Does football have a social conscious?

Any time a football club finds itself in trouble, I consider the plight of its supporters.

It’s said often that managers, (most) owners and players come and go, while supporters are left behind, often to cope with the mess. It’s why I pride myself on the fact that I am a member of FORAS (Friends of the Rebel Army Society) and I own part of my local football (Cork City FC). I have known the concern of hearing about unpaid bills and tax demands and I’ve been a fan on the sideline, watching in horror as the worst possible outcome unfolds.

That any football supporter would take pleasure in Glasgow Rangers’ plight disgusts me. Whatever the owner is at, there is a football club at stake and should the blue half of one of Scotland’s most important cities meet its end, it will be a dark day for its entire football league. A club is only as strong as the league it competes in, a lesson Cork City and every other League of Ireland club has been learning in recent years.

It’s a lesson that also needs promotion in the Premier League, which has been shown up by the Suarez-Evra affair. Whatever people’s opinions on the matter, no player should be subjected to abuse on the basis of his skin colour and last weekend’s encounter between the two clubs served to reignite the row.

Managers obviously need to look after their own clubs’ interests first and foremost but as the ever-wise Johnny Giles (as part of RTÉ’s Premier League highlights coverage) pointed out, both Alex Ferguson and Kenny Dalglish should have nipped this issue in the bud early on and ensured that it never escalated the way it was allowed to. In doing so, they would have been looking after the interests of the league and the game that has given them of both (and their players and friends) a fine living.

There is one debate at the heart of what I’m trying to get at: is football a business or a sport? The answer is that it has to be both. Clubs have to look to their finances at all times and put long-term sustainability first but they also have to be mindful of the community roots they originally come from, the paying crowds that help fund their activities and the beautiful game that has given them a purpose in life.

Too often in the race to be a successful team on the pitch, clubs are forgetting the principles on which they were founded at the very beginning. Usually these ideals are as simple as providing facilities to players, encouraging people to play and get involved in the sport and representing the local area with honour and dignity. Maybe it’s time we start to remember some of the good stuff?

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