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Whose Football is it?

22 April 2017

Football brings us joy and unites us as fans. But lately, it would seem like the beautiful game is paying more attention to the economic profits rather than the general well being of all stakeholders. This raises the question, whose football is it?

Football is undoubtedly a private business. The industry welcomes a private governance structure, where the asset owners are capable of running and owning their club at their will. And the owners, be it businessmen, trust funds, supporters trusts or socios, run their clubs by considering sporting and financial objectives. Nonetheless, there’s a unique element that makes football clubs stand out from any other average company/enterprise: the close relationship with their fan base and their role and responsibility on shaping an identity across the communities they connect with.

A popular refrain says that you can change a partner, religion, political ideology or place of residence, but it’s almost impossible to change your football club. It is a monogamous relationship that each and every fan hold for the rest of their lives. And as a relationship, it involves two parties that look out for constant reciprocity. However, it seems that quite lately, one side is stronger than the other: the one with the big money pockets.

At the dawn on the new millenium, the TV money along with the juicy sponsorship deals flooded the bank accounts of football clubs. Players and their agents became celebrities and the tradition search of glory in football has been substituted by the money-making machines, selfies, haircuts and followers across social media. Welcome to the era of Modern Football.

Fans are now categorised as customers; a condition whereby some football stakeholders see a big monetisation potential. In the current state of affairs, this can be labelled as normal (with its own limits), but it undermines the above mentioned fan – club reciprocity.  Yet the latest events that have happened on and off the pitch, have proven us that the economic interest is beyond all of us – even the players or clubs. Those, who in theory, benefit themselves the most from modern football.

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The unfortunate events surrounding the Borussia Dortmund – AS Monaco UCL match made a very negative impact on the beautiful game. On one hand, the bomb made us realise football is not exempt from [financial] terrorism. On the other hand, it was very clear that despite the face human lives were threatened, “the show must go on”. How is it possible that only 24 hours after the terrorist attack was perpetrated, players and coaching staff had to face their biggest match of the season. It was a massive responsibility and, believe me, there’s no minimum recovery time as you see your life in a snapshot after facing death. Or just try to do something productive after facing a stressful situation…

UEFA has had a very selfish position around this event. On one hand, its PR arm was sharing concern and solidarity messages. But shortly after, UEFA also made clear that the game should be rescheduled for the next day due to the “tight European fixtures”. Of course, it’s also due to the lobby and pressure from sponsors, TV money and the incurred investments around the show.

Fortunately, fans stood out and gave a big lesson to each and everyone out there  [standing ovation!!]. The BVB and Monaco fans showed us how solidarity amongst fans and regardless of any rivalry is what unites us as a society, as supporters, and even as human beings. The #bedforawayfans campaign across social media was a huge success, which reminded us the true meaning of the beautiful game.

Football has dark side that has been recently disclosed to the public. The FIFA Gate scandals, the human rights violations in the construction sites for Qatar 2022 or the doubtful referee decisions at the big games have made us lose a bit of faith in football. Even the fact that the terrorist attack was motivated by financial greed mirrors perfectly the weight and relevance of money around the game. It is down to us, the fans, to have the responsibility to make football a sport we cherish, enjoy and that has a positive influence in the world.

This is the reason why we constantly ask ourselveswhose football is it?