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Wednesday 13 December 2017

James Lawton: In crude terms fans worth more than the price of a ticket

James Lawton

James Lawton

Say what you like about Tom Hicks Jnr, the former football director, he could yet emerge as one of the pivotal figures in the history of the English game -- a guy who, as they are prone to say in boardrooms, cuts to the chase.

He certainly slashed through all those heart-rending but invariably futile arguments about the meaning of the team Bill Shankly built, its place in the community, the degree of protection granted to the fans of Liverpool, not to mention those of clubs like Leeds United and Portsmouth and, perhaps somewhere down the road, Manchester United.

Young Hicks, sharp as a whip in his Brooks Brothers gear, went right to the core of the issue, which is of course the regard with which most of the football entrepreneurial class hold all those people at the bottom of the food chain who like to think they are still quite an important element in England's national game.

Bothersome

He emailed a complaining fan, Stephen Horner, with all the derision and contempt a certain type of well-heeled person reserves for the bothersome attention of a street person.

Hicks, whatever you think of his choice of language -- lewd and crude and worthy of the rougher kind of drug dealer -- really said it how it is.

It is that the average football fan is utterly deluded if he thinks he is worth anything more than the price of a ticket or a TV subscription.

He can join as many pressure groups as he likes. He can create passionate banners. But his proper function is to create profit or, in an increasing number of cases, the means by which large bank loans are serviced.

Pompey fans have not yet been assailed by the language of the gutter but that is where their best hopes have resided for some time. Gordon Taylor, chief executive of the Professional Footballers' Association, has voiced the fear that Portsmouth could well be on the slide towards oblivion that is only now being reversed by Leeds.

He said: "It's always a possibility when you see clubs over-reach themselves. But you like clubs to be in the ownership of people who are prepared to declare their interests and be up front about it and you want them to be football lovers. That may well be the case but there's a lack of evidence of that."

Nowhere was it, of course, thinner on the ground than when Hicks Jnr first categorised Horner as an idiot, then, having gathered up the full range of his withering repartee, added, "B*** Me, F*** face. Go to hell. I'm sick of you."

And are we are not sick of the infestation of football by so many people who see in it nothing so much as the main chance, a means of enrichment or some kind of recognition and excitement beyond the accumulation of oil and gas rights?

Is it not wretched that the Premier League talks of a Fit and Proper Persons Test even after once allowing someone like Thaksin Shinawatra to get his hands on Manchester City -- and Hicks Senior and his partner George Gillett to hawk Liverpool, the most successful club in English football, around the world as though it is disposable trinket?

The role of the Glazer family at Manchester United has so far been larded with enough success to prevent the kind of examination which this last season has laid bare the situation of Liverpool, but when United announce a profit of £48m you are immediately obliged to both tot up the cost of maintaining massive debt and speculate on Alex Ferguson's continued ability to effectively re-seed his team.

There has been plenty of criticism of the Glazer debt-loading from the fans but so far the American family have not been witless enough to express the kind of contempt which came surging into the Hicks reaction to the complaint that Liverpool have become the sick man of the English football elite, stripped of any ability to properly compete with their leading rivals.

There is not a lot of point in going over again the failure of Liverpool to make serious progress in their ambition to regain the English title and even those of us who believe that considerable responsibility belongs in the office of manager Rafa Benitez are faced with the dispiriting claim that the club simply do not have the resources to pay off his contract and make a new start.

Ambition

It's a nightmare that has taken on a momentum of its own. The lack of leadership has indeed been catastrophic. Until now though contempt for the fans and their expectations based on past achievement and tradition has been implicit. Now Hicks Jnr has brought it into the open in one dismissive flashpoint.

It is, strange as it to say again, a service, though. It strips down the cant and the hypocrisy. The idea of a football club as a force of coherence and pride in a community has been under fierce siege for long enough, but never before has the distance between the fan and his club been quite so brutally expressed.

Tom Hicks Jnr's choice of words, ironically, is what blew the cover. It said something that no press statement will ever say. It said it how it really is.

The fan used to imagine that he owned his club. He knows rather better now. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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