A good few years ago, when I was still at university, I ended up watching a lot of Manchester City on TV. One of my best friends was a huge Man City fan, and often after lectures or at the weekend we’d head down the pub for a few drinks and the football.
When Thaksin Shinawatra brought the club a couple of seasons ago I asked said friend what he made of it. “Not best pleased,” was the response.
My friend’s response wasn’t typical. By and large, Man City fans embraced Thaksin “Frank” Shinawatra, reasoning – not necessarily incorrectly – that his money could take them into the top four.
It’s not hard to see why they were excited. Cash, one of the best available managers and some excellent signings like Elano and Martin Petrov gave City fans a sense of hope and expectation not always seen around Eastlands.
Yet Thaksin’s takeover always seemed a disaster waiting to happen, for me at least. Even if you take away the repeated accusations of human rights violations (which would have been enough for me to cancel a season ticket), his financial source was not exactly stable and, even if there was a good case for the corruption charges being, in part, politically motivated, he wasn’t the cleanest of characters. That he passed the Premier League’s fit and proper person’s test was both surprising and depressingly predictable.
In recent weeks, the excrement has seemed to be creeping closer to the fan at Eastlands. Thaksin’s wife has been convicted, the family have fled Thailand and there’s a huge question mark over just how much, if any, cash Shinawatra has to pump into City.
Last week, when the whole issue raised its head, I thought that Manchester City fans may start to edge towards the idea of a life without Thaksin sooner rather than later. They didn’t. If anything, assorted message boards and blogs comments seem to be defending him even more voicifourously.
I don’t get it. Am I missing something here?
Perhaps I’m too cautious and suspicious after seeing Exeter run to the verge of liquidation by a couple of fraudsters. Perhaps I’ve seen too many owners in the lower leagues come on board for their own egos, royally shaft the club, and walk away without a second thought. Perhaps I just don’t understand how the Premier League works (other than you need a VERY rich man to even think about challenging for a UEFA cup spot).
But, seriously, did the majority of Manchester City fans think it would be plain sailing and a good idea to jump into bed with a man who’d already tried to buy Liverpool (who, I hasten to add, would have probably been just as happy to share a duvet were it not for the then board’s dithering) with government money?
Were Blues supporters really happy to see a “serial human rights abuser” (according to Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International) and man with a few question marks about corruption, not to mention around £800m in frozen assets, take control of their club?
I keep coming back to Manchester United – a club I’ve no particular love for – and the protests that greeted the Glazers’ takeover. Or Arsenal, not renowned for being the most vocal of supporters, who weren’t best pleased at seeing Alisher Usmanov try to take control.
Shinawatra’s past wasn’t exactly difficult to find out, contrary to some claims. A quick Google could have told you about some of the more questionable parts of his character. Yet he’s still seen as a saviour and shining beacon by many City fans. Why? Am I missing something again, other than the money?
About a week ago I stepped outside my usual topic of lower league football and wrote a somewhat strong critique of Manchester City’s current woes at Soccerlens. It didn’t start out as a criticism of the supporters, and wasn’t intended to be, but the more I put the article together, the more it felt, to me, as if the fans should at least take a portion of responsibility for their current situation when they welcomed Thaksin with open arms, and continue to keep those arms open. Or perhaps I’m missing something again here?
Predictably, Manchester City supporters weren’t happy. Predictably, I was called a Manchester United supporter. I was kind of expecting that, but it was still bewildering to see just how defensive the fans got.
On one level, it’s understandable. Football fans do tend to get quite defensive when anybody has a pop at their club. I’ve got unnecessarily angry at stories about Exeter that make ridiculous assumptions or just patronise us as a small insignificant club (or, worse still, assume Uri Gellar has anything to do with the club).
But on the other hand, I’ve met enough football fans and posted on enough forums to see supporters question their board, especially when there’s a question of odd goings-on at boardroom level. That just doesn’t seem to be happening with Manchester City.
Today, Manchester City fan and one of the best football journalists in the business, David Conn, wrote a piece on the club’s current plight. The comments make interesting reading. There’s more of a mixture of fan views here, but still a very vocal and sizeable chunk complaining that the article shouldn’t have been written.
Now, it probably was one of Conn’s weaker pieces given that he’s written very similar articles before but it doesn’t stop him nailing many of the key issues, and showing that the concerns at the takeover are the same concerns surrounding the club today.
But there’s still been a lot of Blues fans calling it a cut and paste job and asking why he isn’t writing about other Premier League clubs. That isn’t the point. If Conn’s cut and pasted, it’s from his own work and the reason there’s an article about Manchester City’s backroom going ons is because they’re in the news right now, whether the club’s fans like it or not. Plus, Conn’s probably covered most of the 92 league teams and beyond at some point or other.
Weirder still – and this is one thing I REALLY don’t get – is the Millwall-esque attitude that seems to have enveloped a large chunk of the support, with repeated claims of a media conspiracy or vendetta against the club.
You could certainly make a valid point about the media’s fawning over the Big Four and looking down on other clubs. Witness the FA Cup last season, where it was labelled a waste of time as soon as they were eliminated. Or the treatment of Martin Jol once they’d decided Spurs didn’t deserve to be in the Champions League (not that Spurs make life easy for themselves…).
But a huge media conspiracy to do down Manchester City at every opportunity? Perhaps I’m missing something by not being a Man City supporter here, but, you wot?
So, while I don’t want to see Manchester City, or any other club bar Franchise FC, go down the swanny (and I’ll be surprised if they do, although it may be a long season) the attitude of a large section of their fans in refusing to even countenance the idea that Thaksin could be anything less than the Second Coming does not make it easy to give sympathy. Or understand.
Like I say. Perhaps it’s me. Perhaps I just don’t get it. I don’t know. But I can’t see this going away or ending in anything other than tears. And I really don’t feel like lending a handkerchief.
[And this is all without mentioning the odious Garry Cook, the club's new chairman. I would have nothing but contempt for him no matter which club he was at, including Exeter. Sadly, he seems to be exactly the type of person who would happily pitch in to relaunch Game 39 or, if he were a turkey, vote for Christmas because he was pretty sure he knew the farmer and would be spared the chop.
And as somebody in the Guardian comments pointed out, the idea of Cook and Sir Dave Richards sitting down to talk fit and proper people to run football clubs is a very bitter joke, especially fi you're a Sheffield Wednesday fans.
I'll leave the response to Cook to Two Hundred Per Cent:
"In an amazingly wrong-headed interview with The Times, Cook proposes a closed shop, fourteen club Premier League with no Premier League, with no promotion or relegation. It is, of course, a massive coincidence that fourteen clubs would be exactly the right number to just about guarantee Manchester City’s inclusion in it, safeguarding their future against inconveniences such as being completely bloody useless and getting relegated, which is, let’s be honest, something that Manchester City are prone to doing every once in a while.
It is a fairly timely reminder of how the minds of those running the Premier League work. Cook is blithely dismissive of the interests of fans, stating that, “the sport will change and the fans will find a way to get passionate about a piece of it”. Oh we will, will we? We’ll like it because you tell us to? When questioned about whether this new look league will be of less interest to sponsors, he states that, “you would create that excitement in another way, wouldn’t you?”, although he fails to elucidate on how this would be. The Lord alone knows that the Premier League is dull enough anyway these days, so what benefits would there be for anyone other than the fortunate fourteen themselves?"
And Two Footed Tackle:
"I oppose this proposal on ALL counts. Cook is clearly not a football man. He is working for a [removed by my lawyers] with seemingly no remorse. And football needs to get back to basics, not continue on this tragic path to global obsolescence. Sooner or later, most of us will ditch our Premier League clubs out of frustration. But not because of the beliefs of the likes of Garry Cook.”
Quick note: I know this is generalising and there are a lot of City fans who aren’t keen on Thaksin. But on message board and online they’re a lot quieter.