Is It Time To Demand Rights For Fans?

Naveed TariqCorrespondent IJuly 18, 2009

I’m sitting in a sad looking café with only the sound of a kettle boiling and a builder leafing through a tabloid for company. Outside the window the Emirates stadium can just about be seen through the gloom; silhouetted and distant.

"No taxation without representation!" Ramiz Mohamed suddenly cries out to me. I have to take a reality check to make sure that we're not in revolutionary America, but the cold and bleak surroundings quickly serve to reassure me.

"I have a members card. It costs me a crazy amount every year, and I think they're raising the price again. My club is taxing me for my support, so why don't I deserve to have my views heard by the chairman?"

I remain silent as he continues dissecting his lunch. His ideas are pretentious and grandiose, they are poorly thought-out, and rashly delivered, but they make sense.

Firstly, let's remove all the ostentation from the argument. Ramiz isn't George Washington, I'm not Thomas Jefferson, and this article won't be the Bill of Rights, as much as I'll try.

Every sport is increasingly run as a business, and within this context, there is no room for sentimentality. It is not uncommon for us as fans, on the lowest rung of our clubs structure, to feel the most unappreciated and sometimes even abused by the sheer amount of money demanded just for supporting our team.

This is best seen with rising ticket prices, the failing of many fanzines, and the dilution of the club's standing with its traditional fan base, local community, and loyal fans.

The board hunts to secure richer fans, either offering so-called diamond services to businessmen or celebrities, gold memberships to whoever can pay the most, or wandering off to new markets to promote the club. In fact, often it is the loyalist fans which are left out in the rain.

It is not uncommon for the fans to disagree with their clubs either. It is common knowledge that the Chelsea football club has been the sole property of Roman Abramovich since 2003. During this time, he has run the club without any concern for anyone else’s opinion, including the managers.

He brought in Shevchenko against manager Jose Mourinho’s wishes, then sacked the manager against the fan’s wishes. Since then, the club have had five managers in two years, and only succeeded to win the F.A. Cup.

Liverpool F.C. has faced similar circumstances, with Rafa Benitez citing only his massive public support as the reason he is still at the Merseyside club at Real Madrid’s expense. This was best seen with two huge protests launched by the fans against the owners during a dispute between board and management.

Perhaps the best example is that of Mike Ashley of Newcastle United who began his tenure by drinking with fans in the terraces, but very quickly alienated himself from the Geordie faithful, becoming the most reviled man in Newcastle. In fact, many of the toon army angrily blame his mismanagement for the demise of their proud club.

The problem lies in the fact that all the power is possessed almost exclusively by men who buy out these clubs and use them either as a playboy accessory or a business, rather than a sports club.

They totally disregarding or ignore the impact their decisions will have on people which have invested so much time, money, and emotion with the club, and this forms an obvious schism...which is bad for any club.

Stripped to its bare bones, the issue becomes clear of reconciling the fans with their club.

This is where Ramiz’s idea comes into its own. It is the realisation that in the end, it is us who are the foundation of the club. Abhramovich could only pour his millions into a black hole for so long if it weren’t for Chelsea fans reimbursing him.

George Gillett would see his business of Liverpool F.C. flounder if fans ceased buying tickets or merchandise. Individually, each of us welds no power, but together we can bring these clubs to their knees.

Therefore, if we were all to band together in a kind of fans union for our particular clubs and demand to be heard, there’s nothing anyone can do to resist us. Fans unions are an effective weapon, and bring power back to where it belongs: the fans.

Representation was all that this scenario is based upon and therefore by having a few places on the board reserved for elected representatives from the fans associations themselves would not be an unreasonable demand.

With a functioning democratic union, and with representation finally on the highest platform, the board, we as fans can finally feel welcome to voice our own concerns and the safety of protection against the tyranny of a chairman, if needed.

This is something which will add to the experience and emotion of a fan and not detract from it, as is already happening.

However, just as we come to the conclusion of this piece, I feel it important to remove the pretentiousness from this article once again. It is not the be-all and end-all of the idea.

It is only the germ of a concept, from which a feasible system can be wrought, finally providing a stable equilibrium between the board and the fans. This article does not address that problem.

At the end of our conversation, Ramiz and I wandered into the drizzle outside, towards our bus stop in the vague shadow of the Emirates.