A few events, comments and conversations recently have left me pondering what it really means to “support” a football club. Where should your support start and end? How can you be a positive influence? When does your involvement actually become a hindrance to your club rather than a help? What does loyalty look like- and can it even be a dangerous thing?
If you follow a Premier League giant, then you may not even be able to afford to watch them play- and if you can afford it, you may struggle to get tickets. Your voice, be it used in a positive or negative way, is unlikely to be heard. However dedicated you are to your club, you are a number. That’s not to say that your club doesn’t care about you, but it is unrealistic to expect it to recognise your individual input. There are too many others, just like you, standing in the way. If you withdraw your support, your funding, the likelihood is that unless you are part of some popular movement nobody will notice. Look at FC United of Manchester, a club formed from dissatisfaction with the way Manchester United was being run. Has their formation and the withdrawal of support had a significant impact on the league leading, multi million pound earning, League Champions? I think the latter part of the last sentence answered that question. Yes, there was a sudden swell of publicity, but after it died away the club continued as before. Any void created was quickly filled.
If, however, you follow football at the level of our club, Crawley Town, then your influence can be much greater. With an average gate of around the three thousand mark, your voice will undoubtedly have a fairly good chance of being heard. There are relatively few organs of communication, so an opinion you put forward is likely to be noticed by many of those who are interested in your club. Whether you revel in that status, or not; whether you only present your opinion in anonymity, or openly, your influence is far greater than it would be at a higher level simply because your likely audience is significantly smaller. And, at CTFC, that audience includes the shareholders and Chief Executive of the football club, as they strive to be in touch with the fanbase. Imagine that happening at Manchester United, Chelsea, Tottenham? Perhaps Roman Abramovich is registered on the half dozen Chelsea forums under the user name “rubberducksalesman,” but I think it unlikely.
So, you’re a Crawley Town Supporter. You may not be a big fish in a small pond, but you’re certainly in a small pond, so if you swim towards the surface and splash about a bit you will be noticed. That gives you something that supporters of big clubs can’t realistically expect to have. Recognition. It gives you something else too, as already mentioned. It gives you influence. It means that the people that run your football club will hear your voice. It means that other supporters will hear it too. And, perhaps, with that influence and recognition should come responsibility.
What do you expect of your club? I’m going to have to generalise here, but I would say that you expect it to be run efficiently and prudently. We all remember what happens when it isn’t, some of us still have the scars (some of us wear them like old war wounds). You expect that those who control it do their best to give us, as supporters, a positive experience. That they invest without spending beyond their means to ensure -so far as they can- that positive experience. That they listen to their customers- for indeed, that is what we are- and, whilst we understand that we cannot always have what we want and that our football club is a business, that they explain decision making as far as they can without compromising business integrity. Obviously some people may have differing opinions and expect constant success, but many years watching football have probably taught most of us that this isn’t realistic!
Conversely, then, what should the club expect of us? Blind loyalty? I hope not, they’ll be sorely disappointed! The club is run by decent individuals, but they’re as human as you and I and humanity is prone to mistakes on occasions, and on those occasions we might need to tell them! A sensible level of understanding and public support? Undoubtedly. In recent times we’ve seen a great swathe of rhetoric about player sales and stadium improvements, some of which has been sensible and insightful, some of which has been hysterical, short sighted and, occasionally, downright insulting. I think that most supporters of CTFC are sensible, rational individuals with an understanding of the financial pressures of running a football club and a view of the bigger picture. But there are also some who have expressed views which take, at best, a short sighted view, and others who seem to be bent on throwing their toys out of their pram.
So, what is support? Well, for me, turning up on a matchday is support. Spending your cash in Redz bar, in a tea bar, buying some merchandise, a programme- all of that is support. Buying a Golden Gamble ticket is support. Travelling to an away match -particularly if you use an Alliance coach and as such know that any profits go back into the Centre of Excellence or a football in the community initiative- and positively encouraging your team is support. Speaking, or writing, positively, or at least constructively, about your football club is support. If you want your support to be even more active, you can get involved in CTSA activities which will all benefit your club- please let me know if you’d like to do this! All of these can have a positive influence and help the club to improve and work towards a positive future. And, as mentioned earlier, at a club like CTFC your chance of being a positive influence is sizeable.
Conversely, then, where does that support stop? If you have a sizeable influence, then that influence can be used in a positive and negative way. Coming from a customer service background I know only too well (unfortunately) that people are far more likely to complain than they are to praise. Anger creates action, happiness creates well being and a feeling of contentment but doesn’t quite as often lead to a need to tell somebody about it, whether this involves pen and paper, fingers and keyboards or face to face interaction. That means that negative reaction is likely to be more noticeable and as such more influential. The events of last week are a good example of that- who remembers the magnificent victory that preceded the final whistle? Actions have consequences. OUR actions have consequences. If we have concerns, we know how to get them addressed. If we rant, rave, try to discourage supporters- home and away- from using club facilities, complain about things before we have full possession of the facts, we create a negative influence and a negative perception about our football club. And mud sticks. We can be heard, we can have opinions, but if we lose sight of the bigger picture we may well be more of a hindrance than a help- our negative influence may outweigh the positive.
Blind loyalty is a dangerous thing. But unrealistic expectations, vanity, self regard and short-sightedness can be similarly dangerous if we really want to be part of a successful football club.
Crawley Town is a small club that hopes to be a bigger club. As supporters, we have to take some responsibility if we want that to happen. And perhaps that means more than just turning up at ten to three waving a match ticket.
What do you think?