Call me old-fashioned. Call me a hopeless nostalgic idealist. Call me Frank or Bob. I just can’t help longing for the good ol’ days when clubs were run by folks who legitimately loved football, and more importantly, legitimately loved their club and wanted to see it succeed. You can’t deny that in the last decade or so, we’ve seen a gaggle of well-heeled billionaires buying up clubs all over Europe like old ladies trawling yard sales on a Saturday morning. Some of these folks seem to be really ambitious and committed to the goal of helping their team succeed. As much as I hate to admit it, Roman Abramovich seems to really love Chelsea and wants them to be a big, title-winning club. He may screw up personnel decisions and overpay for players now and then, but it’s all in the interest of seeing his club win. Sheikh Mansour may not visit Wastelands for a match more than once a year and who knows how much of a genuine football fan he is, but you can’t argue that he hasn’t broken his gigantic piggy bank* to turn Man City into a behemoth.
Then there’s the rich dudes who buy into the game but don’t seem to know what they’re doing (certain chicken vendors from India who still haven’t fired Steve Kean come to mind). Or maybe it’s not about the game at all. It’s just a financial investment (a stupid one at that) or a status symbol. Or worse, the people who buy a club and turn it into their personal front for all manner of complex financial dealings, creative accounting, tax-sheltering and whatnot (see Glazer, Malcolm).
Now, it’s my understanding that the governing bodies of football in Europe employ various means to ensure that they aren’t letting blokes who are “unfit” go around buying clubs and then ruining them in various ways. Nonetheless, people with more money than love or knowledge of the game seem to have carte blanche to take over clubs and promptly pay £35m for a ponytailed striker from Tyneside.
Clearly, the system is broken.
Therefore, here at Four Five Two we’d like to propose a new test to be taken by all prospective club owners, on pen and paper at a table in an empty gymnasium with no access to phones or the internet. And no proxy test-takers, either. The test would be rigorous, lengthy, and prove once and for all whether a candidate truly knows the game we as fans all love and cherish. Here’s a sampling of some of the questions.
– Who is credited with “inventing soccer”, or rather developing the rules of association football? Hint, it wasn’t your pal Sepp.
– Did Hurst’s shot cross the line or not? If you don’t understand the reference, put your pen down and leave the building immediately.
– Where were you on June 22, 1986? Why is this date significant for football?
– Is it Bernab-oh, Bernab-ow, or Bernabeh-oo?
– Multiple choice. You own a club that just sold its best creative midfielder to Real Madrid for £33m. What do you do with the money?
A. Pocket it and ignore calls from the gaffer.
B. Sign a few more creative midfielders.
C. Buy a bloody striker.
– Why do four out of five football fans agree that John Terry is a c***? Be specific. Bonus points: name three other players who are c***s.
– Essay question: Which retired footballer is the most insufferable? Pelé or Maradona?
– True or false: if allowed to buy Club X, you plan on doing something boneheaded like changing the team colors.
– Multiple choice again. You’ve just bought an EPL club and you’re looking for a new manager. Which of these candidates do you love the most?
A. Sven-Goran Eriksson.
B. Rafael Benitez.
C. Avram Grant.
D. None of the above.
– You own a club on the verge of relegation. How do you plan on fixing the team? Please don’t say “kit deal”.
There you have it, friends. With this test in place, hopefully we can all rest easy and know that our beloved clubs will be in good hands. Feel free to play along and/or supply your own questions in the comments.
*would a sheikh even own a piggy bank? Perhaps a camel bank would be more halal.