I know that this is an Arsenal Blog, but the current woes of some of the Premiership clubs and their Billionaire connections provide valuable lessons for us as fans, as our AGM approaches and the inevitable pander for Billionaire ownership mounts. Manchester City’s new owners have had a reality check following their defeat by Chelsea in the “Clash of the cash” This will no doubt mean that Abu Dahbi group in the winter transfer window will mount silly bids for the top players in the world, who will be assembled at Eastlands for obscene amounts of money, to run aimlessly around the pitch, without achieving long term success.
The problem with Billionaire involvement is that few of these Billionaire owners are what I would call “real fans”, and therefore their passion relates more to satisfaction of their egos, rather than loyalty to the grassroot fans. On Saturday Liverpool fans from the Spirit of Shankly group demonstrated outside Anfield having staged a march against the ownership of their club by the American Billionaires Gillett and Hicks. Their spokesman was reported by the Liverpool Daily Post as saying
“What we need on Saturday is two resounding victories. Firstly, a march on a massive scale that tells the world that Liverpool has had enough of Gillett and Hicks.
“A march of passion, a march of anger, a march of Red solidarity that roars its message loud and proud: ‘enough is enough, go now.’
This show of passion from the fans was rewarded by the first defeat of ManU(Hurrah! I fu*king HATE ManU.) at home in seven years. (ManU being reduced to ten men near the end following a cynical elbow to the head of Alonso by Vidic, the Serb getting a deserved red card for his violent behaviour.) On the same day on The Tyne, Newcastle fans continued their onslaught on Billionaire owner Mike Ashley and have finally forced him to sell the club. Mr Ashley is widely rumoured to be trying to organise the sale of the club to the Maktoum royal family in Dubai for between 300-400 million pounds. The owner is citing threats to the safety of his family as one of the main reasons.
I have to say that I find that excuse very unusual, as my experience of Geordies over the years as a fan during the many encounters between our clubs, is that they are very well mannered supporters, vocal, yes, passionate also, but unlike the ManU fans and Scum fans, there is no nasty malice under pinning their behaviour. RedAction, the group of vocal Arsenal fans stage a march against Billionaire shareholder Alisher Usmanov before every home game, from the Rocket. This has been happening for 12 months and with the AGM coming soon, we can expect even more noisy participation, as we seek to save our club from the Russian predator.
USMANOV ARSENALINSIDER SHAREWATCH:
Shares bought as of 15/9/08= 15,270 25% Blocking Shares needed 285 (15,555)
So the well worn phrase be careful what you wish for, comes back to haunt ordinary football fans, who see the premier league being taken over by extremely wealthy individuals, who for a variety of reasons see it as profitable to own a football club. The perversion of the transfer market player values combined with a heavy courtship of all things corporate has destabilised the true roots of football. Increasingly die hard fans are seeing their income stagnate at home, and yet at the same time they are being asked to cough up even more money for season tickets and merchandising. The Arsenal’s love affair with all things corporate has exceeded what I would call reasonable, and fans are right to feel aggrieved that the cost of Arsenal Season tickets remain very high, despite the fact of FA Cup/Champions League fixtures being included.
My previous blogs have highlighted that once sold to a private owner or consortium, then the club becomes a hostage to fortune. The problems are not connected with the fact of ownership, rather the messy, very expensive player contracts and outstanding repayments of loans. A situation where having a Billionaire whose business affairs go pear shaped is the other side of the coin. The collapse of the charter airline Excel may have repercussions for West Ham United, as the Magnusson family are rumoured to have lost over £200 million with more to follow after the bank that was owned by the family also collapsed trying to bail out the airline.
The tensions will always remain between the vision and plans of the owner, as opposed to the wishes of the hard core fans. Unless success comes quickly, then the fans may get impatient, or the owner will sack the manager. One has yet to see a Billionaire owner pull out of a club and not sell it as a going concern, so the nightmare scenario mirroring the Leeds United debacle is always a potential risk. But where the Billionaire’s misfortunes impede or prevent future development of the club or it’s stadium as in the case of Liverpool, then perhaps it is time for the Premier League to call a halt to this cosmopolitan auction of football clubs to the highest bidder.
The International financial institutions are now paying the price for mortgaging themselves to unacceptable levels in times of plenty, and as the sub prime bubble bursts, and major banks collapse, then the funding football clubs, even those that represent profitable options will become increasingly risky. That only leaves the oil rich Arab Royal families to step up and continue the orgy of devouring football clubs. Added to the above is the fact that there are only a few number of such mega mega rich individuals and families around, either in India or the Emirates. These owners are only able to purchase one football club, and so now the choice of possible owners on the menu is diminishing. ManU via the Glazers, Newcastle and of course Liverpool are all on the look out for owners with even deeper pockets than Abromovich.
Once done the gap between the “big four” and the rest of the Premier League is set to get wider, which can only destroy the strength of the league as a whole. This in turn will narrow the appeal to the Televising companies, and mean lower revenues from that sector. The purchase of famous players and big names who will give loyalty only to their salaries as opposed to the clubs and their fans will mean that far from quality, the Premier League will change into a theatre for mercenaries and clowns. Entertainment will no longer come from local derbies, but the on pitch drummers and majorettes. Real fans will desert the stadiums, and soon afterwards the corporate connections will decline. The sanitised atmosphere of half emp ty stadiums will be replaced by the silent majority of armchair and PC supporters. Football will lose it’s soul, and the results will become meaningless other than to bookmakers and their addicted clients. There will then be amalgamation of European leagues or clubs in order to maintain the interest of the TV companies.
Good luck to Liverpool, your great club deserves better. Your renaissance on the field will help our club, in that it will break the stranglehold of our mutually hated opponents Chelsea and ManU. I identify with Liverpool, in that over generations they have played beautiful football and remain a club with a great heritage. Their players tend by and large to play for the badge and the passion of the fans can be felt with goose bumps on the back of the neck, by those lucky enough like myself to experience both the atmosphere of the Kop at Anfield and the North bank, Highbury.
I therefore sound a warning to the loyal fans of the Spirit of Shankly, and hope that Liverpool football club is not bought by a rich Arab family but by a very wealthy genuine fan, for if they are bought only for financial reasons or as a trophy then we will not only lose the spirit of that great club, but also the spirit of the league in the years to come. Brand football is in intensive care so be very careful of what you wish for, for the problem is not just which Billionaire comes into your club, but what the consequences will be when they leave…
Fabregas the King.