• Wed
  • Jul 23, 2014
  • Updated: 10:52pm
Column
PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 December, 2013, 10:06pm
UPDATED : Friday, 27 December, 2013, 11:53pm

Cultural vandals run roughshod in English Premier League

Tan and company remind us that the assault on clubs' traditions by billionaire foreign owners is not over

BIO

Peter Simpson is a China-UK based journalist and the SCMP’s former Beijing 2008 Olympics news editor. He has covered major international news and sporting events, most recently the London 2012 Olympics and Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine. Peter is a Premier League season ticket holder at newly promoted Southampton FC.
 

Billionaire Cardiff City owner Vincent Tan must be a nightmare at Christmas. What present to buy a man who appears to have everything? Well, almost everything?

For his birthday this year the Malaysian fast-food and hotel magnet was presented with a musical written and performed by the many staff at his various Asian businesses. One imagines the underlings did not know what else to get their boss.

With one last scrape of the barrel they came up with a deliriously happy music video in which they all starred, singing and dancing their way through a completion of cloying songs to express their love and appreciation for their employer.

The video is stuffed with enough cheese to fill a Christmas smorgasbord the size of Lapland. It can be viewed on YouTube - though beware, it does not come with the XXX-rated cringeworthy warning it so thoroughly deserves.

More songs were sung for Tan throughout the Christmas week, but they were far from the dulcet sounds of a prepubescent boys' church choir issuing sweet octaves of goodwill and cheer.

The lines of the raucous terrace melodies issued by Cardiff fans and their brethren from visiting clubs were far from complimentary and urged Tan to leave Cardiff and English football soonest.

Tan is one of several foreign club owners accused by supporters of all club colours, plus a growing number of social commentators and politicians, of causing cultural vandalism.

They are accused of ignoring the rich history of English football and the clubs they buy. Tan was first welcomed at debt-ridden Cardiff - founded in 1899 - but any belief he made an investment because of his love for football quickly evaporated as it became clear his south Wales acquisition was just another for-profit financial venture.

In spellbounding displays of ignorance, he changed the club's name, badge and colours of the Bluebirds. Then he installed his inexperienced toadies to replace respected and professional backroom staff. What brought the friction between him and the supporters to a head was the e-mail he sent to popular manager Malky Mackay telling him to resign or be sacked - and now he has been sacked.

Similar affronts have blighted Hull City's history recently. Owner Assem Allam has also tampered with the club's 109-year history with his whimsical desire to call his English plaything Hull City Tigers.

Blackburn's owners, the Indian company Venky's, have been accused of mismanagement of the 138-year-old club - a founding member of the Football League in 1888 - including trying to use players to promote its unrelated football products; chicken processing and pharmaceuticals.

Carson Yeung Ka-sing's controversial rule of Birmingham City finally had the owners admitting "football was a business different in kind" from others because "the aspirations of supporters have to be taken into consideration".

Few will ever forgive Fulham's owner Mohamed Al Fayed's statue to his friend Michael Jackson, which he had erected outside Craven Cottage. And Southampton's Swiss-Italian owners caused an uproar by getting rid of the traditional red-and-striped strip first worn in 1885, without consensus from the fans.

Allam, Tan and the other big businesses and tycoons have sunk millions into the English game in the hope of larger returns. Yet they fail to grasp their millions cannot purchase fans' loyalty or substitute patrimony for bling.

The owners of Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea also underestimated the value their supporters link to their past when they first bought some prime football real estate for their portfolio.

They were soon forced to accept that British football clubs and their fan base are not just another franchise, despite their best efforts to make these great clubs soulless, highly branded money-making machines similar to frothy coffee and burger chains.

Tan and company remind us that the assault on clubs' traditions and history by ignorant billionaire foreign owners is far from over.

As we welcome 2014, the blood on the terraces boils as the cultural vandals continue to run roughshod. The footballing bodies, having spent years courting the billionaires, are at last listening to the growing unrest and demand for action.

One form of defence of the football realm gaining traction is the widening of the UK's strict heritage laws to grant soccer clubs "listed" status. Half a million buildings with "special architectural or historic interest" enjoy legal protection in the UK.

The law - first established in 1882 - rules that "a listed building may not be demolished, extended, or altered without special permission from the planning authorities, particularly for significant alterations".

Owners of such precious structures are compelled to repair and maintain them to keep their historical value. They face criminal prosecution if they fail to do so - or if they perform unauthorised alterations.

If our clubs enjoyed similar legal protection, we could fight any plans to change and trash them beyond all recognition by rich owners who care little for history and only for profit.

We could put an end to the garish kits, the renaming and all the other insulting branding gimmicks for far-off developing markets. A present to savour.

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