This article appeared in When Saturday Comes, published on 08/06/2015
8 June ~ You would have expected the FA chairman Greg Dyke to have his say over the recent FIFA scandal. But perhaps Dyke should look a little closer to home before having a go at football’s world governing body for bowing down before the corporates.
Speaking of outgoing FIFA president Sepp Blatter, Dyke said: “I’m already taking bets he won’t be there in four years. When the American attorney general says this is the beginning, not the end, she is right. There is a lot more to come out.” Two small and seemingly unrelated incidents made me wince when I heard that. Both showed the way football is not just moving away from its traditional fanbase but actually alienating them.
Cardiff City played Blackpool in their last home game of the season and, not surprisingly, the Blackpool fans used the occasion to vent their anger at the way the Oyston family has, and is, running the club. Two generations of Oystons have been accused of taking money out of Blackpool while the historic Bloomfield Road ground crumbled and the players were forced to wash their own kits. Cue a noisy but peaceful protest in the Welsh capital, where banners were unfurled reading “Oyston Out”. The stewards acted immediately, took down the banners and ejected several fans.
It’s worth noting here that the Cardiff fans joined in with the chanting and applauded the Blackpool supporters in solidarity. I took up the issue of the ejections with the management at Cardiff City. Despite there having been no complaint by any travelling fan, the club said that it would not tolerate banners that were “political, discriminatory, offensive or inflammatory”.
I asked how the words “Oyston Out” are any of the above and was told that it was all done “on the basis of respect for our visiting directors’ position”. So, no offence was caused to the 2,000 visiting fans but possibly to two visiting directors. It again begs the question of who is the game of football for – directors in the hospitality box or the Blackpool faithful who have been treated with contempt by their own club and now simply want to protest about it?
A few days before the FA Cup final, I watched Dyke being interviewed by Gary Lineker in one of those lengthy preview programmes. “Hasn’t the game been tarnished by the way tickets for Wembley don’t go to supporters but to sponsors and corporates?” ventured Lineker. “And why play the game at 5.30pm when we all know that football is traditionally played at three o’clock on a Saturday afternoon?”
Dyke was keen to do something about the ticket allocation and they were looking at getting more fans in. After all 25,000 to each team in an 90,000-seat stadium does seem a bit mean. But his answer to the question of kick-off time was quite amazing. “Ah,” said Dyke, “it’s the television people. They say they get a bigger audience at 5.30 and, well, what are we to do?”
The answer, Greg, is in the name. The “FA” Cup. Yes, that’s the same Football Association of which you are chairman. Just say no, take less money if needs be, maintain the tradition of the Cup and stick to a 3pm kick-off. It was a pat answer which said a lot about football’s priorities and which too few of us are willing to challenge. Dyke’s complacency on television’s dominant role and the bully boy tactics at Cardiff again illustrate that the game today is only interested in those who have money and those with clout and to hell with the people who make it what it is. Tim Hartley @timhhartley
Tim Hartley is a director of Supporters Direct and Chair of Cardiff City Supporters’ Trust