Talking Sport: Are football clubs finally having to listen to fans?

The football season may be over but there has been an interesting match-up occurring this summer, writes Patrick Norrie.

Football clubs versus their fanbase.

In the past month, there have been two incidents in which a fanbase successfully forced their respective clubs to backtrack on a decision.

It is very rare to see a club admit a mistake and verbalise their regret in an official statement. Yet this is what Everton did with three simple words: “We are sorry”.

The club felt compelled to apologise after there was an avalanche of criticism towards the design of their new club badge. It was unveiled with much fanfare, being described as ‘modern and dynamic’, yet Everton fans noticed two key omissions.

The new crest did not bear the wreaths nor the motto ‘Nil Satis Nisi Optimum’. Fans are not only outraged by these omissions but are also embarrassed by the ‘amateurish’ design.

A petition was set up to try to convince the bo ard to scrap the new crest. Although this led to a mea culpa, they revealed it is too late for it to be scrapped for next season.

Additionally, Bolton had announced their new controversial kit sponsorship deal with a pay-day loan company: QuickQuid. This met with strong criticism and led to Bolton fans mobilising quickly, holding a protest outside Bolton Town Hall.

Bolton West MP Julie Hilling expressed her concern the club were promoting a harmful industry which ‘exploits the vulnerable who need ready money’. Such was the backlash, Bolton reneged on the deal and are now sponsored by a local energy company.

In both cases, it’s clear there is a real disconnect between the club and their supporters. Too often, fans are on the periphery of clubs’ consciousness.

Indeed, a certain secret dossier, which was leaked online recently, reveals how fans can even be held in contempt by their club - with claims that one big club’s PR department described a ‘militant’ section of fans, who were critical of their club’s ownership, as being the ‘sporting version of Khmer Rouge’.

It is appropriate that these stories have come out at a time when Bayern Munich are champions of Europe. They represent the Bundesliga, which is seen to be the doyen of fan culture.

There should be a debate on whether it’s time for English football to adopt, on a widespread scale, the fan-ownership model, a framework which is thriving in Germany.

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