Sport Comment: Rich owners really can tell fans to go to Hull

John Inverdale
ONE day you suspect Roman Abramovich will get tired of owning a football club and the Kings Road will be the scene of the first demonstration in this country by die-hard fans begging a billionaire owner not to leave.

“Never mind the manager and the players,” the Chelsea faithful will chant. “We need your money.” “OK,” he could say, “I’ll stay, but the club will have to be rebranded Red Star Chelsea Dynamo to fit in with my business interests in Russia.”

This past week, Southampton fans have been getting themselves into a right state about the club’s future, fearing their clutch of England stars may leave following a change of ownership. Further north, the battle lines are hardening between supporters and another zillionaire who wants to change his club’s name from Hull City to Hull Tigers for marketing reasons. Meanwhile in Wales, the Bluebirds of Cardiff these days play in red because that’s what the owner demanded.

Money talks in football like never before. The Premier League trophy that Manchester United won in May is currently being paraded through Mumbai to promote the club’s profile before heading for a month-long tour of the United States.

If chairman Daniel Levy decrees the only way to compete in that global Premier League is to rebrand Tottenham as the North London Spurs, then that is what they will become. If the new Southampton regime wants to call the team the Solent Saints, and the alternative is relegation and financial meltdown, do the fans have any option but to accept if they want to carry on playing with the big boys?

The moment any club opens its door to super-rich owners from all corners of the earth, the deed is done. In return for possible glory and dining at the game’s top table, the supporters lose the right to determine the club’s destiny. “If you’re not happy about that then take your custom elsewhere,” is the simple riposte.

Which is why what is happening on Humberside at the moment is probably just the tip of the iceberg of what will happen in the future on planet football. The owners really can tell the fans to go to Hull.