Assem Allam’s misguided stance shows action must be taken to protect clubs
Tony Evans, Football Editor, The Times, 2 December 2013
There are no fit and proper owners in football. Even to make the suggestion is to create a lie. To maintain the deception is ludicrous.
There are only owners and, as the song goes, they do what they want. And why not? It’s their club and their money. It’s just business.
Assem Allam is as fit and proper an owner as they come. He is as close to a local as someone who was not born on Humberside can be. He saved Hull City from bankruptcy. He is a legitimate businessman in the most unironic sense of the term. In an industry riddled with chancers and dubious characters, he is almost squeaky clean.
In football terms, he is a thief and a blackmailer. The police will not be turning up at the KC Stadium to arrest Allam. What he is doing is perfectly legal. The theft of a heritage is not a crime. Changing a name from Hull City AFC to Hull Tigers does not break any law. Threatening to pull his money out and sell the club if the fans do not give up their resistance to the new identity is merely emotional blackmail and transgresses only the principles of decency and good taste.
If we accept that football is just business, Allam is within his rights. He mocked the fans who sang ‘City till we die’ by saying they can expire whenever they like ‘as long as they leave the club for the majority who just want to watch good football’.
That statement shows how badly Allam misunderstands the game and how unsuited he is to own a football club. Anyone who thinks entertainment and success are at the core of fandom is hopelessly naive or plain stupid.
No one supports Hull for the glory. In the club’s 109-year history, they have spent only 2½ seasons in the top flight. Following the team is a labour of love, an assertion of culture. It is not a consumer choice. It is emotional attachment that only withstands the scrutiny of logic if the connection between club and community is considered.
It is not business. Throughout the years of mediocrity and failure, the fans who came to Boothferry Park did not decide that they could no longer be associated with such a poorly performing company and give their custom to one of Hull’s rivals.
Allam does not seem to understand this. Vincent Tan, at Cardiff City, has the same problem. The juvenile obsession with animal names is laughable, but it is a symptom of an attempt to erase a century-old culture and replace it with poorly thought-out marketing campaigns.
Football needs protection. Not just from the crooks and the swindlers but from the misguided. Allam ticks all the good-guy boxes in the Premier League test, but scrutiny of a potential owner’s background and character is not enough. Football is part of the national heritage and should be protected as such.
It would be easy to come up with a set of rules akin to that applied to listed buildings to give a level of protection to the heritage of the game. Buildings of historic importance can be sold, but new owners cannot make substantive changes to them without serious scrutiny. The purchaser knows what he is buying in to. Traditional names and colours could be protected. Any potential stadium moves would have to be within a defined radius to maintain geographical integrity.
Protection needs to be put into place. The massive television deals will attract more foreign owners. They will come from a very different sporting standpoint. American owners, for example, come from a background where it is possible to pick up and relocate franchises. After the Wimbledon/Milton Keynes Dons debacle, rules were put in place to stop this happening again, but would anyone trust the football authorities to uphold them when the realpolitik of cash dominates the agenda?
Everything is for sale in football’s modern era: names, colours. The likes of Allam believe the ‘customers’ can take it or leave it. Except they can’t, because they are not customers, they are supporters whose shared history and identity with the team and the club mean they are more than mere consumers. If the Hull owner fails to understand that, he is not fit to own the club. He will find out that alienating proper fans is the path to catastrophe.