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Opinion

Beware the club that forgets its fans' importance

Thursday 8th November 2018
If the royal family intervenes, you know the club is ignoring the wishes of its fanbase.
If the royal family intervenes, you know the club is ignoring the wishes of its fanbase.

It is no news that the fans of major club football can have significant effect on club business. Clubs always want strong support. Tickets and shirts must be sold but it also makes a massive difference in matches. How many stadia across Europe are referred to as fortresses? Having that power behind you can deliver trophies and grow your club globally. Don't neglect it, however, because it's never pleasant when it turns on you. 

A football club needs fans, people who believe in the ideology on which the club was founded. In Mexico, Cruz Azul formed around a cement manufacturer, moved from a small town to Mexico City and became the champion of the working class, rivalling Club America, the team of the urban elite.

Fans sometimes come together to form the club, as FC United of Manchester did when many supporters would not stand for the Glazers' purchase of Manchester United. Others remained because, even if the club's identity was changing, they'd lived their whole life supporting the club.

It goes beyond trophies. Newcastle United retain a strong fan base despite moving in and out of the Premier League for decades and through successive regimes of malpractising owners. St Pauli is a German club that rarely makes the top flight. It's supporters care more about celebrating their politics and music than winning and they've inspired supporter's clubs across Europe.

At the spectrum's other end, the Etihad is a patchwork of empty seats during Champions League games despite the money and success Manchester City owners now deliver. Manchester United, Real Madrid and Barcelona boast intensely vocal, often influential supporters.

Barcelona's mantra "mes que un club", [more than a club] is intended to express values that transcend the pitch. At one time, the club refused to accept a kit sponsor because it felt commercialism didn't belong in the club. Then they sponsored UNICEF to raise money for a charity. Eventually, the board succumbed to capitalism's call, however, doing business with Qatarri and Japanese multinationals. That said, the club's colours in part represent the independence movement in the [not so] autonomous region of Catalunya. The club occasionally wears a yellow and red kit to mirror the Catalan flag and pay homage to its fans' sentiments. The club constantly pushes the envelope on FIFA's mandate to separate politics from the game and serves as an instrument to keep the movement alive by influencing young fans.

Through grass-roots promotion, the club achieved remarkable success. For decades, they prided themselves on their self-sustainability. Fans accepted the pragmatic change that allowed them to remain competitive with Real Madrid and the other monied clubs in Europe but the fans also have a way of making their voice heard when they are unhappy with the club's direction.

Real Madrid have suffered in this light. Club president Florentino Perez is faulted for hiring managers he can control or based on their name recognition. Many Madridistas believe he runs the club like a dictator, ignoring their input. Selling Ronaldo without naming a replacement especially angered followers. The six-hour goal drought that contributed heavily to new boss Julen Lopetegui's sack derived from Perez's inactivity in the transfer window. 

When the fans boo you, there is a problem. At some clubs, management allows the problem to fester. The #WengerOut campaign raged for years before the embattled Frenchman finally stepped aside. Following his departure, majority shareholder Stran Kroenke finally completed a move that permitted him to obtain 100% ownership, even forcing out the Arsenal Supporters' Trust. Fans can exert pressure and wield tremendous influence but it sometimes falls on deaf ears.

Owners like Kroenke understand the tribalist mentality that prohibits virtually all fans from changing allegiance. If the paying customer will support you regardless of your actions, you are free to act as you please. Fans are the core of a football club. In fact, they are the football club. But they must remember their support is a weapon that, if not wielded, will be picked up and used against them.

Barcelona fans at a 2015 Champions League rally, some wearing the kit supporting Catalan independence.
Barcelona fans at a 2015 Champions League rally, some wearing the kit supporting Catalan independence.

Barcelona's mantra "mes que un club", [more than a club] is intended to express values that transcend the pitch. At one time, the club refused to accept a kit sponsor because it felt commercialism didn't belong in the club. Then they sponsored UNICEF to raise money for a charity. Eventually, the board succumbed to capitalism's call, however, doing business with Qatari and Japanese multinationals. That said, the club's colours in part represent the independence movement in the [not so] autonomous region of Catalunya. The club occasionally wears a yellow and red kit to mirror the Catalan flag and pay homage to its fans' sentiments. The club constantly pushes the envelope on FIFA's mandate to separate politics from the game and serves as an instrument to keep the movement alive by influencing young fans.

Through grass-roots promotion, the club achieved remarkable success. For decades, they prided themselves on their self-sustainability. Fans accepted the pragmatic change that allowed them to remain competitive with Real Madrid and the other monied clubs in Europe but the fans also have a way of making their voice heard when they are unhappy with the club's direction.

Real Madrid suffer in this light. Club president Florentino Perez is faulted for hiring managers he can control or based on their name recognition. Many Madridistas believe he runs the club like a dictator, ignoring their input. Selling Ronaldo without naming a replacement especially angered followers. The six-hour goal drought that contributed heavily to new boss Julen Lopetegui's sack derived from Perez's inactivity in the transfer window. 

When the fans boo you, there is a problem. At some clubs, management allows the problem to fester. The #WengerOut campaign raged for years before the embattled Frenchman finally stepped aside. Following his departure, majority shareholder Stran Kroenke finally completed a move that permitted him to obtain 100% ownership, even forcing out the Arsenal Supporters' Trust. Fans can exert pressure and wield tremendous influence but it sometimes falls on deaf ears.

Owners like Kroenke understand the tribalist mentality that prohibits virtually all fans from changing allegiance. If the paying customer will support you regardless of your actions, you are free to act as you please. Fans are the core of a football club. In fact, they are the football club. But they must remember their support is a weapon that, if not wielded, will be picked up and used against them.

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Aje Omolayo

I like to think of myself as an easy going lover of all things football, however, I do class myself as a die-hard Arsenal fan but I'm not biased enough to view life at the Emirates through rose-tinted spectacles and can appreciate when we are beaten by the better team on the day.


Total articles: 101

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