Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 24 August 2019

The long suffering of football fans and homebuyers

The modern game of football, especially in the Premier League, is riddled with change. But we football fans don't particularly like change.

The modern game of football, especially in the Premier League, is riddled with change. But we football fans don't particularly like change. We pick our football clubs at some early, impressionable age when we can't tell the difference between half-time and extra time, and remain loyal to our teams till death do us part. I mean, have you ever heard of an Inter Milan fan deserting to AC Milan, or a Liverpool supporter becoming a Manchester United devotee? It would be treason, if such a thing existed in the footballing world.

But despite the fealty and trueness we show to our clubs year on year, the clubs themselves go through a bout of transubstantiation. They change their form and character from one thing to another. For example a new team sponsor signs up and suddenly the old name on the kit has gone. The name of the new sponsor, perhaps one we'd never heard of, is emblazoned on our players' chests as they trot out of the tunnel. Do the fans get a choice? No, we don't. So one day there's a family-friendly name on our shirts, which we're proud to wear at father-and-son matches. The next day the sponsor has been changed and there is a gambling company we'd rather our kids really didn't know about.

The fans also don't get a choice about who owns the club. Boardroom control can change with shares swapping hands and management decisions being made, to which the fans are not privy. If more football clubs were owned by the fans, through, say, a trust structure, of course the situation would be entirely different. But, alas, only a few German and Spanish teams have managed to replicate this model with commercial and tournament success. The Premier League, which has the highest number of global aficionados, has no examples of this ownership structure. But on the positive side, a change of ownership heralds the promise of a fresh injection of cash for players, stadium and the club in general. So it's not altogether a bad thing.

And, finally, we all have to suffer the indignity of seeing a workmanlike manager who speaks his mind and wears the team's colours on his sleeve ejected by an uncaring chairman. Fans of Aston Villa Football Club must be feeling this way as they lick their wounds after a 6-0 thrashing by Newcastle United. Aston Villa's competent, straight-talking Martin O'Neill was apparently pushed out of the job of manager by the chairman against the consensus of the fans.

So as football fans, the changes affecting our clubs can be many - sponsors, owners and manager. And what can we do about it. Nothing. The people with whom long-suffering football fans have the greatest affinity are buyers of off-the-plan property who purchased their units with a view to living in them. I'm not referring to the speculators who logjammed the market in the freehold frenzy but the genuine homebuyers who transacted with the intention of creating homes for themselves. There are many of these people, and they can be found at post-mortem sessions concerning every property bubble that went pop - from Miami to Dubai.

Their plight is similar to that of football fans but with more skin in the game. At some impressionable point in their lives, they were swayed into buying off-the-plan property because of any number of factors - friends' recommendations perhaps, the skill of salespeople or a property developer's razzmatazz product launch. Partly with head but more with heart they chose to buy their dream homes, to be with till death did them part.

But somewhere along the way, things changed. The sponsor or brand behind the project ceased to back the scheme, so the project that had been previously endorsed by an A-list celebrity from yesteryear was now not only off-the-plan but off-the-map. The development was reduced to a stack of unused glossy marketing brochures that had never left their Teflon packaging. All other evidence of the sponsor or brand name had disappeared entirely.

Then the property buyer found out that the owners of the development had also changed. Because of a nefarious plot or quite simply a lack of cash in some cases, the people the buyers thought they were dealing with were no longer around. Some had skipped the country and left the employees and customers in a situation akin to a football club not paying its players their wages on time but expecting them to turn up and perform on the weekend: a story to which the troubled fans of Portsmouth FC will attest.

And finally they discovered the management team that had been doing something about fixing the problem no longer existed and had been replaced by a new bunch who didn't talk to customers, and if you wanted to meet them, the only place you might stand a chance was at the arbitration centre. Still, despite their plight today, genuine buyers of off-the-plan property should find some solace in the ignominy that supporters of Liverpool FC have had to endure. Being the most successful club in England has not spared Liverpool a change of sponsor, owner and manager.

But then, changing from longtime sponsor Carlsberg to the prudent Standard Chartered Bank can't be a bad thing. Trying to offload the current owners, Messrs Gillett and Hicks, is a welcome fillip for the club's fans. And the introduction of the experienced Roy Hodgson as the manager has once again promised stability and growth at Anfield. I suppose it helps that the team's celebrated anthem is You'll Never Walk Alone, a sentiment that has been all too absent among property developers, buyers and everyone else involved in the industry in these times of prodigious change.

Rehan Khan is a business consultant and writer based in Dubai

Updated: August 25, 2010 04:00 AM

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