Fan influence appears to be a growing power in English football and it can only be excellent news for the game.
Bolton Wanderers this week performed a dramatic U-turn and cancelled their two-year sponsorship deal with controversial payday lenders QuckQuid. The reason? A supporter campaign, petition and general galvanising of the community towards a desired outcome.
Supporters are the ever-present driving force behind a football club.
They were there before the current owners turned up and they will still be there once they have gone. They buy the tickets and replica shirts and they live every minute on and off the pitch.
A football club’s decisions, actions and outcomes mean so much more to the fans than anyone else, even though they haven’t ploughed £500million into it.
It is satisfying, then, to read about supporters’ desires triumphing, as at the Reebok Stadium. Bolton may end up being financially worse off as a result, but the masses can make up their own minds about the club’s priorities and successfully put morals before money.
In truth, the saga is as much a sign of the growing contempt towards payday lenders as it is an indication of swelling supporter influence.
After all, Blackpool fans didn’t seem to mind having ‘wonga.com’ brandished across their team’s shirts during their recent top-flight campaign.
However, the QuickQuid episode has encapsulated the often-forgotten ability of a fanbase to exert some influence on top-level decision-making.
The Trotters will now be sponsored by Bolton-based company FibrLec – this could hardly have been a more drastic U-turn, from morally-questionable loan sharks to a university-founded renewable energy supplier.
And I suppose you have to pay tribute to the club a little – perhaps the original decision was ill-considered, but Bolton acted to appease the supporters swiftly.
Chairman Phil Gartside told the club website: “We don’t want our commercial relationships to come between us and our community, and neither does QuickQuid.”
Everton’s ‘Badge-gate’ seems another fitting example within the last fortnight of this ‘fan power’ concept.
You might get people arguing that donning a modernised badge is not quite as bad as condoning a business which exploits vulnerable people, but they probably won’t be Everton fans.
To your average football supporter, tradition is vital. There’s a reason we remind ourselves when the club was established by having that glorious date emblazoned on the shirt.
And, once again, fair play to the Goodison Park hierarchy – it didn’t take them too long to decide the juice wasn’t worth the squeeze and back out.
Finally, a saga that has blighted our media for the majority of this season – the campaign to rid Stamford Bridge of its most hated Spaniard.
Rafa Benitez’s Chelsea tenure was almost entirely at the whims of supporters – fan power ensured his stay at Stamford Bridge would never be a pleasant or lengthy one.
Whether or not this is a good thing is not so clear, but what is also unclear is if Chelsea fans know what is good for them.
Part of me would cherish a Keegan-style meltdown when Jose Mourinho returns like the prodigal son, but that is a separate issue entirely.
The Chelsea supporters knew what they wanted and their actions ensured that – Benitez never looked likely to lose the word ‘interim’ from his title and he duly departed.
For good or bad in each individual situation, football fans are empowering themselves and their clubs seem to be listening. Long may it continue.
Image courtesy of Duncan Mather, via YouTube, with thanks.