Watching the fascinating BBC documentary about Sir Alex Ferguson this week, a recurring point he made was that a football club is nothing without the fans.
A few days later, listening to Cliff Jones been interviewed on Talksport about his foray in the 58′ World Cup finals and his career at large, the same message was clear as he referenced his Tottenham manager Bill Nicholson and the message he hammered home to his players that ‘The fans are the most important part of the club, they pay your wages’.
61 years may well have spanned the beginning of Jones’ career and Fergie’s managerial master-class ending at Manchester United, but it seems that in years gone by, everyone in the game knew the importance of the fans.
I realise that I am not unearthing a huge revelation here, everybody already knows the importance of the fan base at a football club, there are plenty of quotes out there banging the same drum:
“Football is nothing without fans” – Jock Stein.
“At a football club, there is a holy trinity; the players, the manager and the supporters” – Bill Shankly
But I wonder: Do football fans really matter these days?
In years gone by, the fans played a huge role in a football club’s success financially.
A full house every home game pre Premier League era guaranteed the club had enough revenue to pursue the top players as well as develop the club. Gate receipts alone accounted for the vast majority of income a football club made, so whether such quotes listed above were made because people actually cared about the fans, or whether they were made for business reasons, I guess nobody will ever know.
I like to think that people did used to care though.
However, the stark reality these days is that with the eye watering amounts of money sloshing around the premier league, the gate receipts have at best a tiny impact on the club’s financial success.
Due to the fact that I have, quite literally, been left holding the baby, I do not have time now to dig out the exact figures, but I guess it would be a reasonable presumption to suggest that gate receipts do not even make up half of the players’ annual salaries.
So, not to argue directly against the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson, I have been thinking this week: what exactly is the true position of football fans in direct relation to a football club these days?
The financial gain is minimal, surely. So, it must boil down to the atmosphere created in the stadiums on match days then and the notion that a buoyant Black and White army can spur the players on to success.
The NUFC fans this season have been magnificent, given what has been happening to the club over recent years, the start of this season seemed to bring in fresh optimism amongst supporters, the noise levels at SJP, even when watching on the TV, seemed to be much louder than in recent years and even after a dreadful start, that noise and enthusiasm continued both home and away until the international break reared it’s irritating head.
It is hard to remember a time when the fans seemed to be supporting the players to such a high degree. But, I am not sure it changed anything really. It’s not as though the players seemed spurred on by the roar from the Gallowgate.
I don’t think they really care what supporters think, or even notice the levels of support in the stadium, hell, when you are earning the silly money they do, it would be easy to live in your own little bubble, once you’ve signed on the dotted line of a fat 5 year+ payday, why would you care what anyone thinks?
It could be argued that only a decade or so ago, there was a strong connection between players and the fans, I was reminded when listening to the excellent Football Ramble podcast this week of how Lee Sharpe used to invite supporters to a post-season BBQ each year.
If you went back to even earlier, say 30-40 years, it would be quite common to bump into players down the boozer and have a chinwag with them. We live in a super professional time now though and those days will never return, but how often do we hear of players connecting with fans these days?
Excluding the staged media events aimed at publicity, I think it is fair to assume that the modern day footballer no longer mingles with the average football fan, hence, the connection has been lost completely.
There is no connection between the fans and the players, nor is there a connection between the club and the fans as they are now almost surplus to requirement and, here is the bombshell, Mike Ashley knows that.
A mass boycott had been proposed, talked about, tried out and then laid to rest in the burning embers of the ashleyout.com campaign. Even through all of that, I would be surprised if Mike Ashley even lost a second’s sleep over the whole affair.
He knows that the fans are not important, he knows he can do pretty much whatever he likes and SJP will still fill up to capacity most weeks. He knows that football is no longer a sport governed by the deep pockets, passion and the loyalty of a club’s supporters.
Conversely though, he damn well ought to realise that the success of his football club absolutely depends on the club retaining its premier league status and the windfall which comes with it.
In conclusion then, with the aid of a couple more quotes:
“Football needs its roots, it needs its connection with the supporters. But those in charge seem to think they can do without them” – Gordon Taylor.
And, most importantly:
“You can change your wife, your politics, your religion, but never, never can you change your favourite football team” – Eric Cantona.
We may no longer be loved, matter, or even noticed by the club or its staff, but we need the club. We need it so that we can feel connected to the football community, to each other and to the idea that we can make a difference if we just support them hard enough and back them to the hilt.
So with all of the above said, let’s continue getting behind the players in the same way we have done so far this season and help ourselves, not Mike Ashley, achieve the pleasure of seeing our team continue competing in the world’s best football league, starting on Sunday v Norwich.
Howay the lads.
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