It’s Super Sunday. I’m sat in Walkabout in Plymouth with my friends. They support a wide variety of premiership teams. I say wide variety, most could be found in the top half of the league, despite the fact that those supporting have little to no connection to the team playing.
My mum, mindful of the fact that while I was in constant contact with my Dad, (he lived in Sheffield and I didn’t see him week in week out) took it upon herself to take me to watch Plymouth Argyle. In the nineties, your dad taking you to see a football match was a rite of passage.
My Dad always promised me that he’d take me to see Sheffield Wednesday (a mid-to-top level Premiership side at the time) and Nottingham Forest (a top four side at the time) but whenever I’d go up and visit him in summer the football season wasn’t on, or had only just started. Every other half term or Christmas or Easter was a no-go. Everyone wanted to see their favourite (at the time, only) grandson, nephew, great-nephew etc and so Saturdays when I was up there were filled with “do’s” where they’d lay on a “spread” and well, that didn’t leave much time for football. He couldn’t get tickets for Forest or Sheffield Wednesday for love nor money, and it wasn’t for the want of trying.
My Dad did take me to my first game though. It was watching the mighty blades, Sheffield United, playing Liverpool, at the home of football, Bramall Lane.
Sheffield F.C. were, and still are the oldest Football club in the world. Players like Pele have played testimonial matches their to show their appreciation for the great strides it made to the game. They played their matches at Bramall Lane before moving to the small Derbyshire town of Dronfield. Only two football clubs have received the FIFA International Order of Merit. One is Real Madrid, the other is Sheffield F.C.
No matter how many clubs claim to be “the home of football”, Bramall Lane has the greatest claim. It’s where the rules were first laid down. It’s where people first started to watch and engage with the game. The actual geography of where it lies is that it is surrounded by terrace after terrace of housing. To my mind, I think maybe Loftus Road, Upton Park and the old Highbury stadium have people living in properties adjoining or facing the ground separated only by a road and even then it speaks volumes that it is usually just on one side. There is trend of moving football clubs out of towns.
The world's first ever Football Cup final was played at Bramall Lane.
I strongly disapprove of this. I think football should be for the people. I think when that is removed, the football club no longer has a right to its history. It no longer has a right to claim its roots as it is detached from them. When Wimbledon moved to Milton Keynes, it was no longer Wimbledon. It was a financial organization that had players and wanted to move them up the line. MK Dons aren’t entitled to claim an FA Cup victory, nor the amateur cup victory. That happened quickly. With other clubs, Chelsea, Manchester City and Cardiff, the transformation is happening far more slowly, but is nonetheless, still happening. They isolate their grassroots support and as a result become devoid of the culture, history and personalities that shaped the club in the first place. This disconnect from their history devalues their club, not financially but certainly culturally.
My time to watch Forest with my Dad would come several years later, in 2007. It wasn’t my first time seeing them either. I did also go and see Sheffield Wednesday with my youngest sister, as Argyle away at Hillsborough, but that’s a different story. Forest have always been a strong club locally and of the matches I used to go to, the City Ground was usually at capacity or thereabouts. Attendance is the bread and butter of any club. Forest had that going for them. They were, at the time, the only European Cup winning team to have been relegated to the third tier of English football. When I saw them for the first time, with my Dad, they were playing in what is now League one.
If Forest get into the premiership next season, which is likely, I want them to do well. I want them to do well because they are my team. The problem is that they will lose their soul.
Me and my ex-girlfriend were there, when they were in League One, the third tier, traipsing across Trent Bridge in an icy November snow. She isn’t even a fan, but we still went to show our support. If they get into the Premiership they’ll have a load of fair weather fans from around the world, most of whom have little or no connection to the club. The mass of supporters will devalue the contribution that I and others have made to the club and this support makes my support less worthy.
Then these new supporters will want to watch their team play. A raise in demand usually equates to a rise in prices. Who, these days has the money to support a premiership team by going to every match home and/or away? Because demand rises for a team exponentially when they enter the premiership, most of their loyal fans are priced out of the club.
Then there is also the point that the club becomes an in demand commodity, which big business wants to buy and muscle in on big parts of the club’s identity. Nowhere is this more prominent than with the ground. Newcastle’s iconic St James’s Park is now called the “Sports Direct Arena”. Derby County play at Pride Park (well worth a glance if you’re on a train in that part of the world) but that has since been renamed the “iPro Stadium”. I feel that something like that maybe coming down the line for my beloved City Ground. Hull City’s owner recently changed the name of the club to the Hull Tigers. The identity of the club had been Hull City AFC for more than 100 years. Changing the name for marketing purposes removes the club’s identity and turns it from being a football club into a commodity. I can’t imagine this happening with Forest. Their emblem is a tree and river, and I can’t see anything they could be changed to. Nottinghamshire Cricket Club however rebranded themselves as “Nottingham Outlaws” for Twenty20, so there really is no telling.
One football club that had an entrenched identity was that of Cardiff. They were the bluebirds, they played in blue but when they got to the premiership the name was changed to the Welsh dragons and instead of playing in their trademark blue, the kit was changed to red as their chairman wanted to appeal to international markets. The fans who had supported Cardiff had their culture stripped away to turn the club into an international commodity. If it can happen with Cardiff, it can happen to anyone.
See, I love Forest, but if they’re in the Premiership they’ll be operating in a league with no social value anyway, little more than a financial organization with no sense of loyalty. Even if they don’t succumb to that, and a big part of me suspects that they won’t, they’ll be operating in that environment and slowly will not be the club that I loved. They will no longer be the firm social enterprise they once were and will, I fear, just turn into a bland premiership entity. For this reason, when they get promoted I will leave them be.
There was just one more thing I noticed. I watched a Chelsea match recently and all the fans were sat there quietly watching the match. Personally, the “bants” is a key part of football in my opinion. Give me a shouty, sweary, drunken fourth tier match in a hell hole of a ground over sitting quietly watching the team any day of the week.
Suffice to say, if Forest do get promoted, as I said earlier, my mum brought me up supporting Argyle, so, while I wish Forest well, Argyle will get my undivided attention.