Last year saw controversial Cardiff City owner Vincent Tan rebrand the 113 year-old club in a move that saw the Bluebirds’ much-loved home strip altered along with the club crest. A questionable decision indeed, but one that pales in comparison to the Malaysian’s decision last week to offer beloved manager Malky Mackay the choice to ‘resign or be fired’ in no uncertain terms. Though his bewildering ultimatum has subsequently been revoked, Tan’s actions epitomise a worrying trend in English football that begun over a decade ago with Roman Abramovich’s purchase of Chelsea FC – the reign of the unusual (and, more often than not, unpredictable) owner.
Tan’s aforementioned rebrand was part of a decision to ‘help the club develop its brand’, according to a club spokesman. This is a recent trend, one that emphasizes the move in club ownership from love of the game to love of the profits it invariably brings. In a similar move to Tan’s, Hull City owner Assem Allam announced this year that he plans to rechristen ‘his’ club as the Hull Tigers, a decision that has not been well-received by fans of the team. Allam responded to this dissatisfaction by claiming that those who sing ‘City till we die’ in opposition to his plans can ‘die as they want’, further demonstrating his stark alienation from the body of fans that keep the club alive.
These are not isolated cases. Ex-Fulham head honcho Mohamed Al-Fayed told fans they could ‘go to hell’ after they ridiculed his plans to construct a Michael Jackson statue outside Craven Cottage, and Chelsea fans have become all-too-familiar with the managerial merry-go-round in the wake of Abramovich’s gung-ho approach to ownership. Venky’s, the chicken magnates behind Blackburn Rovers, continue to invite ridicule for their decisions, including a grandiose move for legendary Brazilian Ronaldinho only months before they were relegated.
Dissatisfaction with owners is nothing new: football fans are a notoriously fickle folk, and yet this new wave of investors appear somewhat scarier than their predecessors, more damaging and more dangerous due (in part) to their seemingly bottomless pockets. When money becomes more important than honour and loyalty, decisions like Tan’s can be allowed to stand. These owners know very little of the beautiful game, and are yet encouraged to throw their hat into the ring by clubs desperate for a slice of profit pie. What’s more, the FA, founded on traditional English values of amateurism and a non-profit approach to sport, actively encourage these investors to purchase clubs as a business venture.
The newest hobby of the super-rich, football-club ownership has become little more than a conversation piece for some. The investors who truly love the clubs they support (in the most literal sense of the word) are in danger of being drowned out by those with more money and less sense, at least as far as football is concerned. Football fans the world over will recognise the vitriol directed at the Glazer family following their debt-ridden takeover of Manchester United a decade ago and the more recent fan opposition to Fenway Sports Group’s ownership of Liverpool FC. The threat of the unusual owner should not be ignored as football looks to enter a new age and finances skyrocket to astronomical levels.