Has foreign ownership impacted fan loyalty of English football clubs?

I never quite got to grips with the football frenzy, until I moved to England two years ago. The loyalty of fans to their clubs is something similar of what cricket and IPL is to the people of India. However I fail to comprehend  with little English representation among team players  and with some of the top league clubs being owned by Russians, Americans or Arabs , could this have made any difference to the loyal supporters over the years?

Leo, a supporter of Newcastle United admits club football is quite different now. He said, “Traditionally club owners and players were true local heroes, but now English clubs are often owned by foreign investors who fill their teams with an overwhelming number of foreign players who will stay as long as the money is good and the trophies are won. So it’s much harder to identify with a team whose players and bosses are seemingly far more interested in personal attainment than they are about your home town, and who will move on at the first sign of a better offer.”

In the past few weeks, I’ve been catching a glimpse of the action at the nearby pubs which inadvertently are full of men. I saw Newcastle United’s defeat against Manchester City that left him feeling quite gutted, but nevertheless still proud to see his team clinch fifth place this year. And one couldn’t forget Manchester City’s historical win against United after 44 years two weeks back.

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Having seen some of the fans take to the streets to support their teams made me wonder if it was family tradition. Wearing light blue t-shirts, people of all ages, babies on prams with Manchester City scarves were all out in force to glorify the champions; at times it all seemed a bit too sentimental.

Louise admits to it being more of a family tradition. She said, “I support West Bromwich because my dad and uncle follow them, so it’s kind of like a family tradition.”

“What football club you support is, like what religion you follow, a source of identity and heritage for many families. It is definitely passed on from generation to generation, and I believe kids automatically follow their parents’ choice of which team to support. They go to matches at an early age, and are almost certainly encouraged to like the same team as their parents,” Leo added.

With many foreign investors and players, a big question is has money taken precedence over the sport and has this potentially affected the loyalty of players and fans. There are several examples of players ditching  clubs at the very first sight of a bigger cheque being waved infront of them. Every one knows of the famous Ashley Coles move from Arsenal to Chelsea in 2006 for ₤25 million. However, on Saturday after the Blues’ magnificent Champions League triumph over Bayern Munich, he reacted by saying “this is why I came to Chelsea.”

While Chelsea FC is owned by oligarch Roman Abramovich, who has allegedly invested a million of his own money in the team, Manchester City is owned by the Sheikh Mansour of the ruling family of Abu Dhabi and Manchester United by American businessman Glazer.

Speaking with Kelly she says yes, ” It’s sad to see over the years how people think they can buy the best teams and players, it’s definitely not like what it was before. But on the plus side it has also attracted more international fans and more support. People from all over the world follow the Premier leagues now.”

With twitter and facebook abuzz on Chelsea v/s Bayern Munich, I couldn’t but resist switching on to Radio 5 live and  keep abreast of the atmosphere. When they won the European championship, even the commentators couldn’t contain their emotions, I guess everyone was in a state of disbelief.

Learning of Chelsea’s visit to Stamford Bridge on Sunday evening, I was keen to catch the players at the parade. I didn’t make it in time but was lucky to see the jubilant fans blowing whistles, chanting ‘Chelsea, ole, ole, ole’ and dressed in patriotic blue and white.  Despite the crowds, and long queues to get the train in time, the atmosphere was unbelievably brilliant.

“Sport unites, it brings people together. Yes it has changed, but as long as we win it doesn’t matter. My family always supported Chelsea, I will continue to. Ole Chelsea Champione,” said one walking back to the station.

A fan whose family has been supporting Chelsea for four generations said, “Its hard for me to watch penalty shoot outs as it is, when there are teams I don’t support. Watching Chelsea, and moreover seeing them win, it was simply unbelievable. Even now, I’m just not sure what to say.”

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