Sunday, 12 June 2011

Save Supporters Direct

How alarming that, just as negotiations to turn Wrexham into a fan-owned club reach critical mass, the rug’s being pulled from under one of the WST’s most trusted sources of advice.

The decision by the Premier League to withdraw £1.2 million of funding from Supporters Direct is a bizarre one if taken at face value, but as we all know, taking the people who run football and footballs clubs at face value is a mug’s game.

There’s no question that the comments made on Twitter by SD’s chief executive Dave Boyle were unwise and in bad taste. It’s equally plain that they were the comments of a private individual, though, and not purporting to represent the body which employs him. Would a hairdresser lose her job if she posted that Jordan’s a tart at the bottom of a story on The Sun’s website?

The argument that the SD board’s response to Boyle’s comments was inadequate, leading to the conclusion that they’re not fit to distribute the cash responsibly, is not only completely nonsensical (what influence would my reaction to a workmate’s comments in the pub have on my handling of my bank account?) but was also drawn suspiciously swiftly, as the FSIF admit they consulted only one member of the Supporters Direct board, and rushed to make their judgement public before SD could hold a board meeting.

In reality, the Prem clubs are withdrawing their funding because they don’t support SD’s aims. They’ve clearly been corralled into offering the money because the public and political wind is blowing in favour of more fan ownership, but it simply doesn’t fit in with what the clubs’ owners want. They want docile consumers who stick their hands mindlessly into their pockets to fund the clubs, but have no idea what’s going on behind the scenes, nor any desire to influence it. The business model they aspire to isn’t Barcelona, it’s Tesco.

So to react so dramatically to Boyle’s comments appears suspicious; the action of a body which doesn’t want to offer funding and was waiting for an excuse to withdraw the cash to come along. If they stick to their promise to award the money themselves to individual schemes as they see fit, they’ll be able to control the sort of supporters’ organisations that get funded. I’m sure there’d be lots of publicity stunts to help out nice, polite, non-aspirational groups that have no intention of rocking the boat, rather than grass roots organisations which want to have a voice. No doubt, before distributing their largesse to the peasants, the Premiership clubs would consult club owners to see if the group was friendly or not; can you imagine the reference the Wrexham Supporters Trust would have got if Geoff Moss and Ian Roberts had been asked for one?

Before the funding promise was reneged upon, "When Saturday Comes" wondered whether something was up, suspecting there might be a suspicicious motive for the Daily Mail suddenly jumping on Boyle's comments a full fortnight after they'd been made. They wondered whether the story had been planted in the paper by bodies looking to discredit the upcoming publication of the Select Committe Inquiry into the governance of football to which Boyle had given evidence. It looks like it was also a cynical prelude to the withdrawal of funding.

Of course, I might be doing the Premiership a disservice. Despite the fact that its most obvious function is to make money at any cost, perhaps it does have a conscience, and that's why they couldn't possibly imagine funding a group that could employ someone who says unpleasant things. Maybe they do care about doing things the right wat, despite the fact that it was willing to compromise the integrity of its own competition by adding a 39th game abroad in order to make money (try telling Wolves that would be a fair framework if, having survived on the final day on goal difference, they were then told the 39th round would see them play Manchester United for a third time, in Qatar, while Birmingham would get to play West Ham in Dublin!)

So maybe the Premiership, in making this stand, is showing its moral side. Maybe we stand at the dawn of a remarkable era of honest leadershi in the game. It would make a nice change if the Prem made a stand against greed, theft, dishonesty and hypocrisy: here’s just a small, random selection of the sort of morally ambiguous or downright unconscionable behaviour it doesn’t punish or prevent:

  • Portsmouth were allowed to play in the Premiership under the following squeaky-clean fellows: arms-dealer’s son Sacha Gaydamak; Ali al-Faraj, whose claims to be a billionaire didn’t stack up, and who put convicted fraudster Daniel Azougy in charge of the club; and Sulaiman al-Fahim, "close friend" of a man with accusation of human-rights abuse and fraud, Thaksin Shinawatra. Hang on, isn’that the Thaksin Shinawatra who owned Manchester City in the Premiership?
  • Two days before signing Robbie Keane from Liverpool, having publicly stated his liking for the player, Harry Redknapp complained: "I don't know why Rafa Benítez gets so upset - it's strange. I just said Robbie Keane's a terrific player, but he belongs to Liverpool. It was never a goer." Then, on deadline day a year ago he said: "I thought it was April Fools' Day with some of the players we've been linked with. We're not doing anything today." By the end of the day he’d bought Raphael Van der Vaart!
  • Frank Lampard became the standard-bearer of a new £75m child obesity campaign, stating "You're never too young to get fit". Then he signed up as the face of Walkers Crisps, telling those obese kids to augment their salad butties: "Any sandwich is more exciting with Walkers!"
  • West Ham boss David Gold claimed, a month before he sacked Gianfranco Zola that he “has been through hell and back. But he knows he is part of West Ham. We couldn't ask for any more. I'll be asking him what he needs from us for next season."
  • Rio Ferdinand was paid £2.4 million in wages while he was suspended for eight months for going shopping instead of taking a drugs test by a club which supported his failure to do the test.
  • And don’t get me started on Joey Barton.

Hopefully the government, which has supported Supporters Direct, will prevail upon the Premier League will reconsider, and SD have already stated their intention to reapply for funding. Hopefully The Premier League’s Chief Executive Richard Scudamore will be reminded that it was less than a year ago that he made a commitment to fund the body; in the meantime, join the Save Supporters Direct Facebook group, work that #SaveSupportersDirect Twitter hashtag, and do your bit to show the Premier League that the little man does have a voice.

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