Scotland versus England is a long-standing rivalry dating back hundreds of years. It used to mainly be in the form of independence, a battle which will be settled once again in September of this year. However, in the last couple of centuries, Scotland and England have been engaged in a footballing rivalry like no other. When the two countries first found their way onto the same football park back in 1872, the start of a new sporting rivalry was formed. Although there haven’t been as many on field clashes in recent years – a 1-0 Scottish win at Wembley in 1999 the last competitive encounter – the rivalry off the park has remained just as intense.
Many would be forgiven in thinking that the grass is greener in England when it comes to football: the amount of money involved in the game, the higher standard of play, bigger stadiums, better players, better quality facilities and so on, but is Scotland so different to England when it comes to investment at club level?
This week, I’m looking at instances where a big money investor has come into a football club and ran up a huge and/or left the fans incredulous at some of their decisions.
The greener grass…apparently
In the last five years alone, there have been six high profile cases where a sole owner has let not only the club down, but the fans down too. These have been strung from the top division right down to the lower reaches, with some clubs still having to deal with the fallout to this day.
The first club to look at is Birmingham City. The Blues’ former owner, Carson Yeung has recently been found guilty of money laundering within one of his Hong Kong based companies. This example shows how less likely clubs and fans are to be able to trust an investor. Yeung brought in money which led the club to mid-table in the Premier League at one stage, as well as winning the Carling Cup. They now however, find themselves at the bottom end of the Championship, flirting with the relegation places. Just like Portsmouth before them – another former Premier League club – Birmingham may find themselves in the third tier of English football after a rich investor has run up debts the club cannot cope with and left the fans feeling betrayed. The fans didn’t know this information about Yeung, no one did, but how did he manage to find his way to the top of a club with the stature of Birmingham City? After he reached the top, what’s to say he didn’t launder money from the club too? The court case has been firmly set on his company in Hong Kong, but what’s to say he didn’t steal from the club, money which may have been used to get them back to the Premier League, or at least help stave of relegation to League One, something which at the moment, is a real possibility.
Crystal Palace is another example of an owner spending out with their means. Palace ended up in administration in 2010, causing long-term chairman Simon Jordan to leave the club. Although Jordan did initially save the club from administration when he took over in 2000, his ambitions were too great for the club and eventually the money he was spending on behalf of the club was simply unsustainable. The amount of money that was being spent on wages was rumoured to be a main part of the clubs’ downfall, something which Jordan sanctioned in his ambition to take Palace back to the holy grail of English Football – the Premier League.
Roots ripped from them
However, it is not just cases of overspending and over ambition which has led to fans being let down by their owners. In the case of Hull City, Cardiff City and even Coventry City, the fans have been left feeling betrayed by the owner, who has in some way decided to change something about the club, feeling that it would be “best for business.”
In the case of Hull, the owner, Assem Allam had proposed to change the club’s name to Hull Tigers. The FA is expected to reject this motion after the membership committee advised not to allow the change to take place. Over the last few months, there have been numerous protests by fans of the club, with the Allam threatening to walk if that’s what the fans want, whilst acknowledging that it was his investment which helped the club regain their Premier League status. The reason behind this proposed change was that the word “city” is “lousy” and “common,” as reported by the BBC.
Although Hull’s renaming is unlikely to progress, one case where an owner has been successful in forcing significant change is at Cardiff City, where owner Vincent Tan rebranded the club last year. Tan changed the clubs traditional Bluebirds logo to a red dragon, as well as changing the colour of the home strip from blue to red. This move devastated the fans, as they were left feeling like part of their, and the clubs heritage had been ripped from them.
The final club to look at where the owner(s) have betrayed the trust of the fans comes at Coventry City, who have now been relocated to Northampton, 34 miles away from the original stadium. After being forced into moving from the Ricoh Arena after a dispute over the rent which was due on the ground, the club relocated to Sixfields Stadium, where they currently play. This has resulted in the club playing in front of some of the lowest attendances in the division, with fans unable to spend the extra money on travelling to and from Northampton.
All of these examples have in some way betrayed the trust that the fans and the governing bodies put in the owners and does beg the question – is English football all that better?
It has only been in the last few years really, that Scottish footballs fans have found themselves feeling betrayed and let down by their club’s owners. Looking at the situation with Rangers, they have had not one, not two, but three owners in the last few years which have destroyed the trust the fans had in the people running the club.
This began with David Murray. Throughout the ‘90s, Murray vastly overspent millions of pounds on a wage bill and playing staff who did not live up to expectations. The club achieved huge success domestically, but did not do so well in European competitions. Murray had envisaged millions of pounds being invested in television rights as a revenue source for the club, something which didn’t materialise and immediately it all began to go downhill for the Ibrox club. He started the process from which the club is still recovering in the eyes of many supporters. Although Murray’s investment did bring success to the club, the money wasn’t being recovered which led to him selling his entire holdings in the club, around 85% of the shares, for just £1. Craig Whyte came in and took over the club, and within a year, the club found themselves in administration. Since his takeover the Rangers have eventually found themselves at the bottom end of Scottish football after being forced into liquidation. It emerged that he had based his investment on future revenues, rather than using his own money. In addition to this, following several court cases, it has since emerged that Whyte stopped the club paying it’s taxes, before the SFA banned him from being involved in football, deciding he was not in accordance with their fit and proper persons criteria. The involvement of Charles Green and his connection to Craig Whyte has created further confusion and disillusionment for the Rangers fan base. All three of these men have destroyed the relationship that fans had previously held with those running their club. This has built up a huge lack of trust between everyone involved with the club, and no one seems to know who is in charge and if they can actually be trusted.
This is similar to the situation at Heart of Midlothian. Several years ago the club was taken over by Vladimir Romanov who provided funds for players and in the short term, provided the sternest challenge to the Old Firm for years in his first season, finishing 2nd to Celtic. The season was filled with incidents though, including the sacking of manager George Burley whilst the club was top of the league after equalling their longstanding winning run. In addition to this, the club were falling deeper into debt and with the debt being owed by Romanov’s banks; ultimately the club had to pay. This led to players not being paid, subsequently sold in cut price deals, and unfortunately, the loss of faith the fans had in the man who had ambitions to win the Champions League with the club.
Within the last couple of years, the club has lost almost all of its first team players before it eventually entered administration last year. The result of which has led to a reliance on schoolboy-age players populating the first team squad. Good experience for the players, but difficult for a club trying to survive in the country’s top division. The youngsters haven’t been able to cope with the demands and pressure of first team football, even in Scotland, and now relegation into the Scottish Championship, where they would be set to face Rangers – who will be the promotion favourites next season- will present the club with a real challenge to get back to the Premiership.
Where to now?
In the last decade or so, there have been a number of clubs’ fans on both sides of the border who have faced difficulty with their respective owners and being able to trust them. Dundee and Dunfermline in Scotland are another couple of examples, with Manchester United one of the most high profile cases. The lack of trust between the fans and the owners, and the lack of respect some owners show the clubs’ fan base is leading to more and more fan groups campaigning to own their club, and in some cases, start completely afresh – such as FC United of Manchester. This tactic is something that I will be exploring further in the next week or so and examining the positive benefits that have already arisen from fans taking such action.