THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

28 February ~ I should be delighted. After years of failure and mediocrity, my club are top of the league. This is the most talented squad we've had in ages and we're playing some wonderful stuff. And yet something is dimming my good mood. It's a little voice inside my head: “We are only here because of a pint-sized motorsport entrepreneur, a dubious Italian and an Indian steel magnate.” “So what?” I hear plenty of my fellow QPR fans say. After all, we've had to wait. Since our departure from the Premier League, we've sunk to the third tier, flirted with oblivion and got through approximately a thousand managers (including Ian Dowie). It's about time our luck turned and I am enjoying the good times. Just not as much as I should be.

It was the Roman Abramovich effect which brought the problem to my attention. All my Chelsea-supporting friends greeted his arrival with delight. They rubbed their hands in glee at the flood of expensive new recruits and loved the fact that they were now title contenders. Soon they had silverware to celebrate. I remember one, however, who couldn't quite bring himself to gloat. “It's not like we earned it. We had it bought for us.” He didn't like the fact that success was the result of a financial transaction.

Yet in a world of £100,000 weekly salaries and £50 million transfers, what other path to success is there? When we try to spot the teams that are likely to move forward, we look to the bank balances. The top four has become such a financial elite that even relatively big-spending Spurs don't believe that they have a chance of staying there.

Permit me, for just a couple of paragraphs, to descend into complete idealism. If we ignore the way things are, what would be the “right” way for a team to achieve success? The team would have a core of club-grown players because there is a difference between building a team and purchasing one. The patient development of youth players into first team stars is an achievement; buying everyone in sight is not. Such a team also has a much stronger sense of identity. These players who have come up through the ranks feel much closer ties to the club. I believe fans find it easier to get behind such a team.

Secondly, a team would achieve success without any intrinsic advantage over its rivals. Every single sport relies on competitors having an equal chance of success. Winning a game of football in which your team had twice as many players as the other side would be underwhelming. Yes, you won but the contest was so flawed as to be irrelevant. At what point do financial inequalities between clubs render the contest void? Perhaps, the only upside is that when teams do defy the odds, the triumph is even sweeter. Witness the excitement around Blackpool.

If we do take the pragmatic approach and accept that money is the surest route to footballing success, we as football fans are left in an unusual spot. Our focus is turned away from the battles of the pitch to the intrigues of the boardroom. Fans who want to see their club progress are left waiting for a billionaire (millionaires won't cut it). That is why the sport pages have as much on takeovers as they do on tactics. Suddenly we are following a stock market rather than a sport.

I am not a killjoy. If QPR do get promoted at the end of this year, I'll be dancing as much as the next man. It is a shame though that football's cash addiction has soured even the sweet taste of success. Andy Ryan reversesweptradio

Comments (7)
Comment by Paul Rowland 2011-02-28 14:47:26

Interesting article. The influx of big money into English football has certainly polarised many people's views on their club, and the relationship they have with it. Are they fans? Are they supporters? Or are they merely followers?

Fans love absolutely everything about their club, and love any player who dons the shirt. They love the winning feeling above everything else – a defeat literally ruins their whole week-end. They want the club to be ambitious and successful. They want an owner who matches their own aspirations for the club - an owner who has the money to make those aspirations become a reality. And they aren’t that bothered about other people's perception of their club - after all, “they're only jealous of our success aren't they?”

Supporters may have reservations about the way the club is run, they may not like the style of play, they may get fed up with the constant mercenary procession of players coming and going, they may have issues with the conduct and attitude of some of the players etcetera etcetera and so forth - but at the end of the day it's their team, and they'll back the lads through thick and thin. It may not be a particularly edifying or enjoyable experience, particularly when you're getting criticised and mocked by the media and by rival fans, but what else can you do? That's part of being a supporter isn't it?

And then there are the followers. If you ask a follower who their team is, they'll tell you – but not with any great pride. More with a tired air of resignation. Dont get them wrong, it is still their team. They do still go to the odd game, but largely out of habit or maybe morbid curiosity, rather than any great enthusiasm. They'll make the effort to stay in and watch them if they're on the TV, and they will still check their results and look through the newspaper reports to see how they're getting on, but sadly the full-on emotional attachment has long gone.

In my time I have been all three of the above. Many years ago when I was just a boy, I used to be a football fan. Ah, those were the days. Then the money started pouring in to the game, and I quickly became a football supporter. What a miserable existence that was! Unfortunately the filthy lucre continued to pour in, and I was obliged to once again consider my position. Nowadays, I'm a football follower.

When I became a football follower, I finally discovered something that had eluded me ever since Murdoch stuck his nose into the Beautiful Game. I discovered a strange sort of inner peace. One moment my club is owned by some exotic faceless oligarch with an un-pronounceable name, - the next moment it’s gone bust. Oh well – c’est la vie! My hero has just chinned a barman for the heinous crime of not playing the right CD, he’s sleeping with his team mate's girlfriend, and now I hear he’s just shot an intern down at the training ground... do you know what? I’m not bothered. World Cup in Qatar? You can have it in Timbuctoo for all I care. Y’see, the thing is – I really doesn’t matter to me. I’m only a football follower.

My advice to any disaffected football fan who undestands what I'm talking about: don’t punish yourself. It’s not worth it. Forget about being a fan – be a follower. I thoroughly recommend it to all supporters of tainted football clubs everywhere - be it Chelsea, Crawley Town, or indeed Queens Park Rangers.

Comment by PRB 2011-02-28 17:15:19

It is a shame, and the stock market analogy is a good one, but unfortunately that's were we are in football now that the only way you can truly get to the top is with financial clout. To gain success by going with the building-through-the-youth-system format is not easy and unless you have the money and the success coming along quickly, it'll be hard to fend off bigger teams coming after your developed talent. In an ideal world money wouldn't be the factor, though the only way that is happening is through some kind of salary/wage cap and that opens a whole other can of worms.

Nice article though.

Comment by madmickyf 2011-03-01 03:08:47

The only way to stop clubs buying their way to success is to have a Salary Cap, maximum squad sizes and rules that clubs can only spend money they generate through 'normal' football sources i.e. not from the Chairman's Swiss bank account. However asking the clubs to agree to this is like asking Turkeys to vote for Christmas so the whole filthy, money-grubbing circus will carry on until like Paul Rowland we all lose interest.

Unfortunately it seems as though only a complete collapse of the current system with multiple clubs going to the wall is going to convince football to change it's ways.

Comment by blondearrow 2011-03-01 05:13:29

All excellent points above, but I hate to say that most objections to mega-money ownership seem to be built on a fantasy that a some previous point things were different. However, this simply isn't the case. Big money ownership has come and gone over the last centruy and a bit of professional football. Today's deep pockets are tomorrow's candidate for the drop zone and below. The only thing that has really changed over the years is the number of zeros to the right of the £ symbol.

Comment by Coral 2011-03-01 11:25:40

I just want to read about sport without being told about money. For months I had to skip through the sections on the Liverpool takeover. Then a bit about the Glazers. Football will still be played no matter what happens in some form or other. I just want to watch that and read about that. I don't give a monkeys who has money or what they might be doing to the club. For me the Man Utd thing is a complete non story. All the prattling on about how they are going to the wall etc, they still play football and are still keeping their fans happy. I agree with your point on QPR but you just have to enjoy the football. As the first poster said it is about following football now and taking a step back from the nonsense that goes with it.

Comment by PRB 2011-03-01 15:10:43

I will say, the problem with implimenting a salary/transfer cap in football as opposed to in other sports like the NBA and NHL were it has worked well, is that you'd have to do it across all the top leagues of Europe. Cap the salaries in England and all the top players will just bugger off to Spain, Italy or Germany. Whether that's a big deal though is another matter altogether.

Comment by Pietro Paolo Virdis 2011-03-01 20:51:36

I will never get this idea that football was once not about money.

Maybe in the early Olympic, but in club football?
What, Real Madrid in the 50's was all about 11 players who were from the youth squads?

As far as I remember, Dennis Law wasn't brought up in the youth academy of Manchester United. Hold on, wasn't he brought in on a then record transfer fee?

I mean, it's getting a bit odd how people today think that football way back was so much different, like every squad with any bit of success consisted of players all from their own youth system, and none brought in for, or paid, silly money.

At least QPR seem to do it in a sensible way. Biding their time. Those owners could have bought any PL club and turned it into fuck. The committment (for an outsider) and patience they've shown, shows some kind of normal.

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