The newspapers of Tuesday 24th March 1998 contained reports of great anger and sadness that turned to joy. The sinking ship had been steadied by a major coup. Speeches were made that paid tribute to those who had put in great efforts before the tragedy, but were subsequently lost. What seemed like a dream ticket turned into a nightmare journey.

No, it wasn't the Oscars triumph of the film "Titanic", but the resolution of the "Toongate" scandal. The tabloid scoop that broke the story of two Newcastle Directors and their comments about fans and players of their club. Remarks about Alan Shearer's "Mary Poppins" reputation, the description of local females as "dogs" and the gullibility of the Toon Army to pay for cheaply manufactured replica shirts caused a storm in the North-East. The directors implicated eventually stood down amidst a diatribe of invective from fans, MP's and the FA.

I am sure that the furore that has blown up around these comments has been fuelled by the media, but the fact remains that they were made. Now, how do we know whether such comments are being made by directors at clubs across the country ?? We all know how fans are treated; merely as a constant supply of income for the clubs we support. We know that replica shirts are being sold at maximum mark-up. That's why retailers have complained that clubs are refusing to supply kit s if they are sold cheaper than the price in the club shops. Directors are probably no different to fans, in that they have their favourite players and take the mickey out of the ones who they do not like . Their crime was that they are in a position of power and trust and that they were caught. The people running football clubs bear a great responsibility. The carry the hopes and dreams of the lifeblood of the club. Now whether that is run along sound business lines or not, they have the care and control of the thing that is highly important to thousands of people. We've seen in the past what owners have tried to do with clubs :-

  • Robert Maxwell's plan to merge Reading and Oxford United to form the Thames Valley Royals.
  • The decline of Doncaster Rovers.
  • The sale of Brighton's Goldstone Ground, leaving them homeless and prior to that on the brink of dropping out off the League.
  • The proposed move of Wimbledon to Dublin.

Fan pressure has been able to produce results in some of these cases, but in others, they are helpless - at the whims of those in control. Of course, demonstrations are a way of showing disdain, but the suggestion of boycotts would not really work. Fans would be asked to give up what they are fighting for. How many supporters would stay away ?? A 100% participation would sharpen the focus of the board. An empty ground for a big match would certainly hit at their heart , but can you ever see it happening ?? I wouldn't have thought so and even if it did come about, the club will have already banked a substantial amount of cash from season ticket holders whose seats are pre-paid. Fans need a voice at Board level to instil a sense of realism and reason, but as we have always known, it is money that talks. Oh, and directors do too.


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