The implicit assumption that the first thing that the owners of any club should be doing is going all out for a return to the top – much less the owners of a Club upon whom was visited more tragedy than most clubs would suffer in a lifetime, let alone a few years – is misguided at best. That way lies madness.
As we now know, following a successful legal battle over Portsmouth’s Fratton Park last week, the way was cleared for the Pompey Supporters Trust to finalise their purchase of the majority of the Club, which will make it the biggest supporters owned club in the UK.
Almost immediately, the doubters began to emerge, telling us that the chances of fans being able to make a success of a club of this size was simply wishful thinking. Great at repairing short-term damage, but if you want to rise back to the heady-heights of the Premier League again then forget it.
To take the phrase used by Pompey’s administrator Trevor Birch out of context, “It needs some TLC”. As someone said last week, “It’s only for the small clubs, the non-league clubs. The Club will need investment to achieve get back to where it belongs”.
So many elements of this way of thinking are wrong. The implicit assumption that the first thing that the owners of any club should be doing is going all out for a return to the top – much less the owners of a Club upon whom was visited more tragedy than most clubs would suffer in a lifetime, let alone a few years – is misguided at best. That way lies madness.
We’ve been misled
We’ve traditionally been fed a lie by some people in the game that what we as fans want is success at breakneck speed, or nothing else, and I think that’s the laziest of the lot: given a choice, I don’t think most of us do. Don’t get me wrong, I want success, but I don’t want it at the cost of the ground, the club – its soul. We were told Chelsea fans didn’t care, yet the Chelsea Supporters Trust lives.
Let’s have a look at that little word ‘investment’ as well. When we talk about investment in public services what we want is to see the tangible results of money – that our experience is improved, that care is of a high-quality, that our kids are better educated.
Yet in football we’re told that investment means barely anything other than wages – and of course, player wages. In fact, ‘investment’ invariably means increasing spending beyond what can be afforded by the club on the wage bill. Apart from that being increasingly difficult to do given some of the controls being put in place in the Football League in particular, I would argue there’s also in my mind a clear relationship between the level of ‘investment’ at many clubs, and the heaviness of the crash landing.
Football is about more than just results
We believe investment to mean that you invest in the tangible: in facilities, youth development, community engagement, increasing participation in sport. Ensuring that in running a football club, you understand what, at its heart, makes the business quite so different, and special.
Inside these clubs are fans, a beating heart, a community of people that ensure it survives relegations, and that heading off financial precipices because of bad decisions by short-term focused owners don’t spell the end for a club; that, as a fan, a club is more than just the results on the pitch.
Of course, influence is much easier by definition at a smaller club. Indeed, at virtually the same time that we’ve been witnessing the fruits of our support of the Pompey Trust takeover, we’ve been working with the Friends of Clapton FC ensuring that their Club has a future. But it’s not really about size in the end. It’s about what kind of football club you want.
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