The pain of being the 12th man

Vast amounts of supporters have to experience the ugly side of the beautiful game.

Numerous sets of supporters have problems with the way in which their clubs are being run.

Often dubbed as being ‘the beautiful game’, football is truly an incredible sport that grips people all around the globe. It just gets you, you begin to fall in love with it. From the first time you clamber up the steps and peek down onto the hallowed turf – you’re hooked. You now have an unconditional marriage to your football club, an unbreakable bond that stays with you for life. Euphoria to desperation, the emotions that you experience following your team up and down the country become addictive, and you are left attached. It’s now a part of you. People often misunderstand how much football clubs mean to supporters, but let me assure you, it’s not ‘just a game’.

Regardless of your allegiances, all you long for is a bit of success. Irrespective of what division your team competes in, you pray that you will be celebrating come the end of the season, whether that be winning promotion, securing a mid-table finish or avoiding relegation. For a number of clubs, however, merely being in existence is a relief to its fans. I am a huge Coventry City supporter and I really fear for the future of our football club, but it’s not just the Sky Blues who are in serious danger of falling out of existence in the near future.

A group of Coventry City fans protest against the current regime at their beloved football club.

If you dig deep enough, football is indeed beautiful in its purest form, but the political aspect of our game is marred with scars that seem untreatable. Unlike the supporters who form the lifeblood of a club, many owners fail to understand the power football has. Aston Villa, Blackpool, Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers, Cardiff City, Charlton Athletic, Coventry City, Leeds United, Portsmouth, Wimbledon…the list goes on. All very sizeable football clubs that have been mismanaged, and in turn, transformed into a shadow of their former selves. From countless debts to points deductions, relocating to going out of business, fans of these outfits have had it tough.

Meanwhile, whilst these clubs just about stay afloat, £1,175,230,000 (yes, over £1 billion) was splashed out on fees during the recent transfer window. This staggering figure was then celebrated by various media outlets as if it was some achievement. Money is tarnishing football as a whole, and unless you have extremely wealthy investors who know where to direct their funds, your club is always at risk of running into problems. Hereford United, for example, were liquidated in December 2014 after failing to pay HM Revenue and Customs the £116,000 debt they owed – around a third of Wayne Rooney’s weekly wage to put the figure into perspective.

To attempt to lower the risk of such catastrophic events happening, the owners’ and directors’ test (formerly the fit and proper person test) was brought in to stop certain individuals owning shares in a club. However, it is vastly flawed and it is objective, merely a host of questions that require simple yes/no answers. From what us as fans can see, it is far too easy to pass. With my own club being owned by a hedge fund who have no direction, no plans and a fetish for meaningless court cases, it baffles me as to why they are allowed to stick around. We currently lie 23rd in the third tier of English football, our prestigious academy is at risk and we are effectively homeless. Yet, somehow, no action has been taken.

This man would be turning in his grave if he could see what was happening to so many football clubs.

Portsmouth and Swansea would be the ideal models, both being owned by the fans with the best interests of the club at heart. However, for some, it seems near impossible to remove the parasites that are infesting in the works. A radical change is needed within the world of football as too many prestigious clubs are being destroyed in the modern day. Our ‘beautiful’ game is in tatters and it is soul destroying viewing. Me and you, the fans, are the ones affected the most. Although football is now largely seen as a business to investors, it’s about time they put the supporters first. We are the 12th man after all. 

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3 Comments Add yours

  1. Ben says:

    Good analysis. Highlights just how terribly unequal the world of football is.

    Imagine you’re a kid in Hinckley. It’s the mid-1990s. Your Uncle is a pure Sky Blues fan. Your dad supports Leicester. Both offer to take you to a Premiership game, and you make your choice. The football bug sets in right there and then…

    20 years later things have turned out so completely differently for these two clubs, and for that Hinckley lad it’s the difference between having a fantastic life as a footie fan, and the endless despair and hopelessness that is familiar to all us Cov supporters. And it could’ve come down to something like his Uncle had a flashier car and would let him sit in the front, and he ended up a suffering Sky Blue just because of that…

  2. Chris Meeson says:

    Well written Matt. ….as a similar lifelong supporter of City (1967), may I have your permission to reproduce it for my club in Brisbane, , Australia……because the same is happening here. …and in the last 10 years since the inception of the A League we are the most successful team, having won the league 3 times and it fact we have several ex Brisbane players plying their trade in England. ….in fact Richard Daniel, the rogue, is a good friend. ….I’m writing this from my hospital bed at 2am…..just had a hernia operation

  3. Martin says:

    Coventry fans weren’t bothered about top flight excess while they were in it. That’s the problem. Jimmy Hill helped create the modern professional game too. SISU are dreadful but would have passed any ownership test in a free country. Increased fan ownership is desirable but only usually happens in dire situations. Swansea’s Trust only owns 20% of the club which may become a problem if (probably when) they ate relegated.

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