A modern lament of the more aged football fan is that the league has become obsessed with money. It is a structure populated by those that have, and those that have not, with little charity on offer for those who fail to keep up, not like the good old days. It is a selective view and one that is open to critique, rather like when people talk about Victorian values as if they were the pinnacle of British society, but omit any reference to the grinding poverty and the prejudice of class.
With football an inequality of wealth has always existed to some extent, but larger clubs did not have the same opportunity or awareness to exploit their status in previous eras. The playing field was more even, and fans of smaller clubs could enjoy moments of success that read like the stuff of fantasy now. A quick glance at the history books suggests everyone – and I mean, everyone – had a good spell in the 1980’s: Steve Guttenberg; Rick Moranis; even Oxford United.
Now the fans of many clubs, including the giants, are left feeling bitter and isolated from the modern world, feeling their clubs have lost touch with their roots. This subject has been comprehensively explored by When Saturday Comes over the past few months as they celebrate their 25th anniversary. I have found myself nodding in agreement with many of the observations made in these articles (“yeah, football was miles better when Ian Ormondroyd was playing”). But, there is risk that it is all becoming a bit clichéd, and I hold my hands up here too (especially given the time I spend lamenting the loss of old stadia).
If you support a ‘big’ club then beware the self righteous small club fan. Whatever you do, under no circumstances should you moan or complain about anything to do with your team’s team’s failure to win anything recently. Actually, you shouldn’t moan about anything at all, because to the fan of the struggling club you don’t have the right – you lucky, lucky bastards. Put a few fans of different struggling clubs together and it could quickly turn into something like Four Yorkshiremen from the football world, each one trying to trump their peers with increasingly spurious tales of hardship:
Fan one: “Of course, we had to save our club. The Chairman was caught on film showing his utter contempt for the club; he was literally wiping his arse on a replica shirt and setting it on fire. After that he embezzled all the money from the supporters’ trust and buggered off to the Canary Islands. But, we managed.”
Fan two: “You were lucky, our club was owned by a faceless investment company based in a Caribbean tax haven, but they sold it to a convicted war criminal responsible for the deaths of thousands. He stripped the club of all its assets and left us with nothing. We have to ground share with a team a hundred miles up the road, but we’ll keep our club going.”
Fan three: “you’ve had it easy, you glory hunting bastards. Our ground’s only got one stand left, and that’s been condemned, and someone’s nicked all the light bulbs out of the floodlights, and the roof’s falling down. Two fans were decapitated by some falling debris during last week’s game, which, incidentally, we lost 6-0. But, we still go, of course, because we love our club.”
Fan four: “Roof? Oh, we dream of a roof! We have to pay two weeks wages to stand on a pile of smashed up asbestos cement in the freezing rain. We’re lucky if we haven’t all been pronounced dead by the end of 90 minutes. But, we’re happy; wouldn’t change anything to be one of those big bastard corporate clubs.”
It can get a little tedious. The tales of woe are so constant now that you start to become immune to them. Even so, when it comes to football clubs in peril, it’s a usually a case of ‘there but for the grace of god go I’. As fans it seems we are quite powerless to do much about failure. However, all is not lost. If you do give a shit about the future, and you don’t want it to look exclusively like this, then please give the excellent Supporters Direct a few minutes of your time.