February 28, 2011
I should be delighted. After years of failure and mediocrity, my club are top of the league. This is the most talented squad we’ve had in ages and we’re playing some wonderful stuff. And yet something is dimming my good mood. It’s a little voice inside my head: “We are only here because of a pint-sized motorsport entrepreneur, a dubious Italian and an Indian steel magnate.” “So what?” I hear plenty of my fellow QPR fans say. After all, we’ve had to wait. Since our departure from the Premier League, we’ve sunk to the third tier, flirted with oblivion and got through approximately a thousand managers (including Ian Dowie). It’s about time our luck turned and I am enjoying the good times. Just not as much as I should be.
It was the Roman Abramovich effect which brought the problem to my attention. All my Chelsea-supporting friends greeted his arrival with delight. They rubbed their hands in glee at the flood of expensive new recruits and loved the fact that they were now title contenders. Soon they had silverware to celebrate. I remember one, however, who couldn’t quite bring himself to gloat. “It’s not like we earned it. We had it bought for us.” He didn’t like the fact that success was the result of a financial transaction. â€¨â€¨
Yet in a world of £100,000 weekly salaries and £50 million transfers, what other path to success is there? When we try to spot the teams that are likely to move forward, we look to the bank balances. The top four has become such a financial elite that even relatively big-spending Spurs don’t believe that they have a chance of staying there.
â€¨â€¨Permit me, for just a couple of paragraphs, to descend into complete idealism. If we ignore the way things are, what would be the “right” way for a team to achieve success? The team would have a core of club-grown players because there is a difference between building a team and purchasing one. The patient development of youth players into first team stars is an achievement; buying everyone in sight is not. Such a team also has a much stronger sense of identity. These players who have come up through the ranks feel much closer ties to the club. I believe fans find it easier to get behind such a team.
â€¨â€¨Secondly, a team would achieve success without any intrinsic advantage over its rivals. Every single sport relies on competitors having an equal chance of success. Winning a game of football in which your team had twice as many players as the other side would be underwhelming. Yes, you won but the contest was so flawed as to be irrelevant. At what point do financial inequalities between clubs render the contest void? Perhaps, the only upside is that when teams do defy the odds, the triumph is even sweeter. Witness the excitement around Blackpool.
â€¨â€¨If we do take the pragmatic approach and accept that money is the surest route to footballing success, we as football fans are left in an unusual spot. Our focus is turned away from the battles of the pitch to the intrigues of the boardroom. Fans who want to see their club progress are left waiting for a billionaire (millionaires won’t cut it). That is why the sport pages have as much on takeovers as they do on tactics. Suddenly we are following a stock market rather than a sport.
â€¨â€¨I am not a killjoy. If QPR do get promoted at the end of this year, I’ll be dancing as much as the next man. It is a shame though that football’s cash addiction has soured even the sweet taste of success.