Sunday, 1 March 2009

Hard Fact Time

I feel lucky to be in a different country while this situation worsens. Having a new job, meeting new people who speak a language I know next to nothing of every day, tends to take the edge off situations like the precarious health of one's local football team's finances. Last night, though, after an exchange of texts with my brother, I sat down for twenty minutes with a glass of cheap red wine to try and figure out exactly what I think about it all.

My brother and I are both in our mid-to-late twenties and we could both reasonably be said to be beyond the age of no responsibility. He's a full-time journalist with a few years worth of experience, I'm a PhD in English supposed to be transforming my thesis into a fully-fledged book proposal. Last time our football team achieved any real success, I was nearly nine and he had just turned seven, so we were understandably not going to celebrate that by going out on the town and getting drunk and sentimental. Last night, I realised that the window of opportunity for that kind of abandon has just about gone. It will probably be a few years before the club is in a position to challenge for anything again, and I just can't see either of us being a position to suddenly drop everything and travel across the UK for a vital end-of-season away game
by the time that situation comes about.

I've seen Man Utd, Spurs, Liverpool, Arsenal, and Chelsea fans who have never set foot inside a football ground wildly celebrating winning various competitions. I've seen them argue with each other about the relative merits of their clubs as if they had any real connection with the place. I've seen them moved almost to tears by adverse results while sitting in the pub on a Saturday afternoon. All Thom and I have got from Darlo in the period of time when we can afford to actually follow a club with the 'passion' all of these plastic fans proclaim they feel is disappointment upon disappointment upon disappointment. The chances are that next time - if there is indeed to be a next time - Darlo get promoted, I'll be sitting in a conference room somewhere, or something equally adult.

Another point in all of this is that, for all the complaining fans do when their clubs go into administration, there are people who (understandably) have no interest in football whose livelihoods are damaged when '1p in the pound'-type settlements are imposed by preferential creditors. It's all well and good the 'club being saved for future generations', but when its debt management agenda can involve other, smaller, companies taking a serious hit in the pocket, there's something pretty grubby going on. Football fans need to be less blinkered about what 'administration' actually means: it isn't just a problem for the club which results in a ten point deduction, it has a real and palpable effect in the community. Clubs must learn to live within their means soon, even if that means a number of them going part-time. I'd rather see Darlo fielding semi-professional players than think that their mismanagement had cost anyone a job or their livelihood.

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