Benefactors and their whims are part of the new normal

Good Lord, it’s Bob

The reaction to Chelsea and Manchester City’s apparent European demise this year was greeted as “great…..I despise them” by more than one person this week. Notwithstanding the negative publicity that seems to stick to these clubs – although, name me a club that doesn’t have some sort of baggage – their status as “new money” is greeted with hostility and jealousy by those that do not enjoy the same level of funding.

There’s a number of reasons why anyone who comes into wealth is resented by others. It’s largely because it creates an unfair playing field, an oft-used expression to explain underachievement. But the fact is, that football has never, ever, been a level playing field. To create genuine democracy in football, you need to make every town with a football team the same size. Their stadiums should be identical in size and capacity. They should have equal shares of the talent pool (vis-à-vis the college draft system), and they should be owned by the fans. If you ask any spectator on the terrace (sorry, old habits), who does the club belong to, and they will say “the fans”.

Remember the nonsense being thrown around when Manchester United started to be taken over and there were weeping Mancunians claiming they “owned” the club. Fact – the owners were the shareholders. United went public years ago and benefitted hugely from it. Once you go public, you are vulnerable to takeovers. Live with it.

Benefactors are not just confined to Chelsea and City. They are all over British football, it’s just the size and scale that is so worryingly different. Clubs now look out for them, court them and seduce them into thinking it’s a great opportunity. Some develop twitchy habits such as sacking managers on a whim or changing the culture of the club. Others are more benign, almost patrician in their approach. These are in the minority.

Let’s not kid ourself that it’s a new phenomenum. Liverpool and Everton benefitted hugely from the Moores family, who were the owners of the once mighty pools organizations that flourished because of the weekly stakes from supporters of all clubs!  I don’t recall people moaning about that!

Tottenham Hotspur were known as “the Bank of England club” after accumulating vast wealth and enjoying healthy private backing. And then there were people like Bob Lord, a local butcher who poured cash into Burnley, enabling a small club to live with the best for a while. Sunderland also acquired a tag similar to Tottenham, but it didn’t yield any significant success. The days of “Butchers, Bakers and Candlestick makers” are long gone and non-league football is desperately hanging onto shirt tails of what is a dying breed of local businessmen with kind souls and a strong community feeling. If town centres continue their downward spiral, what will be left for the local club?

A level playing field is not a club that can attract 67,000 lining up alongside a club that can barely scrape together 25,000. But fans would argue that “organic” success is better than “outside investment”. In a ideal world, that is true, but ideals and football have never gone hand-in-hand. Teams of youth players get relegated – the vast majority of times. It’s rare and special when a club can generate its own talent, but it also does not yield success anymore.

Football clubs will always struggle to be self sufficient, unless they can call on vast attendances to fund their activities. That’s why they look for the “sugar daddy” and like it or not, at the top level, they are not to be found in Weston Super Mare, Beaconsfield or Peterborough (random list). They emerge from the Far East, Russia, the Middle East and possibly, the US. Very new money. People that have little affinity with the English game and its traditions.

That does not stop every club in the country eagerly embracing a new “investor”. Football fans do not especially care how their club becomes successful. They abuse clubs that have benefitted from an injection of cash from a tycoon or oil magnate while secretly wishing that the latest Asian billionaire will fly over their ground and spot an opportunity to make non-league West Ham & Egg Sandwich Albion a major global brand. It’s a fickle game, after all.

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