Get your act together FA - while you still have an act to get together!


  1. I think this is entirely deliberate and is ultimately the right way to have handled this - consider the Swindon example from 1990. The charges against Swindon were identified well before the end of season playoffs but the FA sensibly allowed the season to run its course with all teams trying their best. Some might say it was cruel to Swindon fans to let them experience promotion however had they lost the playoffs presumably they would have been relegated to what became League One, instead of back to the Championship i.e the faced a one division relegation as their penalty regardless of how they finished up. I think the FA are using this as a precedent, to give no indication of a points deduction so that all teams play to their potential without bringing the integrity of this Championship season into question. QPR may need to gain promotion to the Premier League in order that they are relegated back to the Championship and not League One as with the Swindon case.
    Consider if QPR had been given a 10 point, 30 point or even a relegation as a punishment announced in March. How would this have affected their own players approach to remaining matches and what impact would that have had on the points earned by the teams they later played who could have had an unfair advantage playing against a team that had psychologically imploded. Far more sensible to delay any announcement so that everyone assumes no points will be deducted, so the chasing pack give it their all and assume that 3rd place misses auto-promotion, and 7th place misses the play-offs. This would ensure that no one can have any complaints of unfair advantage when a decision is made.

  2. An interesting point, but what of the other teams affected by this and how they would have played? If a substantial points deduction is applied (and we don't even know yet if QPR are guilty of anything) then how would that have affected teams who may have been playing for an extra automatic promotion, play-off or survival from relegation place?

    Also, to follow your argument through then the timing is still wrong as it will be announced before the crucial final game takes place. By your argument, hen surely teams will play differently in the final game in response to the decision that is announced.

    Whatever happens, it doesn't change the fact that fans have already been celebrating/commiserating based on results so far. I still believe that it is wrong that the FA have not sorted this out prior to this happening for the sake of the fans.

  3. Great column, although the first few paragraphs should've been shortened. I just want to point out also that the FA is weak. The clubs own the FA and it perhaps should not surprise anyone to find them so ineffectual.


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