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

C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Full Stack Developer (.NET 4.0, ASP.NET, MVC, Ajax, WCF,SQL)

£55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Full Stack ...

AIFMD Business Analyst / Consultant - Investment Management

£450 - £600 per day: Harrington Starr: AIFMD Business Analyst / Consultant - I...

Business Analyst Solvency II SME (Pillar 1, 2 & 3) Insurance

£450 - £600 per day: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Solvency II SME (Pilla...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Jihadist militants leading away captured Iraqi soldiers in Tikrit, Iraq, in June  

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Robert Fisk
India's philosopher, environmental activist, author and eco feminist Vandana Shiva arrives to give a press conference focused on genetically modified seeds on October 10, 2012  

Meet Vandana Shiva: The deserving heir to Mahatma Ghandi's legacy

Peter Popham
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve