Supporting a football club is like nothing else in the world. Once you pick your club, for whatever reason, it is your club and you stick with it through thick and thin. Being a supporter of a football club entitles you to claim part ownership of that club and with that, the responsibility of safeguarding the future of the club. As a collective body, fans make up the biggest single stakeholder of any football club and should ultimately be the ones to which the owners and directors are answerable to. Therefore, it is also a responsibility of the fans to make sure that the owners and directors are aware of instances where they are not happy with the direction that the club is going in by engaging in dialogue and, if necessary, peaceful protest in order for their voice to be heard.
As the major stakeholder, fans have the right to protest against anything that they feel would damage the integrity and identity of their club; be it a name change, change of strip colour, or relocation to a new venue. Whilst it may not sound like the most positive move, protesting is an effective way of showing a club’s board the strength of feeling within the supporter base against the management of their club. However, in order for any protest to be successful it must follow two main criteria; 1- be well organised, and 2- be peaceful. The importance of maintaining peaceful protests cannot be under estimated as it has the potential to generate a wealth of goodwill and attract new followers to the cause. Engaging in any sort of violent protest will immediately negate any goodwill and respectability attached to the protest and will ultimately leave the aims of the protest unfulfilled. While a peaceful protest is not guaranteed to be a success, it certainly has more chance of success and creates a bigger opportunity for exposure to the issues behind the protest.
A great example of peaceful protest in action can be found in the ‘No to Hull Tigers’ campaign – who presented at this year’s Supporters Direct Scotland Conference – where fans of Hull City AFC protested against a proposed name change for their club; something that they were not consulted on. Had the name change gone ahead it would have signalled the end of 109 years of proud history, and potentially cost the club a large number of its supporters. To combat the proposal fans of the club organised a social media campaign aimed at highlighting the issue and the loss of club and community identity that a name change would bring about. By using social media the campaign was able to reach a global audience and garnered support from fans of clubs from all over the world who joined the protest by signing petitions, sending ‘No to Hull Tigers’ postcards to the FA, and purchasing ‘No to Hull Tigers’ merchandise all in the name of supporting fellow football fans. Furthermore, fans of rival clubs joined in with the ‘No to Hull City’ chants at grounds around England to show their support for the campaign. The protest brought the issue of club and community identity to the forefront in a peaceful manner and had an air of respectability about it which eventually led to the motion of a name change being defeated and the continuation of Hull City AFC’s proud history.
In addition to the modern approach taken by the ‘No to Hull Tigers’ campaign there a number of other more traditional methods of protesting that can be equally as effective. The Rangers supporter group the Union of Fans has proposed that its members withhold season ticket payments until issues of the governance and running of the club have been addressed. Whilst this approach has its risks, i.e. withholding much needed cash from the club, it has massive potential to make the current board sit up and take notice of the strength of opposition from within the supporters against their stewardship of the club. Withholding money hits the club where it hurts the most and is likely to force a situation where the board has to engage more with the fans. Once again, this process although risky is peaceful in nature and sends a strong message of supporter discontent without of aggravation or violence. Fans of other clubs, such as Coventry City, have chosen a similar route of denying the club funds by boycotting fixtures in order to highlight their disapproval of the direction that the club is moving in. Alternatively, fans who feel that this course of action does not show support for the team have chosen to stage ‘walk-outs’ during a fixture, thus bringing attention to an issue that they are not happy with. A further method of protest available is the demonstration outside the ground which provides a platform for fans to gather in numbers and make their voice heard in a forceful yet peaceful manner.
Regardless of the method of protest it is essential that fans understand that, as a majority stakeholder, they have a right to protest and express their opinions like anyone else connected to the club. However, as stakeholders and representatives of their club it is also vital that any protest follows a peaceful path in order to maintain respectability for the protest cause and the club itself.
Words – Kevin McCluskie
You can follow Kevin on Twitter at @KevinMcCluskie1