What I want from my football club - Part 5: Play-off hopefuls
The Seventy Two has canvassed the opinion of several Football League writers from a variety of different clubs to ask one simple question: what do you want from your football club? Given around 300 words to play with, there were numerous responses so we will be looking at a cross-section every day this week, continuing with the thoughts of supporters of four clubs who will end the 2011/12 season with the play-offs in mind – West Ham United, Huddersfield Town, Cardiff City and Gillingham.
West Ham United by Stuart Fuller
Since our current owners came on board, West Ham fans have been promised the earth both on and off the pitch. “We want to put the smiles back on the faces of our fans”, “We see the whole match day experience as one we should all enjoy”, “We want entertaining football” are some of the types of statements we have had from the club in the past two years but little if anything has changed.
Our brand of football, which was supposed to be effective at this level, has now seen our fate in other people’s hands because apparently the pressure is too much at Upton Park for the players, and one win in seven at Upton Park has seen us fall from being in pole position to being in the play offs.
Off the pitch the club continues its relentless quest to try and tell everyone in London and the South East when we have a game on. No medium is sacred. Newspapers, GroupOn, radio, flyers and vouchers with pizza delivery have told all and sundry about our latest ticket offers at the detriment of existing fans who had paid top whack for their tickets already. The weekly emails from the club are getting more and more desperate, using every trick in the book to try and get the (expensive) unsold seats taken.
So what do the fans what? Failure to go up this season is not a disaster, but Allardyce will need to re-assess his approach for next term and his acquisition policy that has seen big money players like Carew sitting out most of the season. In end of term school report style I would give the club a C+ “must try harder with real fans”, Allardyce a B- “Know your best XI and stick to it!”
Huddersfield Town by Marco Jackson
I’m no longer a season ticket holder at Huddersfield Town, and no longer live locally, so my emotional and financial investment in the club is more structured (Saturday afternoons, and away games around London).
When I do get to games, I want to support the team that it seems the rest of the country thinks I do. I want to enjoy watching them, home or away, with the ‘Premium’ League One players using the best of their skills and really going for the throat of the opposition. Too often, it seems the team come out to conserve their energies and keep a cap on their skills, and even I’ve seen too many draws as a result. I don’t demand promotion, though I would expect a decent tilt at it, given the funds available, I want to enjoy watching good players enjoying playing football – even for the opposition.
Off the field, I want to support a club that influences the local community in a positive way. The Help the Heroes games, the three Pedal4Pounds and Bailey’s Game are all events that have made me immensely proud to count myself as a Town fan – regardless of how the team are doing, it shows the team’s fans really want to, and can, make a difference to other people’s lives. People in Kent with no interest in football have congratulated me on the good work of Huddersfield Town after seeing things on the news – that can’t be a bad thing, in anyone’s book.
Under Dean Hoyle’s stewardship I have come to appreciate the difference between the club and the team. I get pride out of the club being successful and enjoyment out of the team being successful. Would I rather be proud or happy? I’ll tell you at the end of May.
Cardiff City by Joe Harrison
A common criticism of many football clubs is their short-termism — an inevitable product of a results obsessed business, some would argue, but nevertheless a frustration. Cardiff City have been guilty of this for a number of years: both off the pitch — simply to keep the club running — and on it, when each season has see renewed hope that it might finally bring promotion; so players have been brought in on short-term deals with the aim of finally pushing us over that particular line.
The best players have regularly been sold each summer and the core of a squad has never really had time to settle over a number of years. Therefore it would be nice to see the club investing in younger players and looking to build a group capable of growing and progressing together. This can also be an important feature for fans, who find it far easier to relate to someone they’ve seen playing for their team for years than a Premier League loan player viewing their stint as six months’ match practice.
Such a policy depends largely on the strength of a club’s recruitment, and Malky Mackay has made promising progress. His rebuilding of the playing staff during the summer has produced a younger, hungrier team; with players like Gunnarsson, Turner and Taylor providing a strong base for a squad ready to compete for a number of years. Mackay’s faith in youngsters like Joe Ralls is also encouraging, while Joe Mason looks a talent worthy of building a team around in a couple of years.
That’s life in the Championship – it is rare that a team is able to stay together in this way, but if such stability can be obtained, the potential of such a process is genuinely exciting.
Gillingham by James Morgan
It has taken me a long time to accept it — but we need a new stadium.
Our much-maligned and somewhat aptly named chairman Paul Scally is right when he states that our current home stifles the club’s prospects for growth. Priestfield sits in a high-density residential area with, its proximity to the train station aside, poor access by foot and car.
Scally should be commended for transforming the ground in his time as chairman — increasing capacity, diversifying our income streams by building the conference and banqueting centre – but as he readily concedes, these were short term measures designed to stave off decline rather than build long-term growth.
However, Scally must be transparent with fans as he campaigns for a new stadium. He sold Priestfield — our only real asset — for £10m in 2008 to a company he had himself set up. In 2011, he bought it back for nearly a tenth of what it was sold for.
Announcing the purchase, Scally stated that he was unable to comment on the specifics of the deal because of confidentiality agreements, but assured fans that the club, long saddled with considerable debts, was now on a sounder financial footing,
The appearance of secrecy was compounded further by Scally’s move — at the very AGM where he announced the sale of the ground back to the club — to amend the company’s articles of association to remove the requirement to hold AGMs.
I think I can speak for the vast majority of fans — maybe those with accountancy degrees might care to enlighten us — when I say that I have no idea what this episode means for the club. It looks positive, but the complete lack of transparency as to the details is worrying.
Recently, a long-proposed new stadium at Chatham Docks, in which a new stadium would be built alongside “enabling developments” including a hotel and housing appeared to fall through, when the owners of the docks submitted a planning proposal to Medway Council without a stadium.
Scally has called on fans to lobby the council to show local support for a new stadium at the docks. I hope that Gills fans do so. I also hope that the council looks to the example of clubs that have had considerable success in recent seasons after moving to new grounds with the full support of their local councils.