Football, fans and forgiveness
Sir Elton John, once of course the owner of Watford Football Club, famously sang: “Sorry seems to be the hardest word.”
As the “big six” English clubs withdrew from the European Super League last night, some of them were struggling to communicate with their fans what went on. So let’s consider what they said:
John W Henry, the owner of Liverpool FC, must get all the plaudits here. He issued a personal video message taking full responsibility, apologising for his actions and explaining his motives (whether you believe him or not). It had empathy, humility and humanity.
Arsenal – my team – put out a statement which had all of this. Couched as "An open letter to our fans” it said “We made a mistake, and we apologise for it.” Where it fell down a little that it was from the club, not the Kroenke family who owns the club, but a good 8/10 regardless.
As a Gooner, I’m bound to criticise Spurs, but the statement from the club’s chairman Daniel Levy lacked any of the contrition of Liverpool or Arsenal, instead saying: “We regret the anxiety and upset caused by the ESL proposal.” So sorry about the distress, but not sorry we did it. At least Levy stood up to be counted.
Manchester United and Chelsea put out short statements, saying they were listening to the views of fans and others. United mentioned the “UK Government and other stakeholders”. This makes it look like the club was afraid of that famous football fan Boris Johnson. Both statements looked like they were written by lawyers, not anyone who knows anything about communications.
Manchester City simply put out a statement stating the fact that they were withdrawing. No excuses, recognition of the issues or way forward. Maybe they’ll fix this in the future, but what’s out so far simply isn’t good enough.
The clubs have shown their greedy sides and have alienated their customer bases. However, football club are case studies about how much you can gouge your extremely loyal customers before they turn on you. If fans think the clubs will change, they’ve got another thing coming.
As the song states: “It's a sad, sad situation. And it's getting more and more absurd.”
A few hours after writing this the Glasers issued a mea culpa "open letter to fans". Better later than never.