Communication Works, For Those Who Work At It
‘Communication works, for those who work at it’, said once the film score composer John Powell. I have no idea whether Powell is a football fan, but, whatever, his advice should definitely be heeded by those running professional football clubs in England today. The coming of high-speed internet over the last decade means that it is now easier for fans to express their views to a wider audience via blogs and messageboards. It should, in theory, also make communication between clubs and their supporters easier, too. However, instead, many club boards have chosen to ignore or even deride the opinions of their fans, dismissing them variously as ‘ignorant‘, ‘stupid‘ and ‘keyboard warriors‘. Clearly many of those who run football clubs think little of those who pay their wages.
When, then, a club chairman communicates properly with a set of supporters, it is a noteworthy enough event to merit a blog post of its own. So it is the case with this week’s statement by Colchester United Executive Chairman, Robbie Cowling. Explaining the board’s decision to cut the playing budget for next – and forthcoming – seasons, Cowling’s statement is clear, explains their reasoning logically and sets out the board’s vision for a sustainable football club.
Most striking, however, is that Cowling addresses the club’s supporters as equals. The statement is not patronising, but, rather, the sort of professional, cogent statement that one would expect from a chairman of a company to its customers. A lot of people – including we, on these pages – have bemoaned how football is now a business, and wistfully look back to the ‘amateurism’ of times past, when players would join supporters in the bar after a game, and players seemed closer to the fans – both in terms of their earnings and attitudes. Nevertheless, today football clubs are businesses, and, if supporters are going to be treated as consumers, they have the right to expect professional communication in the same way as they would from any other commercial organisation.
Colchester supporters are, no doubt, disappointed to see that the club’s playing budget has been cut. They will also be able to understand the reasoning for it, though, even if they do not agree with it. Most of all, as football fans and human beings, we appreciate being treated like an adult and an intelligent person, rather than condescended in the terms listed above.
There is, of course, a line of argument (to which I subscribe) that says that, since supporters are the mainstay of football clubs, they should be given a voice in the decision-making process; namely a seat on the club board. Swansea, Exeter, Wycombe and Brentford have all shown how this can work in recent seasons. Failing this, proper communication between club and fans is the least that we should expect. We all know that the finances of football are difficult, and most of us are realistic enough to know that sometimes budgets have to be cut in order to balance the books; none of us want to see our clubs go the way of Leeds or Portsmouth, after all. Whilst these decisions are always disappointing – all fans want to see our clubs get the best players, after all – if the truth is told in a straightforward manner it makes such decisions much easier to understand. Moreover, Cowling’s statement demonstrates to Colchester fans that, whilst the playing budget is being reduced, the club is being run in a responsible manner and thought is being put into medium-term planning. Yes, there are fans at every club who have unrealistic expectations – and some express their opinions extremely vocally – but there are also lots of fans who appreciate the financial realities at their club and who just want to see it be run in a responsible, professional manner, which safeguards its long-term future. It seems to me that a lot of directors forget this when making statements on matters such as this.
It is good to see a club communicating with its supporters effectively and responsibly. It would be nice to think that other clubs will follow suit, heralding in an era of clubs and supporters working together as opposed to against one another, but as recent developments at Wrexham, Port Vale and Sheffield United illustrate, such two-way harmonious relationships appear to remain a distant dream in many cases for the time being.