Roman Abramovich may own the business of Chelsea, but the club remains outside his grasp

The loyalty of football fans cannot be taken for granted

Share
Related Topics

I was at a dinner recently organised by an acquaintance who's a very big noise in the oil industry. He runs a company with revenues of around £200bn and he is a substantial donor to the Conservative party.

In the normal course of events, it's safe to say, we wouldn't have very much in common. But by an accident of birth, or other happenstance, we have a shared support for Manchester City football club, and he took time off from running the world's largest oil trader to invite a number of people with a similar football affliction to come together and share their stories. I was struck by a contribution from one of our fellow diners, also a big wheel in business, who explained how he had come to follow City up and down the country, not to mention up and down the divisions, for more than 30 years.

“When I was young,” he said, “I asked my father why we supported City. All my schoolfriends were United fans, and so were all my relatives. Yet I was dragooned by my dad to support City. Why was that, I asked him? And his answer? He said it was easier to park at City's ground! And because of that, I've had 30 years of heartbreak. ”And,“ he added, ”the very occasional triumph.“

I tell this story because, in a week when some of the worst aspects of our national game have been exposed – the reckless greed for success, the shameful abrogation of loyalty, the callous disavowal of sentiment – it goes to show that football relies on an emotional connection, and tradition, and culture, in a way that other billion-pound industries in Britain just do not. To update Bill Shankly's phrase: football isn't a business, it's more important than that.

This point seems to have escaped Chelsea's Russian owner, Roman Abramovich, pictured, whose brutal sacking of manager Roberto di Matteo just 21 games after he had delivered the European Cup has outraged Chelsea supporters, and indeed anyone with a feeling for fair play. Abramovich may say that the club belongs to him, and not to the supporters, and in a narrow sense he is right. Football fans put up with quite a lot as it is – the casting aside of their favourite player, the purchase of one they once loathed – but they understand more than most that loyalty is a two-way street. Their patronage can be relied upon, but not taken for granted.

Everyone appreciates this is a game of buying and selling, but when it becomes nothing but that, when distinguished service, loyalty, and a connection with that indefinable quality – the spirit of a club – are wilfully disregarded, then even an all-powerful owner who can bend minions to his will is asking for trouble. Or at least that would be the proper ending for this particular morality tale. As it happens, I shall be at Chelsea on Sunday afternoon. I will sympathise with their disenfranchised supporters before the game, and hope to be in a position to be magnanimous towards them afterwards. Have a good weekend.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Pharmaceutical Computer System Validation Specialist

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Pharmaceutical Computer ...

Senior Java Developer - API's / Webservices - XML, XSLT

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently ...

Newly Qualified Teachers

£90 - £115 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: We are currently looking fo...

Year 3/4 Teacher

£120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Job Share Year 3/4 Teacher...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The racist abuse of Mario Balotelli on Twitter is disgusting, but it can be stopped

Anna Jonsson
A survey by Which? found that some of the UK’s biggest airports, including Heathrow, left travellers the most agitated  

Third-runway momentum is gathering. We need to stop it in its tracks

Mary Dejevsky
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments