Every time the subject of foreign ownership comes up in the Premier League, the term xenophobia comes up. As an Indian-American who has spent much time in the UK, I have used the term myself, something I now am ashamed of. I am not against foreign ownership in the Football League and Premier League unlike some who have advocated the implementation of a “German” model where all majority owners must be German nationals and the vast majority of clubs are community based. However, many in the United States and Asia who have blindly praised the majority of foreign owners for the positive financial impact they have made on the English game are as excessive and skewed in their view as those supporting the German model being implemented in England.
In the wake of the mistreatment of Malky Mackay at Cardiff, some realizations need to dawn on foreign fans of the Premier League. While many Americans or those in the Far East may think they are bonded to the club they support, in almost every case they are not as invested emotionally, financially or personally as those British fans living and working in the towns of the clubs they support. These fans are not spending the bulk of their disposable income each year to buy tickets, merchandise and travel with the club to away matches. The foreign supporters can escape to other pursuits such as American football, basketball, local community events, etc. For supporters based in England and Wales, no such escape exists. You live and work in the communities impacted.
In short, in many cases foreign ownership rips the soul out of local clubs and local supporters. This isn’t the case everywhere as the big money takeover of Manchester City and Chelsea demonstrate that sometimes foreign ownership can be more community oriented than the predecessors even if the new owners are not local. But in many cases, critical decisions about football clubs are being made by eccentric Malaysian money men and in American board rooms far removed from the people impacted by these decisions.
Cardiff City, specifically, was a club preyed upon by irresponsible British businessmen and rescued from potential liquidation by Vincent Tan. However, in hindsight, given Tan’s lack of respect for the club’s history or institutional value to the Welsh capital, it can be argued Cardiff City Football Club going out of business and restarted as a supporters run club attempting to make its way up the football ladder from the bottom would have been a better move. Sure Tan saved Cardiff City, but he also ripped the soul out of the club, a soul which may never return.
Certainly some Cardiff supporters must feel Tan saved them as beginning a new life in the tenth flight of English football and working the way up may not be something that appeals to everyone. However as organic clubs like FC United and AFC Wimbledon demonstrate, lots of fans in English football are willing to forgo the glories of foreign induced spending to support a locally run and oriented football club that honors traditions.
All too often foreign fans of the English game feel the sport should cater to them. Again, I do not believe this is a way one-way conversation and do not advocate the elimination of foreign ownership. However, I have seen true football supporters derided by newer fans to the sport who have less at stake in these matters on social media, message boards and in blog comments sections.
Local supporters did not ask for English football to be a global business. They asked to be able to support their clubs the way they have for generations in peace. This globalization of the league was forced upon them. Perhaps in the bigger picture it was a boon to the league, but those hurt locally by globalization must be respected and the authorities in the game must consider their views and feelings when making decisions about ownership.
The Premier League and the Football League are still English/Welsh leagues even though many have represented them as global products. While fans of the sport continue to grow abroad, being a localized supporter involves more than simply buying a kit of a top club at a store and going to the pub on Saturday to cheer on a club thousands of miles away.
This is not to belittle foreign supporters of large clubs. Clearly they have a role in what should transpire going forward as the television and commercial revenues for England’s top clubs have been raised largely on the backs of these fans. But local supporters matter a great deal and the sooner balance is returned to the way the game is governed, the better.