What is a football club?

Over the past few days, rumours have been rife of a billionaire takeover of my beloved Middlesbrough. It looks increasingly unlikely but it stirred a moral dilemma inside which has churned and churned until one question remained. What is a football club?

Obviously I don’t mean this in the literal sense but I mean philosophically, what is a football club? If you’re reading this, thinking this isn’t philosophy, you may as well stop now. Socrates played for Brazil, Plato is just Pato mis-spelled and there used to be a Nietzsche in our reserves, I think. This is philosophy of the purest form and I am posing a question of much pondering. So what is a football club?

Some would suggest that recent times have led us to believe that football clubs are a franchise, a business which can be used to make (probably shouldn’t say launder) money. Examples of this include most of the big clubs, more recently QPR, Cardiff and the Watford/Udinese arrangement which the Boro bid seems to be modelled on. The interesting thing about the latter two examples is that they were overtly based around profit. No suggestion to the fans of a boyhood dream of owning Cardiff football club, purely ‘I want to make a success out of your team so that I can make money from it’. Fans are happy because they are now in the Premier League, owner makes a mint and will put some of that back into signings to remain where the money is. What’s wrong with that?


Well that’s what I would have said about a week ago. Since I’ve heard of this takeover talk my moral compass has somewhat become skewed and I am questioning my naivety of what the game actually is at this moment in time. Along with Everton, Wigan and I’m sure many other examples up and down the country, Middlesbrough Football Club have been blessed with the stewardship of a home grown boyhood fan of the club. Since 1986 Steve Gibson has ploughed his wealth into our club, not his club, ours. He is a man of the people who loves the club and as fans we would not swap him for the world… maybe.  The sad fact is, as has been the case with Kenwright at Everton, he simply can’t compete with the influx of foreign investment in the game. Investment which may seem like an obviously poisonous aspect of our game, yet we don’t complain about watching the best players in the world week in, week out on Match Of The Day. It doesn’t stop fans reading about the astronomical transfer sagas that occur every transfer window. We can’t have our cake and eat it and maybe you are to mix it in the big leagues, changing your stadium’s name, crest, even kit colour (Cardiff in red still looks wrong) is the way forward.

Back to the question then, is franchise the answer? I don’t think so. I can only speak about Middlesbrough and I apologise for that. I’m blinkered through only having one perspective but that perspective has shown me that football can be at the heart of a community. It can bring people together, make or break the mood of a whole town and offer solace in a climate where everything seems to be dictated by finance, business and lack thereof. It is traditions passed down from generation to generation, stories from heroes past and present and it can often feel like a family. There are those that live and breathe a football club and it would seem wrong to taint that sanctity with something as trivial as money. OK not just money, success. OK not just money and success but potential long term stability. You starting to see the dilemma? Coventry and Pompey fans will be screaming about how wrong that is, but it is awfully tempting. What is a football club? I don’t know, I just asked the question.