Football, at it’s most basic form, should be about nothing more than the sporting spectacle that takes place on rectangular patches of grass around the world. Though more often than not, we focus as much on the drama off the pitch as we do on it. Much is made of this dichotomy, and how the former should get more attention than the tabloid fodder. But like highway accident rubbernecking, we just can’t look away.
While there is wisdom in following the off-field theatrics to help paint a better picture of what’s happening on the pitch each weekend, most of it we could do without. Spats between players and managers, squabbling between the managers and the media, players getting themselves into trouble in a wide variety of fashions — all are common place on newspaper back pages and an uncountable number of internet columns. However, most times the outrage any of these story lines might incite in the support is quickly forgotten whenever the next big fuss is made.
This year’s the drama du jour, at least in the Premier League? It has to be boardroom drama.
In North London, Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy’s proven once again he’s an impatient fellow, firing a Andre Villas-Boas just 16 games into a 100 million “project”. His decision to replace AVB with well liked — yet unproven — former player and youth academy director Tim Sherwood raised even more eyebrows.
Up in the Northeast, supporters of Kingston upon Hull’s football club have nearly rioted over owner and chairman Assem Allam’s decision to rename their club. After 105 years of going by Hull City Athletic Football Club, Allam will change the club’s moniker to simply “Hull Tigers” to improve marketability and rid the club of the “lousy identity” of City that it shares with several other clubs. In explaining his decision, he further spat in the supporters group City Till We Die‘s faces by telling them “to die as soon as they like”.
But the true main event this season, more than any of the others, has to be the ongoing Vincent Tan saga at Cardiff City.
“Ongoing” and “saga” were the keys word there, as the turmoil the owner has inflicted can hardly been restricted to this season alone. Since taking over the Welsh side in 2010, Tan’s reign has seen tremendous highs and tremendous lows. And as can be expected, the lows are the ones that have seen the most press.
The Malaysian business man has changed the club colors from blue to red and added a dragon to the club’s crest, both moves said to improve the club’s marketability in Asia. Considering the Bluebirds had worn blue shirts since 1908, this didn’t sit at all well with the support. Have a look in the stands of the Cardiff City Stadium and you’ll notice a sizable number of the home support still donning blue in defiance to Tan’s ruthlessness.
But while most of the supporters don’t like that change, it’s one they can live with. At least Tan isn’t changing the club’s name, right? They’re also not pulling a Wimbledon and picking up shop and moving elsewhere. Cardiff City football, however the players might be forced to dress, wasn’t being messed with itself.
Well, until recently that is.
Despite helping the Bluebirds climb back into the English first division for the first time in 52 years, Tan has increasingly interfered with the sterling work done by manager Malky Mackay. It began with rumors that the chairman was upset with that defenders and goalkeepers weren’t scoring more often, which progressed to talk of the man wearing the jersey over his shirt and tie calling down mid-game tactical changes and substitutions. As tension built between the manager and the chairman, Tan fired the Scotman’s lead scout and replaced him with a 23-year-old Kazakhstani who had been painting the ground in the summer. Last week, Tan sent Mackay an email claiming he needed to resign or fast the axe himself. And though it appeared the two had briefly settled their differences, Tan did finally drop that axe after the Boxing Day fixtures.
So while they may have stomached the change in colors, interfering with the club’s footballing affairs isn’t something that many are willing to put up with. And you could hardly blame them.
The problem is, what can the fans really do? Aside from ranting on social media and organize a protest or two, the only thing they can do to really affect Tan’s thinking is vote with their feet and not attend matches. But as was already proven with the color change, most of the supporters will continue to show up. So odds are, those who are outraged will have to swallow their pride along with their memories, and accept that change is more inevitable for Cardiff City than most.
Too, fans seem to be fairly selective in what they’re willing to take from Tan and what they’re not. While they’ve made plenty of stink over the unpopular changes mentioned above, I don’t recall hearing anyone rejecting the club infrastructure improvements Tan’s offered in exchange for the modifications. Did they turn their noses up at the new training facility he’s built, the millions he’s spent in improving the squad, or the record wins streak his guidance provided that lifted them into the Premier League.
Without Tan, it’s quite possible that none of that would have ever happened to Cardiff City football club. In fact, the club’s finances prior to his arrival meant they only had ten players under contract at the time of Mackay’s appointment. So while Cardiff supporters might not like some of the changes Vincent has made, they seem wholly averse to making any concessions in exchange for his money. As the saying goes, they want to have their cake and eat it too.
So is Tan right to dismiss 100-plus years of history and culture? Not at all. However, he is entitled to run the club he owns as he pleases to a certain extent, too. So in some shape or fashion, they need to find a happy medium to balance the desires of Tan with the wants of the fans.
Furthermore, fans of clubs need to be more demanding of their clubs’ boardrooms. Instead of taking the first rescue package that comes along to save your club from certain demise, maybe take some time to scrutinize the deal to find out what exactly their plans are moving forward. If they don’t like what it takes to get to the promised land, maybe it’s time to re-evaluate what’s really important.
But knowing the short-term memory of most football fans, they’ll have forgotten about all of this by next week. When the next drama spills out, the focus of the rage will temporarily point else where. Dram like this Tan-demonium, after all, is what everyone wants to see anyway. Even if they won’t admit it, everyone enjoys a good rubbernecking.