Football’s used to be a sport dominated by loyalty and pride. A time when wearing your team’s colours meant more than just picking up three points, a time when the biggest league in Europe wasn’t dominated by an elite top four and a time when players represented a club because they wanted too and not just for the size of their weekly pay package and bonuses. So where has club loyalty gone, if indeed it has at all?
The Crazy Gang…
One club that will always define the words loyalty and team spirit it has to be Wimbledon Football club, other wise known as ‘The Crazy Gang’ back in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. Each player’s loyalty to the clubs cause, their passion and closeness raised the club from the bottom of the Football League to the top.
The likes of John Fashanu, hard man Vinnie Jones and former England international Dennis Wise made up a team that relied on digging out consistent performances based on their “us against the world” attitude, which won ‘The Crazy Gang’ the FA Cup against all odds back in 1988 against the much fancied Liverpool.
The Introduction of Foreign Imports…
Looking back on Wimbledon’s FA Cup triumph in 1988, it’s interesting to point out that Liverpool goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar was the only foreign player to start that match, but twenty one years later there was a staggering fourteen foreign imports starting this years FA Cup final between Chelsea and Everton.
It’s harsh to blame club loyalty on foreign import, especially when you see players such as Tugay at Blackburn, Cantona with Manchester United and Thierry Henry formerly of Arsenal who adapt and create a very special relationship with a club and its supporters, but are there simply too many that concentrate more on the money than the club itself?
This is a strong argument, full of both positive and negative factors, but one thing is for sure, when reports are linking players like Samuel Eto to the Premier League with the Cameroon star ‘demanding’ certain contract clauses and fee’s, its clear is morals and commitments could possibly lie elsewhere.
As I write this feature, Manchester City have made a formal offer for Arsenal striker Emmanuel Adebayor having recently signed Argentine Carlos Tevez, who joins Mark Hughes’ side only weeks after winning the title with the clubs closest rivals Manchester United. With a wealthy owner a club can approach whoever they please, which begs the question…are club owners starting to lose club loyalty as well as players?
Roman Abramovich’s Chelsea era can be likened to Manchester City’s current spending spree, but the Russian was able to create a team atmosphere that won the London club two Premier League titles in consecutive seasons, which is a perfect example of the chairman putting his money where his mouth is.
However, it seems as though events at Chelsea’s are indeed a one-off, especially when you see wealthy businessmen arguing and fighting to own football clubs like Portsmouth, Liverpool and more recently Arsenal.
Like money, loyalty cannot always guarantee any sort of success as Middlesbrough’s chairman Steve Gibson found this year as his determination to stand by manager Gareth Southgate back-fired and his side now face Championship Football next season.
One of the most controversial transfers of the summer has been Gareth Barry’s 12million pound move from Midlands outfit Aston Villa to Mega-rich Manchester City, which undoubtedly questioned the midfielder’s loyalty to a club that gave him everything.
Many people have argued that Barry’s reason for moving last year was because he wanted to play Champions League Football and of course next season his wish will not come true with Mark Hughes side but his explanatory letter to the fans more than justifies that a player loyalty in football these days is all but a thing in the past.
“I feel the club is in the best position it has been in during my time here. I want to thank them [the Villa fans] for the incredible support I have received over the last 12 years. For the rest of my life Aston Villa will be the first result I look for. Thanks for everything.”
Manchester City recently unveiled the signing of Argentina striker Carlos Tevez for a reported fee of £25million which is only his third Premier League club in four years, but the players moving to rival clubs and thus removing any sort of loyalty can be chased back to many decades ago in the sport.
So who is to blame?
It’s difficult to point the finger, but it is clear that there are a number of key factors that have contributed towards loyalty in football. Many would say it still exists and indeed there are plenty of recent and ongoing examples to prove this, but in truth, loyalty has always been questioned in football and will continue to do so especially with the increase in foreign ownership and players.