As I sit and write this editorial, Twitter and indeed much of the British media, is vehemently condemning the racist abuse of England’s footballers during the national team’s match in Montenegro. And rightly so. Continue reading Editorial: calling out racism begins at home
I’m writing this editorial on the day of FIFA’s annual The Best Football Awards. Ordinarily I’d be oblivious to this; not today. But that’s only because they happen to be taking place at my workplace. Right now, as I look out of the office window, tuxedoed men I don’t recognise are being ushered towards a row of photographers, a line of glamorous young women in shiny frocks are being used as window dressing on a staircase, blokes in hi-vis vests are keeping tourists behind distant barriers and an invisible man on a microphone is encouraging anyone who can hear him to ‘get ready to make some noise for Joachim Low’. Continue reading Editorial: On being thankful for being far removed from FIFA
‘F***ing shit’ shouted the bloke in front of me as we traipsed out of The Valley last Saturday. ‘Absolute garbage’. I wasn’t so sure. Frustrating I’d grant you; disappointing likewise, not quite good enough, sure. But what I’d just watched hadn’t been ‘shit’ – and I’ve supported Rovers long enough to know what ‘shit’ is. Continue reading Editorial: When did we become so intolerable of averageness?
Last month I went to India. And yes, I had a lovely time thank you very much for asking, but I’ll save going all Judith Chalmers on you for another time, and get to my point. Whilst in India I met my girlfriend’s cousin, Nikhil, for the first time. He’s an intelligent fella, a writer who speaks multiple languages and he’s into football; he supports Chelsea – evidence if ever it were needed that who we choose to support is rarely a rational choice. Nikhil has lived near to, or in, Bangalore all is life. Bangalore are the current Indian football champions. I asked him why he didn’t support them. His answer is that he likes football, and so he wants to watch the best football in the world, and as the Premier League is screened regularly in India, it is this which he, and the other football fans he knows, watch. Continue reading On Football as the next Great American Drama Series
With the former German international Thomas Hitzlsperger, and then Gainsborough Trinity’s Liam Davies, bravely taking the decision to publically state their homosexuality last week there was much subsequent mumbling about how the macho, laddish world of football would handle the news. The fear was that most footballers and football fans simply wouldn’t be able to handle the concept of there being someone in their midst who wouldn’t sit in the corner of the changing rooms flicking through a copy of Nuts magazine pointing at the pages grunting “Bang that… and that”. Continue reading On Passion in Football
I was on commentary duty at Oakwell on Saturday afternoon. Roughly three minutes before kick-off, as I was running through the usual preamble, I looked to my left to see Chris jabbing at his laptop screen, pointing out a tweet from the local press stating that John Ryan had resigned as chairman. My reactionary feeling, right then and there, which I had to reign in as I tried to fathom a way to convey this news whilst talking on an official club channel, was anger.
Not anger that John Ryan had chosen to step down as Chairman of Doncaster Rovers after so long, and not anger at any of his fellow directors, and not anger at anyone else connected with the club or the supporters groups. No. It was anger at John Ryan, for the timing of his announcement. Just before kick-off in a particularly vital league game. Timed when everyone else’s focus was directed at the pitch. Timed when he knew he was the only director present. Timed to disrupt.
Two hours later, as I hung in the press room to put off venturing out into the rain, John Ryan himself came through the door of the Benny Hill Media Suite. Ryan squeezed through the crowd in the compact room, plonked himself at the desk at the front, and said “Well someone ask me a question.” No one did, but Ryan spoke anyway and as he did he went through a visible range of emotions, sadness, nostalgia, poignancy and anger.
Ryan’s voice cracked as he began by confirming his resignation and you can understand why; he was after all relinquishing control of the team he had been chairman of for fifteen years, and supported for over fifty. Ryan was part of a group of investors who stepped in to save Doncaster Rovers in 1998, when most of us had resigned ourselves to having seen the club play football for the last time.
At that time Ryan was initially treated with suspicion by many – as indeed anyone coming into the club at that point would have been – primarily because as a Director of the club once before in the early 90s he had sold his shares to the notorious Ken Richardson. Some fans I know still hold that against Ryan, but I would never do so. It was a decision he was encouraged to make by others at the club, and none of us could have predicted the attempted slapstick come soap opera asset-stripping which Richardson subsequently orchestrated until Ryan’s return in 1998.
No, credit to Ryan for ensuring he was involved in the group that rescued the Rovers, and of course for sticking with the club through those difficult first few seasons before the rewards began to come. Ryan not only helped resurrect the club, but also, with the support of his board, made moves that stabilised it, such as the investment in training facilities at Cantley Park over chucking all his cash at the playing side. I reviewed his autobiography-come-cosmetic surgery advertorial in 2009, and remember thinking then, he gets it, he actually gets what it’s all about for us, and for that allowed him his occasional past ego-stroke like his turn at centre-forward and his infamous ‘blood on the streets’ outburst.
Although I am both grateful and thankful for all that Ryan has delivered, that does not mean that I will blindly follow and support everything he has done. After all, I am truly thankful to both my parents, but they still read the Daily Mail semi-regularly. No-one is infallible, not even John Ryan, and whilst I have been more than happy to have him as chairman, I have still cringed at his ‘Destination Championship’ proclamations, at his rants and riles against match officials, and as probably goes without saying, every facet of ‘the McKay Experiment’.
The events of 2011-12 made me view Ryan in a very different way. I disagreed with his reasons, his methods and his actions, and as such became labelled as ‘ungrateful’. People involved within the Supporters Trust at the time did all they could to discredit my opinions – that is all they were, opinions of a supporter concerned about the direction his club had chosen to take. For daring to have an opinion that did not tally with John Ryan’s I was subsequently ‘othered’ as some sort of enemy of the state and, I am told, Ryan even had his legal team look over the content of my Viva Rovers site at the time. To what end I have never understood.
Here’s the thing though, because I was grateful and thankful for all John Ryan had done for Doncaster Rovers, and all the enjoyment his tenure had brought me, I was happy to return to the Keepmoat when McKay had moved on. Put the daftness of the previous year behind us and go again. Because of the stance I took during ‘The McKay Experiment’ I am often labelled as being ‘anti John Ryan’. I’ve actually heard it said of me and of popular STAND. It is a ludicrous statement. How could I (or we) be against a man who had delivered our club so much?
If I was given the opportunity to meet with John Ryan the first thing I would do is shake him by the hand, give gushing mumbling thanks and offer to buy him a drink. But that doesn’t mean I agree implicitly with everything he will do. Again, the man is not infallible. And he has made mistakes in the past which we have all seen. He has earned my respect and my thanks, but his errors of judgement – and general suspicion of me and people who think along similar lines as me – means that he has not fully earned my trust.
If John Ryan thought that when the Sequentia Capital offer of a £20million push for the Premier League was rumoured and tabled earlier this season it would be universally and unquestioningly accepted by supporters then I feel he was more than a little naïve. As supporters of a club like ours – given the nadir of Richardson – it should be understood that for many the gut reaction to new investors is one more of suspicion, rather than open arms. Many supporters gave Ryan the benefit of the doubt when ‘the McKay Experiment’ took effect, the out-and-out failure of that scheme means they have not done so this time, and have edged back across the line to wary. That Ryan could have thought otherwise surprised me greatly.
Yet, he continued to get increasingly frustrated when the board, like many supporters, took the sensible approach, and rather than snapping Sequentia’s hands off, pressed for further information. The other directors were unconvinced by the responses they received, as too were the Supporters Trust, and when fans did try and discuss Sequentia’s standing and aims on the Viking Supporters’ Co-operative Trust messageboard, rather than have their concerns allied they received a threat of legal action. Sue first, answer questions later is hardly a policy likely to warm people to your involvement.
With Ryan so in favour of Sequentia’s involvement and the other two directors unconvinced the chairman’s frustrations grew and grew. Rather than keep his grievances in the board room, Ryan has increasingly aired them in public, leading to the statement on Friday, put out via the DRFC Exiles unofficial supporters group –with whom he has close ties – which sadly and calculatedly sought to degenerate the debate over whether Sequentia’s involvement was right for Doncaster Rovers into a popularity contest between John Ryan and the man he felt was stalling the most; Terry Brammall.
I questioned via twitter why the Exiles had chosen to make such a statement, one which would inevitably divide supporters, and make it public on the eve of such an important fixture. Their response was “…because we don’t believe that John Ryan, Dick Watson and Terry Brammall can now co-exist so something has to give.” But the more that Ryan continued to make derisory comments to the local press and others about the movements of the board, whilst the other two parties kept themselves to themselves, it seemed even on Friday that if anyone was to give way then unfortunately it had to be Ryan.
The problem we have as Rovers fans is that John Ryan’s achievements and successes will always blur discussion and reasoned debate over the overall direction of the club. It happened during ‘the McKay Experiment’ as mentioned above, and it was happening again with the Sequentia deal. Never mind our thoughts on the deal on the table and our concerns over the people and the hedge fund at its heart, we were being increasingly encouraged to bring a very grey debate to a black and white contest of John Ryan or Terry Brammall. Perhaps, because in such a simplified debate Ryan knew he would have the support of the majority, as he did when implementing ‘the McKay Experiment’. “How can you disagree with John Ryan after all he’s done?” “#InJRWeTrust” and all that. Some of us feel that the future of our club deserves more considered debate than the hammering out of a hashtag. It’s a shame Ryan had ultimately connected himself with too many sycophants in our support to recognise that.
Though the debates rage on, there are ultimately three questions to be asked in the wake of Ryan’s resignation. Firstly, should we be disappointed that he has chosen to step down? The answer is of course yes. Though I don’t agree with all his ideas or his methods, many of which have been highlighted in recent weeks, whilst he is here we have a local man and a fan at the heart of the club. Most clubs cannot lay claim to having one of those aspects let along both on their board, and it is something that has always reassured me. And of course, the good times have always outweighed the bad in the last fourteen years.
Secondly, was this the right time for him to go? Quite possibly yes. Ryan was never going to be around forever, and there have been times of stress in the last couple of years when he has looked far from his sprightly positive self. The increasing rants against those disagreeing with him, or seen to be holding up his perceived way forwards suggest that if the club’s achievements and successes are to have the positive associations with Ryan he rightly deserves he would need to step down sooner rather than later. If Ryan’s dream is of Premier League football, the increasingly murky, desperate and unfounded ways in which clubs pursue such a future suggest he would be best disassociating himself with such endeavours, and instead preserve the very positive legacy he already has.
Lastly, was this the way for him to go? No, not at all. It was a crass, petty and somewhat self-centred way in which to make his announcement, and one which will only disrupt everything at the club in the coming weeks. Doing all he can to discredit his fellow directors and paint Terry Brammall as the villain of the piece as he steps out the door is not going to help Doncaster Rovers immediate future in any way. It has divided fans in what was already going to be a tough season, and suits no-one other than Ryan himself.
As Ryan was fielding questions and laying down the gauntlet to Brammall in the confines of Barnsley’s snug press-room on Saturday evening the man standing next to me glanced around the room, put down his coffee on the side and began scrolling through the day’s other Championship results on a spare computer. That man was Paul Dickov. Doncaster Rovers and John Ryan may have become synonymous with one another, but football moves on and the club will move on too.
At the start of Doncaster Rovers’ fixture at Hillsborough earlier this month the Radio Sheffield commentary team voiced their surprise that the entirety of the upper tier of the Leppings Lane End was not completely awash with red and white hoops. Mickey Walker couldn’t believe that the away end was not packed out for a derby game. However, Walker’s opinion, and that of the match commentator, had been voiced with no knowledge of the prices Rovers supporters had been asked to pay. £29 or £30 for adults and £18 for juniors is quite frankly a ludicrous price to be asked to pay for a lower second tier fixture between two teams from the second poorest county in the UK. And, it was a price which rightly many Rovers fans refused to pay. Continue reading Not Going Away; On The Cost of Watching Football
Issue 60 of the fanzine went on saleat Saturday’s game against Shrewsbury. As a taster to what you will have missed if you failed to get your hands of a copy we bring you Glen Wilson’s editorial on modern football pricing and consumerism.
Let me start by thanking you for bravely striding towards one of our band of frankly odd-looking fanzine sellers to purchase Issue 60 of popular STAND. You’d be surprised by how many people don’t, and the stilted communication of a fanzine sale is the only human interaction our sellers get outside of captivity.
In monetary terms this transaction cost you just a pound. Just as it has done for the preceding 59 issues. Fifteen seasons without a single price rise; there can’t be much in football, if anything, which can offer a similar boast.
You don’t need me to tell you modern football is expensive. You don’t need me to, but I’m going to anyway. However I’m not about to wax lyrical about a sepia-tinted mythical age when we could go watch a match, have six pints and a fish supper on the way home and still have change from a shilling, because I can’t. In my adult life, I’ve never known attending football as anything other than a dear do.
The key problem with football pricing – from tickets, to merchandise, to players even – is that it is insular. Cost comparisons, assessments on value for money are only ever made in relation to the other participants in an over inflated game. It’s like promoting your Faberge egg as a worthwhile purchase because it’s cheaper than another Faberge egg. Take ticket prices for example, clubs will often boast their match tickets are cheaper than other sides in the same division, but what comfort does that offer us? So what if we’re £2 cheaper than Colchester? Or £1 less than Oldham? It’s not like we’re shopping around for our football. We’re Rovers fans… we’re stuck here.
What is considered reasonable pricing in the world of Faberge eggs is still, in the real world, seen as a ludicrous price to pay for a jewelled orb you can’t even dip your soldiers in. And so it is with football. £20 is reasonable compared to the rest of League One, but in the real world that twenty pounds could provide you with much more than 90 minutes of twenty-two men taking it in turns to try and con a fella with a whistle and his two mates.
But, like too many facets of modern football, it has just become accepted as the norm. Supporters make up the shortfall for players’ earnings. The reasoning is competitiveness, if we want our side to be competitive, to be challenging then we have to pay £20. Somehow we’ve just come to accept that it takes 6,000 people to cover the salaries of 18 sportsmen.
At the top level it is just another world, even further away, even further removed. Did those who paid a minimum £62 to watch Arsenal against Chelsea the other week really get value for their money? League football is becoming less a hobby, or a habit, and more a day out or an occasion. Watch Match of the Day, and when one of the six clubs that make up ‘the big four’ have a corner note how many of those spectators near the flag, rather than being caught up in the tension, are busy photographing the set-piece taker on their camera phone. Fans at the top level have been replaced by spectators, by tourists; for whom it is less about the result and more about getting a good close-up of Gareth Bale to use as their Facebook cover photo.
‘Modern football’ and all that encapsulates is now the norm for most folk under the age of twenty. Their whole footballing lives have been lived between Champions League Group stages and Super Sundays. That’s what football is. It’s the Premier League. The rest doesn’t matter. That’s not football, there’s no ‘banter’ outside the top flight, that’s all just a sideshow; an oddity for the freaks and the geeks. At some point we have all had a conversation with a colleague who professes to be a huge football fan that has included them asking “so what division are Doncaster in then?” Our players aren’t available for selection for their Fantasy teams; ergo they’re not on the footballing map.
The other weekend I was watching the Football League Show – with the sound off naturally – whilst Clem took his own brand of over-familiar music teacher mateyness to Broadhall Way for a feature on Stevenage. During the piece, in between Clem harassing the staff with nonsensical questioning like a mauve jumper clad Jim Henson creation that had gone sentient, there was footage of the players signing autographs for young fans in replica shirts. Not Stevenage shirts no, Manchester United ones. What message does this send to the players? Can I have your autograph please as dad won’t take us to Old Trafford?
This is what they hype of modern football has spawned, children who’s allegiances lie hundreds of miles away, with people they will never see in the flesh; consumers of the product rather than supporters of the team. These children, and grown-ups, who walk round Doncaster in Chelsea shirts are what modern football has left us with, the living, breathing manifestation of those ‘my other car is a Porsche’ bumper stickers.
If you’ve enjoyed this article, we still have a few copies of Issue 60 available. If you’d like one, get in touch with us via the details on our ‘About us’ page.
Valentines Day. I suppose that’s as good a day as any to realise you no longer feel the attraction you once did. On Valentines Day Matt and I sat at the back of the West Stand and held something of a mid-match confessional. Whilst below us Gary Taylor-Fletcher, who looks more like the proprietor of a fish and chip shop at an out of season seaside resort than a footballer, meandered through the Rovers defence as if picking his way through pensioners in a shopping centre, we sat and confided to one another that we weren’t really enjoying this any more.
As much as I would love to apologetically and gallantly proclaim “it’s not you, it’s me” at the plastic seats and breezeblocks of the Keepmoat, I’m fairly sure it is both of us. We’ve had some great times, the Rovers and me, but lately we seem to be straining in other directions, and I find it harder and harder to understand and relate to them. They’re not the same club I fell for all those years ago, and increasingly I feel that all that connects me with Rovers is a home-town and shared memories.
It’s not about losing games. Losing games I can take, losing games is part of football, and for long periods of our initial courtship losing games is all we knew. I don’t understand the mentality of those fans who demand a refund from their club after particularly humbling defeats. You were beaten 8-2 at Old Trafford and dropped to fourth, must be awful, come back when you’ve chucked away a 4-0 half-time lead to Telford at a half built Buck’s Head… and I’ll still think you’re crazy. No-one has a right to avoid being stuffed, it’s part of the package, if you think it shouldn’t be then you should be investing in a Harlem Globetrotters vest rather than a football ticket.
Instead it comes down to ethos, to direction and to aspiration. The togetherness, the ‘us-against-them’ element that framed my support from the moment Rovers and I first met at Belle Vue dissipated last season. After years of steady improvement and achieving against the odds the club got greedy, panicked, treated a loyal and honest man awfully, and embraced a flawed strategy presented my a magic beans salesman who turned out to be pedalling ordinary beans on which he’d desperately prit-sticked glitter.
I didn’t want to see my club used as an agent’s ‘experiment’, and still can’t believe anyone could warm to such a thing, no matter how it was spun. I didn’t need big names to get my arse on a red plastic seat, I just wanted to know my opinion, and those of people like me, actually mattered. But as the season went on and the lies continued – about partnerships and contracts and roles – in an effort to justify the means, it became clear that our opinions didn’t matter, unless they matched the views of the club. When reasoned debate is shot down as ungratefulness, when your concerns are singled out by fan leaders as nothing more than self-gratification, and when the club’s legal team are hovering over your opinions then it is very hard to maintain the love you once felt and get enthusiastic about backing your club.
The ruthless desperation with which the club attempted to remain in the Championship split the support like nothing before. It was a win by any means possible approach that many of us simply couldn’t relate to, an alienation not helped as the key supporters group appeared to stop listening to us and instead canvass for the chairman. A month back a friend posted on a Rovers messageboard about the split in support the ‘experiment’ had caused. Flying in the face of irony and with an unintentional zest for satire a ten page argument then ensued about whether the fan base was divided or not. But then online the token response to hinting at a feeling of disenfranchisement from the club is to be told by your fellow fans to “f**k off and support Leeds then”. Our forums don’t allow for greyness.
The club’s actions over the past year have led me to realise we are chasing very different dreams, and that they could take or leave my involvement in their future, so long as someone else chucks their wallet in my place. Income. It all comes down to income. We need income to ‘compete’, we need income to be where we want us to be is the message. The hunt is always on for million pound investors who we can attempt to convert into supporters. Surely the way forward is to take the opposite approach and maintain and secure relations with fans who can one day become investors rather than pinning our hopes on investors who may one day become fans. Investors come and go, fans remain, if we’re looking for long-term parity then it seems obvious which demographic we should be aiming to please.
There seems to be a belief within the club that fans are only happy with success – that unless the club is striving upwards then we will not come back. Perhaps it is the fixation with the Premier League; unless you’re in that top 20 you’re irrelevant. Too often, ambition and success are blurred into one and the same. Earlier this summer I saw a messageboard thread criticising the club for not having ‘ambition’ during their stay in the second tier. The crux of the thread that the club weren’t prepared to spend money to try and ‘do a Blackpool’. Money that wasn’t there, except for in the personal fortune of board members. Why should they chuck their own money in when returns aren’t guaranteed? Why do supporters simply expect them to? Too often in the minds of many if you’re not spending money then apparently you don’t possess ambition, as if one signals the other. “They were happy to just survive in the Championship” was one criticism, as if trying to remain in a division in which we’d only ever had one meaningful spell in 130 years was in some way regressive.
What I’ve never quite understood is why people are so desperate to reach the Premier League anyway? From Game 39, to reserve teams in the lower leagues to Premier II, since it’s inception those who populate and promote the Premier League have made it abundantly clear that they couldn’t give a shit about teams like ours, so why are we still striving to join them? Why do we so desperately want away games we can’t afford and kick-off times we can’t make?
What makes anyone think we’d be made to feel welcome in the top flight? Look at Wigan, there on merit and yet constantly hounded for having the temerity not to sell-out their ground to a local population who largely deserted them for the big clubs from Merseyside and Manchester years ago. In the way that many of our own fans blur ambition and success, supporters of Premier League clubs seem to blur history and honours boards. “You’ve got no history” we’d be told by fans who watched matches from their sofa, whilst we were making funeral marches to the ground.
Across the Pennines right now there are two clubs who represent polar extremes of what a football club can be; Manchester City and FC United of Manchester. One of those models is significantly more achievable than the other, and yet so many supporters, and the clubs themselves, seem to want to be like the former rather than the latter. Are Rovers chasing the wrong dreams? Maybe top flight football would give a brief boost to the town, but pride is forged on much more than winning games, pride can come from heroic failure – as we saw on our Carling Cup run – and pride can come from doing things right.
For as long as Rovers seem keen to be like City rather than like FCUM then I will find it increasingly hard to maintain my attachment. And so, whilst our relationship has been on the rocks, I have done what many a man has done over the years, and sought alternate pleasure. In the past few years I’ve played away, I’ve snuck off to watch and regularly follow not one, not two, but three other clubs – variety is the spice of life and all that. And what has struck me when watching Worcester City, Rossington Main and Doncaster Belles is that unlike when at Rovers, at each of these three I have genuinely felt like I’m wanted, like my presence means something to those clubs, a genuine gratefulness for my support more than my income.
Maybe I’m a romantic (although seemingly not monogamous), I don’t know. Increasingly people want success, and it would appear they’ll take it at any cost. As seen by the ‘experiment’ at Rovers, and the rebranding of Cardiff City, just the promise of success, no matter how flimsy, is enough to make many tuck their morals away in a drawer and tug their forelocks for the new lords of the manor. I just can’t relate to that. Of course people will say “well, that’s football”, but every time you say that a grass-roots club dies. Whilst many Cardiff City fans refused to renew their season tickets in the face of the club’s rebranding, of the many thousands who already had only 70 asked for a refund. Chucking away your heritage for an unproven and unfounded business plan to win over people thousands of miles away who’ve never heard of your club? Well, that’s football.
The thing is, as I’ve found on my trips to St Georges Lane, and Oxford Street, and when backing the Belles, that doesn’t have to be football. You can have success without relentlessly going on about the need for income to compete. In the past year Worcester, Rossington and the Belles have seen crowds increase significantly, and it has come from striving to engage with the community, of encouraging their population to be part of what they’re doing. And, as a result, I have found much greater enjoyment these past twelve months with them, and I felt a part of their triumphs much more than I felt part of Rovers’ wins.
The new season is now a month away, and for the first time in years I am finding it really hard to get excited about watching my team again. I ceased to have any more than a passing interest in football’s top flight years ago, and now Rovers are starting to slip into the same pigeon-hole in which I’ve long placed the Premier League, of being an unrelatable by-product of a sport I still love. The wounds of last season run deep, and though I inevitably will give it a go again, embracing that inner-Barnstoneworth fan inherent in us all to trudge to the Keepmoat as if painted by Lowry, I can’t ever envisage being as happy at Rovers as I once was. The honeymoon period is over, we’ll move forward in separate beds, and keep it together for the sake of the children.