Right then, first of all to address borodane referring to a ‘Middle Eastern despot’. I’m going to assume that’s a reference to Man City’s owners. They are morally repulsive, and if I was a Man City fan I doubt I could compartmentalise the fact that their success is directly linked to such a regime. I think it’s interesting that borodane specified Middle Eastern owners as an example. Pretty much every owner (ie an extremely wealthy person/business) operates at least partially in a morally grey area, and a lot go beyond that. Let’s not forget that Putin once described Abramovich as ‘our oligarch’.
Onto why a Red Bull takeover would be terrible. Firstly, I get why fans would be on board with it. The prospect of success is exciting. We’re a club that has been largely devoid of significant achievement. No one likes being irrelevant and we are exactly that to the vast majority of the footballing world. A red bull takeover could change all that. I get it.
Why I would be adamantly opposed to a Red Bull takeover ties into a larger issue I have: the domination of money and the commercialisation of the game. More so than ever, money dictates success and greed dictates the culture of football. Money is both a prerequisite for success and the most significant factor in determining it. As we all know, to compete at the highest level you need an unbelievably wealthy owner. These owners, due to the way fast amounts of wealth is acquired, are almost always business owners. Naturally, their ownership of a football club is orientated towards the interests of their business. The success of the football club is primarily a vehicle to boost their business and individual wealth. That produces an inherent contradiction with what I find so attractive about football. I said in a post the other day that I love the essence of football but I despise the form it currently takes. This is what I meant. For me, and I think most fans, what is so engaging about football is its ability to root you in a place and consequently garner a sense of collective identity. When people speak of their fondest riverside memories, they often point to the game against Brighton where we secured promotion. They talk of the atmosphere and the euphoria of promotion. Implicit in that is that they treasure the memory of everyone pulling together and striving forward in the same direction. Everyone associated with Middlesbrough Football Club united and it is through this unity that success was achieved. Another smaller scale example would be when we score and in the away end I hug some random bald fella. That’s probably someone with a radically different background and worldview to myself, but in that moment it doesn’t matter because we are all united by a common goal. I maintain that this aspect of football is truly beautiful. Although an elastic word, I believe that football is socialist at its core and that these socialist qualities I’ve just detailed are what leads to the game dominating so many people’s lives. If you don’t want to take it from me, there is this quote from the Bill Shankly,
‘The socialism I believe in isn’t really politics. It is a way of living. It is humanity. I believe the only way to live and to be truly successful is by collective effort, with everyone working for each other, everyone helping each other, and everyone having a share of the rewards at the end of the day. That might be asking a lot, but it’s the way I see football and the way I see life.’
So, collective identity is key to the attraction of football. Yet any takeover of the club by a ridiculously rich owner undermines that sense of identity. You sacrifice a large portion of your identity as a place, a club, and a community to the fact that your club is now primarily operating to boost someone’s business interests and wealth. Success and identity in football are at odds with each other and a Red Bull takeover, given their overt rebranding of clubs, would be the absolute epitome of that. Whatever success we hypothetically achieve under them, our identity would be intrinsically tied to the profits of a German energy drink company. We exist primarily not as a club that achieves success through the unity it has cultivated but as a pawn in some greedy game. That runs counter to everything I love about football and everything I love about supporting Middlesbrough FC.
I think the game is in desperate need of restructuring. At the very least a wage cap. If I had it my way, I’d move towards an NFL style system. It doesn’t solve the issue of business owners compromising a club’s identity but it would mean success is more dependent on strategy than money. We would probably still be terrible but it’d be easier to take that we’re bad because of weak strategy rather than weak finances. Of course there are countless problems with this too: what happens with relegation? Do we get rid of it? What happens to the clubs that can’t fit in the system? Do I really have the audacity to bang on about the importance of identity to me as a Middlesbrough fan only to propose a new system that would disregard the identity of countless other fans of clubs that wouldn’t make the cut? I don’t have all the answers but it’s the best solution I can currently think of to the absolute state football is in at the moment. The gap between my love for football and the disgust I have with regards to its current structure widens each season. Maybe I’ll reach a breaking point one day - if Red Bull took over that could well end my status as a Middlesbrough fan.
I think this game will go to who wants it most, and who's prepared to go in where it hurts, I think that will be Barnsley, so unfortunately I'll go for a 2-1 Barnsley win and hope I've got this totally wrong.