Sheikh, rattle and roll over

How do you passionately support a PLC? How do you maintain the undying devotion that makes you a fan when the club is doing its damnedest to turn you into a customer? One answer is that you simply blank it all out and focus on the team, on what happens on the pitch. But what if the team is a rotating cast of millionaires with no more connection to your world than Tom Cruise…?”

~ Gary Imlach, ‘My Father and Other Working Class Heroes’

LAST weekend, as Sulaiman Al-Fahim was preparing to take one small step for man, one giant leap for Manchester City, Mike Ashley was downing a pint of lager as if it were his last in the taught black and white nylon of Newcastle United. Within days, in the wake of Kevin Keegan’s exit, the self-same Mags who had cheered Ashley’s every gulp from the pubs of Grainger Town were urging each other to boycott the brands and retail outlets which catapulted him to billionaire status.

They should count themselves lucky. As anyone who’s dared to peek inside a Geordie’s wardrobe will tell you, they pack considerable weight in this sector and furthermore, at least the source of Ashley’s wealth is targettable. What are Manchester United fans supposed to do the day Fergie leaves, go and picket Malcolm Glazer’s sausage skin factories?

cashpointPerhaps the Premier League could learn a thing or two from Austria, where one glance at the Bundesliga table or just couple of minutes spent reading the adverts on a club’s kit leaves little doubt as to who’s running the show. Witness last season’s clash between FC Superfund and Cashpoint Altach (above).

It’s fairly amusing to think that Liverpool’s jerseys might bear the name of George Gillet’s meat plants or Tom Hicks’ brand of Argentinian pet food. Then again, until last Monday’s stroke of a pen in Dubai’s Emirates Palace Hotel, I shudder to think what message Manchester City’s shirts could’ve carried. In reality, it seems that for a follower of ‘The Greatest League in the World’, ignorance is bliss as far as club ownership’s concerned. As long as Sky’s in town and there are signings to slaver over, who really cares where the money’s coming from?

Perhaps the commercialised landscape of Austrian football’s not so crass after all. Maybe its abundance of brandnames perversely affords Bundesliga clubs the sort of integrity most Premier League sides lack. After all, unlike in this country, Austrian fans are left in no doubt whatsoever that to the clubs they’re a just another revenue stream.

Uppermost in the minds of the new Arabian suitors at ‘Middle Eastlands’ is a document penned by Executive Chairman Garry Cook entitled ‘A New Model for Partnership in Football’. Within its 83 pages, ex-Nike executive Cook foresees a Premier League of 10-14 teams with no promotion or relegation (‘Fans would find a way to get passionate about it,’ he insists) and a re-branded Manchester City becoming ‘The Virgin of Asia’ by branching into the automotive, fashion and telecommunications industries, as well as endorsing a range of energy drinks manufactured by, well, who do you think?

garrycookNot keen on how commercial the Premier League’s become? Tough. By Cook’s reckoning it’s actually undervalued: ’10 years behind the US,’ he says. Anyway, it’s none of your business. ‘China and India, 30% of the world population,’ Cook observes, ‘need a league to watch and we want Manchester City to be their club.’

Their club. The message is clear: if you want to support a successful side, you’re going to have to let it go. Garry Cook. Remember that name. You are a football fan, and he is your enemy. This blog’s been three years in the making and the object of much long-distance finger-pointing in these pages is rapidly becoming the reality for the English game.

Have your say...