As Joseph De Maistre, the French philosopher, once said: “Every country has the government it deserves.”
If every football club gets the owner it deserves, some supporters must have earned some seriously bad Karma over the years.
At the highest level, football ownership offers access to untold riches and a raised public profile, which inevitably attracts some individuals with a predisposition towards narcissism and self-interest. In itself, this isn’t necessarily a problem to many supporters, especially if it coincides with a period of on-field success.
A winning team is likely to foment pragmatism towards issues of ownership and a choice to ignore or overlook difficult issues concerning ethics and values. Money matters in football but is no guarantee of success and selling your soul for 30 pieces of silver in pursuit of a quick fix regularly leads to lost souls and bigger problems.
Prior to Kevin McCabe’s reign, Sheffield United suffered its fair share of boardroom controversy and mayhem, experiencing a succession of owners united only in their propensity for distracting attention away from their football club and onto themselves. By contrast, for most of two decades, McCabe maintained an air of relative tranquillity and despite occasional moans and groans when the team underperformed, supporters had become accustomed to life under an owner who demonstrably had the long-term best interests of his club at heart.
Even in the face of an avoidable relegation to the third tier, McCabe was spared the venom directed at some of his predecessors faced with similar circumstances.
McCabe’s comprehensive fall-out with fellow Blades co-owner Prince Abdullah brings into focus the potential perils facing the Blades once his era comes to an end. Whatever the outcome of the feud between McCabe and the Prince, McCabe has made clear his intention to step aside and United will be under new ownership before long.
Given what preceded him and what is evident at other clubs across the land, supporters should take a keen interest in what happens next and make clear their expectations of any new owner.
Finding another one with as much care for the club and deeper pockets than McCabe is probably pie in the sky – if such an individual existed he/she would presumably have been sounded out by now.
But that doesn’t mean supporters shouldn’t have reasonable expectations of any new owner – some gleaned from the dire experiences of other clubs. Here are a few for consideration for any new owner:
Respect and preserve the history and heritage of the club. Changes of name, colours, badge and stadium should be off limits without the consent of supporters.
Invest in the longer-term prosperity of the club by regularly upgrading facilities and infrastructure.
Ensure the club is run in a financially prudent manner, avoiding breach of FFP rules or the ignominy of insolvency.
Ensure ticket prices remain affordable to the great majority of the club’s loyal fan base.
Be, or at least become, a supporter - attend games regularly.
None of the above should seem too groundbreaking but many new owners entering English football in recent years have failed one or more of the above, alienating supporters in the process.
Premier League money has drawn a new generation of financiers into English football, many demonstrating a lack of care or interest in their pet project beyond fattening their ego and bloating their bank balance. To them, no cow is sacred in pursuit of commercial gain, be it a club’s colours or even its name. Just ask fans of Cardiff and Hull City.
Some learn soon enough that football clubs are not just like any other business and supporters can’t be viewed simply as ‘customers’. They are embedded in their local communities, imbued with the dreams and aspirations of supporters and new owners ignore this at their peril.
Demonstrating respect for a club’s history and traditions and sensitivity towards its values and culture is every bit as important as decisions directly affecting the first team. In fact the relationship between the two is symbiotic – just ask Chris Wilder, who has made ‘playing for the badge’ a key part of his mantra.
Owning the Blades brings great power and responsibility in equal measure. Blades fans need to be heard in stating their expectations of McCabe’s eventual successor - whoever, and whenever that may be.