Tuesday, 20 September 2011

What is a football club?

In my last update I said I considered ex-Wimbledon fans that are now Franchise customers to have never really been Wimbledon fans and, predictably, the customers are up in arms about it. The thing is... it's true. Why? The reason is that it all hinges on what one believes a 'football club' to actually be. You have to establish this first before you can assess the loyalty of the individual to the 'club'. Now, I freely accept that one can define a 'football club' in a number of ways, but, no matter how you define 'Wimbledon football club', no one now supporting Franchise FC in Milton Keynes has kept supporting the same club. They may think they have, but the facts prove them wrong beyond a shadow of a doubt. Naturally this is an unpalatable truth for them to have to face, but it is a truth nonetheless.

Let's look at the legitimate ways one can define a 'football club', just to nail home why those ex-Wimbledon fans turn out to just be customers:

A football club is a legal entity - limited company, PLC, etc
This is a perfectly acceptable definition of a football club, but, if you choose to adhere to it, then you have to accept that when the company changes, then the 'football club' changes. And, as I've demonstrated before with SW16girl's added knowledge, Wimbledon FC Ltd never exited administration and was wound up in 2009 (http://truthaboutfranchisefc.blogspot.com/2011/08/its-not-legal-continuation.html). So, if you do believe a 'football club' is the legal entity that 'owns' the club, then Franchise FC categorically isn't the same club as Wimbledon fans were supporting prior to May 2002, so ex-Wimbledon fans following Franchise FC have certainly abandoned their club.

A football club is the team - players and management
This seems reasonable enough on the surface of it, but has one major flaw, in that players and management come and go over the course of time. They are also employed by the 'club', so their loyalty to it is the most fragile of all, determined by legally enforceable contracts, so why define them as the key aspect constituting the club? Currently, if you believe this definition of a 'football club', you are basically claiming that Dean Lewington is Wimbledon's football club, because he's the only player who was playing for Wimbledon FC before the move, that transferred (his contract, in 2004) to Franchise FC and is still there. And when he goes, what then?

To highlight the flimsiness of this particular definition, if a manager quits a team and then signs the majority of his old players for a different team, then anyone defining a football club this way would have to follow that manager and those players. Implausible? Not at all. In the early days of AFC Wimbledon, Dave Anderson was signed as manager and brought a large chunk of his Hendon team with him. Did that make us Hendon? I suppose some might say yes, but that's what one has to accept if you use this definition of a 'football club'.

So, any Franchise customers using this particular definition of a 'football club' are currently supporting Dean Lewington, and once he's gone, even that shred of a link is gone. I wonder if ex-Wimbledon fans that are now Franchise customers would prefer to be known as 'Dean Lewington fans'? That would be accurate at least.

A football club is the name
Fairly easy this one - Wimbledon FC stopped being used as a name in 2004. Some Franchise customers did indeed cease supporting Franchise at this point and at least they were consistent in their view of what a football club is. Personally, I think it's a flimsy definition that's open to huge abuses, as the Wimbledon FC example demonstrated. When a team that's named after a particular town can be moved more than 60 miles away, it rather makes a mockery of this definition of a 'football club'.

A football club is the place where it plays
This also has some validity, but in Franchise FC's case, a team playing in Milton Keynes is obviously not the same 'club' as a team playing in Wimbledon or even at Selhurst Park. Indeed, by this definition you would have to conclude that it was a different 'football club' as soon as it had moved from Plough Lane to Selhurst Park. Some Wimbledon fans did indeed stop following the club at that point. So, it's an acceptable definition, but it's not helping any Franchise customers escape the fact that they abandoned a football club.

Other recent re-formed clubs like AFC Telford and Chester City have continued to play at the stadiums where their teams played before, and this too provides a continuous link, but that also doesn't help Franchise customers out.

A football club is all the parts that make it up - fans, players, employees and other community stakeholders
This is the definition chosen by AFC Wimbledon and repeated on the club's website: "We consider that a football club is not simply the legal entity which controls it, but that it is the community formed by the fans and players working towards a common goal." (http://www.afcwimbledon.co.uk/honours.php?Psection_id=4&Psub_section_id=7&squad=)

Now, some would say that some of Wimbledon's fans went to Milton Keynes, but seeing as they are in the vast minority, then by this definition they inevitably are the ones splitting off to form a new club.

This is the point to introduce one other aspect - you can't change your definition of 'football club' to suit you in different circumstances. You can't claim it's the legal entity or name in 2002, the players in 2004 and then the community (now Milton Keynes) in 2011. You have to pick your definition and stick to it, otherwise all you're doing is admitting your 'loyalty' isn't worth a damn, because you can switch allegiance so easily from one thing to another. What that means is that regardless of the definitions above that you choose to use, all Franchise customer stopped being a 'Wimbledon fan' sometime between 1991 with the move to Selhurst Park and 2004 with the change of company and name.

And that brings me back to the main point... If one's definition of a 'football club' and sense of belonging to it is so weak and flimsy as to put up with changes of location, name, company, fans and anything else that actually does define a 'football club', then said person never was a 'fan' in the first place, they were just a customer for whatever was easiest to follow at any particular point. Whatever you think of these people, let's not have any illusions about what they have been 'loyal' to, because it isn't a football club by any known definition. If they can't accept that, then it just means they can't accept logic, reason and facts.

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