Brighton – A walk in the park or a day at the races?

MK Dons play Brighton today and where normally there would be that buzz on waking up combined with growing butterflies in the stomach today it just feels flat. The reason: MK Dons performance at the Cheltenham Festival – a festival I will remember ironically for the highly professional approach taken by an amateur to achieve beyond expectation. 

The Dons, in case you missed the front pages of several tabloid papers this week went to the

Cheltenham festival for a piss up. This got out of hand and ended up with a glass of urine being poured over other spectators. Oddly, this action offends me less than the overall context in which it happened. The fact that the clubs management and players felt it acceptable to be out four days before a crucial match for an all day drinking session is to me a far bigger issue.

In the George Best era, even as recently as the ’90s, drinking was seen as not just acceptable but as part of the macho culture that surrounded sport. Football then lagged behind other sports until the introduction of managers like Arsene Wenger who absolutely understood that what a professional athlete puts into their body can make a significant performance improvement  on the pitch. These days, top sportsman – footballers included, carefully monitor nutrition as much as they monitor effectiveness during training and games. As part of that, alcohol is pretty much a no go area. There is nothing nutrition wise in alcohol that adds to athletic performance. Indeed there are many elements that significantly detract from overall performance, including focus and  muscle growth and regeneration after excercise.

I am not saying that the team shouldn’t drink during the season (although I bet many professional sports teams do set that as their standard) but they certainly should not be out on an all day blender, certainly not in the middle of the season and certainly not when there is a game at the weekend. I find it difficult to imagine Andy Murray or Mo Farah going out for an all day session in the middle of Wimbledon or the Olympics and more importantly the reason they don’t isn’t because they are told not to it’s because their desire to succeed is far higher than their desire to go an all out bender.

And that is a critical point here. We are watching a team that have finally made it into the Championship after many seasons of riding high in League One. This for me is about desire to succeed. Around 40 positions above the Dons in the league, Leicester look like they are about to make history. I am sure that those players are absolutely focussed  on the next game, both in training and in the overall preparation for it. They will not be going out for day long drinking sessions. That comes down to desire and focus. How much do the Dons really want to meet their objective this season and how much is just about turning up? Prior to this week, I was desperately  hanging on to the former. I saw a team whose salary bill is lower than any other club in the Championship and was battling to stay up. Admittedly with some performances I wondered but that’s what I wanted to believe.

It’s clear though that that nagging doubt is being realised. They don’t care if their performance today is slightly reduced from a day out drinking. They don’t care if their preparation for this game is not 100%. There will be loads of people watching today who would love the chance to be in their shoes. There are loads of people in the academy right now who have been watching what they eat (and where applicable, drink) since they were in their early teens. Future players growing up with a different mentality of what it takes to be a real professional. Maybe it’s time for some of those people, players who will embrace the 100% mentality to replace some of those who clearly think their 90% will do. 

Finally, I have been behind Robinson for longer than many. Even though increasingly  I am not convinced that he has the ability to change tactically on the fly, his loyalty is valuable and his focus toward the long term sustainability of the club rather than his personal gain has been admirable. However, Robinson is the leader right now. The leader must have taken the decision that proper preparation doesn’t matter. He must be behind this 90% mentality as much as the players. For me that’s just not good enough. It belongs more in far lower leagues than the Championship.

I don’t mind going down fighting. Going down with the players on a full day bender at Cheltenham before a key game though shows that that isn’t the case. I want a result today – a draw would be great. It’s going to very tough to achieve that. I know that, the supporters know that. The players though, they seem to think it’s a walk in the park.  

We All Hate Derby… Or Maybe Not

Passion is not Hatred

(Image ©Waywardeffort)

I thought Derby played well tonight. Looked solid defensively and play a lovely style of football, showing flair whilst controlling the game convincingly. Am right behind them in the play off final and hope that they can once more reach the premiership.

According to many, I’m not actually a real football fan because I watch the MK Dons (read about that here). That aside though, I’m a Forest fan. Forest hate Derby, Derby hate Forest. So why the paragraph above?

I really don’t understand the hatred of football teams. Sure I get the human nature to belong to a pack, to follow their football team above all others. But to hate other teams and automatically hope they lose because they…exist? No I don’t get that bit. If Forest are playing Derby I want Derby to lose. I vehemently want them to lose. I know that at work on Monday I will feel the consequences of that 5 nil drubbing. I know that when we win 5 nil I will be just as bad. I want Derby to lose If during the season we are contesting the same elusive promotion or relegation spot. But that goes for any team in the division. If Forest aren’t directly involved I don’t care. In fact, given that I have several friends who are passionate Derby fans, in a neutral game like tonight, I will back Derby.

I have a real issue at the moment with following football. (Blog post to follow). This unconditional hatred is just one example. I woke up this morning to various premiership fans being asked what their club’s best moment of their season was. Fulham, Liverpool and Man City fans all answered. The Man Utd fan said his best moment was Gerrard slipping and subsequently seeing him in tears. So nothing to do with his team then. Just hatred of another. Hatred purely because this season they have been outclassed. To any proper football fan, what Liverpool have achieved this year is pretty impressive. To that person, the fact that one of the most talented English players we have seen in the last decade made a mistake outshines anything else he has seen this season from his and (I assume) any other team.

Sport is greatly enhanced by rivalries. It adds the extra edge to competition. Local rivalries and derbies add banter in the classroom, the office and social media. But that’s what it is. Banter. Not hatred. This banter means that when my team isn’t involved, far from wanting the other team to lose, I want them to win. I feel far more connections with the rival, far more empathy with their fans than teams that are just regular participants in the league.

So I’ll be backing Derby County in the play off final. Wearing my Forest top, but backing Derby. 

The Loneliness of The Programme Manager

I have a great deal in common with David Moyes. There are some areas where we differ of course. I don’t have to manage Shrek, I don’t have access to free track suits or dodgy coats and I don’t get my name splashed across every newspaper every time it doesn’t go well for me at work.

Make The Inherited Team Work For You

(Image © VegasEddie)

Moyes, for those who live on Mars (or perhaps the US) is a football manager, the manager of possibly the biggest club in the world, Manchester United. Sounds great. Except he’s a football manager in his first season at the club. I am a programme manager. Specifically a programme manager who specialises in recovery. I land in troubled programmes and turn them around – or even sometimes terminate them.

The similarity lies in the loneliness, the isolation especially in the initial stages of the role. There are ways to alleviate this though as I will walk through later no in this post.

Moyes was presumably recruited by the chairman. A friendly, smiling face full of promises and smiles. Initial talk of ambition and plans, of positives and partnership. Bring in the programme sponsor. The guy wedded to the ambition and delivery of the programme but not necessarily wedded to the deliverer. He knows what he wants, will go to any length to get it but when it comes to it he isn’t that worried who delivers it. In both roles this guy treats you as expendable, merely a means to an end. Ultimately this person is not your friend…

Indirectly Moyes has another client that he must impress. The supporters. A recent survey puts the number of worldwide supporters that Moyes has to impress at 659 million. To be fair, I’ve never worked on a programme with 600 million users so I’m a bit behind there. But the similarities are there. The relationship with the supporters or the business into which you are delivering is always on a knife edge. They are reliant on you doing a good job and will back you vehemently when they see evidence of a good job being done. However, as soon as anything goes wrong they will be quick to criticise, to escalate and demand changes. A group of dissenters can gather momentum very quickly and whilst they do not generally have direct hire and fire power they certainly can influence.

Moyes inherited a team of players. In some ways he is better off than me in that Moyes inherited a team of world class players. Read into that what you will! The problem for Moyes is that they are not his choice of world class players, they do not necessarily play to his system and unfortunately the competition also has world class players. The last point means that in comparison they are average. I inherit teams. Generally pretty average team. One or two potential stars perhaps but in the main teams that don’t play to my system. Teams that don’t suit my style of management. Both Moyes and I are recruited primarily as people managers. Our abilities to produce results from a team are the primary reasons we get the job. Sure, we are experts in our trades, we know the fundamentals but then so do many other people. It’s the ability to get the people around you to deliver that marks us out from the crowd. 

More importantly then, what do both Moyes and I need to do to deliver in such an environment?

The first piece of the jigsaw is perhaps a surprising one as it’s initially at least a non ‘work’ one. In order to succeed in this environment you need a friend. I’ve outlined above how whilst at any given time each of the groups might be supporting you, none are your friends. On arrival, you can trust no one and must not get too close to anyone. Three months down the line, you don’t know which employees you might be having conversations with about poor performance, you don’t know when you might have to deliver a hard to live with ultimatum to the chairman or your client and you don’t know when you might have that tough meeting with the business to let them know you won’t be delivering that much desired functionality or with the supporters to let them know your targets are not in line with their wishes. So until you have your right hand man in place, you need a clear idea of who externally you have to bounce ideas off, to motivate and inspire you and generally to get support from. To start a role without this is tough indeed.

Next comes team motivation. Moyes has an added constraint here. The transfer window. That means that player recruitment wise he is not only constrained by budget and the availability of his preferred team but is also constrained by the time windows in which he can recruit. The problem is similar though on both sides. You have to work with what you have and you need time to understand whether the players you inherit are capable of working in the way that you want them to. First impressions may be wrong. The way a team performed for a previous manager may be very different from the way that they perform for you. Getting the team onside early on and fighting for your cause is about setting out clearly your core beliefs, being very clear about what you want to achieve and how you aim to set about doing it. It’s about being tough when necessary but listening too. The bully boy tactics might create short term wins but never create a long term delivery structure. Mostly though it’s about taking the time to find out about the individuals. What inspires them, what are their concerns, dislikes and ambitions. Having these conversations not only establishes relationships but also starts to set out your long term goals. No point creating a style of play around the midfielder that is desperate to play for Real Madrid next year or the project manager who is looking to take a back seat. The key here though is to focus on motivation in the short term. These people may or not be in your long term plan. They are definitely part of your short term plan though and you will need each to perform as well as they can.

As soon as possible, it is vital to address the loneliness problem. To deliver in the long term, you need a trusted core team around you. People who absolutely buy into your vision and who have the ability to motivate and bring others along. Football managers and programme managers from consultancies often have the ability to create an instant Team structure. Increasingly when a manager joins a new club he will take his back room staff with him. He will walk into the new role an instant team around him. Consultancies will sell in the leadership layer as a way to kicking off a project quickly and early. I’m not a great fan of this approach though. If football or programmes were a repeatable process then this would be fine. However there are so many variables involved -the players, the budget, the ambition of the chairman – that each scenario Is different. To arrive with a management team means that you have one approach. To put your own repeatable model into play. To force the variables around you to act in the way that fits your model. It’s tough to get results this way but also it means you never get better. It’s a plateau model. You build your way of doing it and at best you repeat it. At worst you can’t force the resources into your shape and you end up failing. What you don’t do is create a better model each time. 

The approach of arriving with an external sounding board, the inspirational friend, whilst tougher in the short term means that you have time to assess the situation before selecting the right team from your trusted contacts. It takes longer but you build a team that is accurately selected to address the challenges facing you and therefore a stronger long term team. One shouldn’t underestimate how quickly this needs to be done though.   There is only a short period until the ‘trusted friend’ is too far removed and until the real storming within the team commences. By that point you need at least one person in that you trust and that shares your vision. Finally, your team around you should be people who are loyal to you. They should not be people who always agree with you. I have seen programmes fail due to leadership teams of yes men. If everyone is always going to agree, you may as well have one person.

The holy grail of all of this is time. Time to judge what you have in terms of resources available, time to build that loyal management team and time to start delivering and create an atmosphere of success. You can buy time though through an early deliverable. The absolute first thing to look for on any new project is how to deliver something high profile fast. Divert resource to that deliverable and stay with it until it’s complete. Once you have an early win in the bag, time to build will be made available. 

Anyone for half time oranges?

Why Karl Robinson Should Move On

Karl Robinson is seen by many pundits as one of the most successful, talented, up and coming managers in the Football League. Every time a role comes up, his name is linked to the job. Whether he ever gets to the offer stage, or whether he pulls out at offer stage is unclear. The fact is that he has remained ‘loyal’ to the MK Dons for three and a half years now and has given the Dons a degree of managerial stability that had been sorely lacking with the big name recruitment strategy previously practised. 

“Key to the club’s success is 
the retention of Robinson”
(Image © Dudek1337 2014)

Whether he has been successful is a subjective point. He guided the Dons to the playoffs in his first two seasons and had an impressive cup run in the last season. There are those that point to Robinson’s lack of success in moving the MK Dons into the Championship as evidence that he is not as successful as his media rating suggests but I think this misses the real detail. 

Despite the outward lucrative image the club does not have money to spend on the team.  MK Dons is firmly focussed on being profitable (a laudable aim in the current spend now climate) and is currently contracted to make improvements to the ground and the surrounding environment as part of the original planning terms. It therefore has to operate as a ’selling club’ nurturing youngsters and scouting little known players before moving them on at profit. Sam Baldock and Sean Williams are good examples of this.  Other players have left to cut wage costs – Sean O’Hanlon and Gary MacKenzie for instance.  

This creates a situation in which to all intents and purposes, Robinson’s hands are tied. He is not in the position to sign new players, he is rarely in the position to reinvest transfer money raised into new talent. So he needs to utilise the pretty impressive youth set up (on the understanding that once a player becomes proven he will be sold) and be active in the loan market. The loan market of course creates significant problems for a club in terms of stability.  The club built its game around Patrick Bamford for instance in the first half of the season but Chelsea’s (understandable) decision to move him up a level means Robinson now has to start again. 

My view is that Robinson has proved himself at this level. He has proved he can deliver results in a cash strapped environment whilst playing the style of football that would not look out of place at a much higher level. He has also proven he has an eye for players and clearly has some great managerial relationships with other clubs. He is perhaps found wanting when teams adapt to his sides passing styles (although having watched Forest get completely shut out by Preston at the weekend he is not alone.) He is young though and has many years of learning ahead of him. How many of us, so early in our careers had had so much interest in us?

The MK Dons have a strategy for ridding itself of debt and of meeting its contractual ‘planning’ commitments by 2015. At that point, the club can start to keep and attract players, invest in a longer term squad and move forward. With that in mind, although promotion would be nice, it is probably not the clubs main aim at the moment. In fact, realistically whilst it would provide a short term injection of cash, it is likely that the club would come straight back down as it cannot compete financially at that level. The aim therefore is more likely to ensure that their league one position is consolidated until 2015 and that where possible they start to create the sort of stability amongst players and staff that creates long term success. Key to this is the retention of Karl Robinson and his managerial support team.

But…Robinson should accept his next realistic offer. That could easily be from Blackpool – the team where he already has a man on the inside in the form of Gary Mackenzie, and a team which, having been managed by Paul Ince would in theory be similar in styling to the team he inherited from Ince in 2010. If not there, then there will be plenty of others.

The decision to go will be his. As outlined above, the club would be mad to push him out. From his point of view he has proved himself at this level. He has proved he can operate in this type of environment. He has proved his loyalty to the club in staying with them over the past few seasons when he has had other offers.  In a new environment he can move forward to the next level now. To stay at MK Dons would mean waiting for two years to do that. How many of us in our own careers would pass up the chance of progressing to the next level now in favour of waiting for two years. I’m guessing only those of us that are not especially ambitious. And Robinson is. It’s in his make up. That’s why he will succeed. 

Kicking Out At Referees

So once again the topic of conversation is not the football match (and thanks goodness for that because there wasn’t a lot to discuss) but is an off the ball, off the pitch incident. Firstly, before anyone gets the wrong end of the stick, Hazard was wrong to kick out and should have been sent off.

The point I want to make is more about perception and reality. I have struggled for a while with how two people can watch an incident on a football field and see it so very differently. To my eye (as a neutral) the ballboy, after tweeting be

The Separation Between Perception
 and Reality Means the Referees
 Role Is Almost Impossible

(Image © Scott Ableman

fore the match that he felt it his duty to waste time, lay on the ball to prevent the Chelsea player from getting it. Indeed the same ball boy had previously hugged the ball to his chest at the start of the half and had a similar tussle with a Chelsea player. Hazard then tried to pull the ball off him and frustratedly (and stupidly) kicked at the ball possibly making contact with the ball boy.

Radio five this morning interviewed a Swansea fan who had by her own admission an excellent view of the incident. She told how the poor lad chased after the ball, slipped and landed on top of it whereupon Mr. Hazard proceeded to give him a bit of a kicking.

Clearly two very different views of the incident. I have no evidence but I would think that had the incident been the other way around (with a Swansea player rather than a Chelsea player) she would have seen it very differently.

What  hope does a referee have? A fairly cut and dried incident is seen by a subjective supporter completely differently than by the neutral. I see this at the Dons too. The amount of times I’ve been in a conversation where someone says “Did you see what happened to Lewington?”,with a horrified expression. Generally, this completely misses the fact that our captain has a habit of leaving his foot in or kicking out after a challenge thereby encouraging the reactions that he so often gets. My point is that fans see what they want to see. Which means that referees are seen as having a bad game when they don’t…week in and week out. This happens at all levels. I referee under 10s football. I referee to the best of my ability. If I lean any way at all it would be to favour the opposition rather than my sons team. However, the comments and shouts from parents clearly don’t assume that. Football at all levels works because of referees. Spectators at all levels need to back away a little from the blinding allegiance to their side (even at u10 level) and start looking at incidents with a more objective eye…

Probably slightly more chance of the ball boy making a miraculous recovery…
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The Topsy Turvy Football League

It’s early (very early) in the season but the initial shape of the  football leagues already presents an interesting picture. In a hierarchical league, one would expect that with few exceptions that the teams gaining promotion the previous year would be at best in the bottom half of the division once promoted. Indeed in a truly hierarchical scenario, ignoring purchase of talent in the close season, they should be close to the bottom three. 

After just three games it’s interesting to see the opposite happening. In the championship, Southampton and Brighton are unbeaten after three games, In league Two Crawley & AFC Wimbledon have made excellent and good starts respectively and to a slightly lesser extent, Wycombe and Stevenage have made big impacts in League One. At the end of last season, Norwich of course gained successive promotions to reach the most competitive league in the world.

So, does this represent a flattening of the leagues or are other factors in play? If this is indeed down to a flattening of the leagues then it would be against  a background where cash is becoming more unevenly spread across the leagues – an environment which should create the opposite effect.  It could be though that on promotion, a team is more likely to come out with more passion, belief and the desire to prove oneself than teams who have remained in the league. Think back to Blackpool last year and Hull the previous year who started the Premiership season with real strength before dropping back to their more realistic levels.

Anyway, far too early to make a call but worth a thought and could be worth monitoring through the season

Season Tickets – Value for Money?

The study published yesterday into the price of watching football (and associated ‘Pie’ Charts) got me thinking about whether a season ticket is actually good value at the Dons. I’ve thought about it a few times over the past season as friends were able to snap up cheap tickets for lower category games. I think there are two main reasons for buying a season ticket: To ensure your seat for all games and to reduce costs.
MKDons is one of the few clubs I’ve supported where there is a real option as to whether to buy a season ticket. (For my definition of supported see ‘I’m not a real football fan’) We have a fantastic ground built to accommodate the increasing support as we move up the leagues. That means though that at present there is plenty of space. In most grounds, even if not full, there is restricted space around the best areas of the ground – the ones where you want to buy your season ticket. At Stadium MK, there is loads of space and therefore one of the main reasons for buying a season ticket disappears. You can be sure of getting a ticket in your preferred area of the ground for pretty much any game. 
With regard to the second point, I was interested to see what the financial benefit was of purchasing up front. I will assume a model with all home games included (as it’s my own fault if I miss games due to holiday etc. My season ticket cost me (admittedly I bought it late!) £668 which breaks down as £440 for me and £228 for an under 18 in East Premium. I’ve taken Grade A & B prices at non member prices. 
Over the first nine games (as these are the only fixtures with pricing categories are assigned), the saving is already £87.  Pro Rata that for a season and you get a saving of £223 over the year by having a season ticket.
Now wouldn’t that have been a great stat for the club to put out to secure that last push for the 5000 season tickets? If they had wanted to of course…

What Price an Away Shirt?

As MK Dons confirm that their season ticket promotion topped out at around 4800, it strikes me as a great result for the club but a poor one for their customers. For those not close to the Dons, the club announced with a great fanfare that if they sold 5000 season tickets before 5pm on 1st August, they would reward each purchaser with a free away shirt. 

Now, I’m sure that the figure of 5000 was always an ambitious one – it makes sense with a promotion like this to set a stretching target. What seemed odd to me was the lack of information coming out of the club as the figure got closer and closer. As was well documented on Twitter over the past couple of weeks, it has become very difficult to get firm numbers out of the club. If MKDons were keen to hit the promotional target one would expect regular updates over the past couple of weeks to encourage a late push for tickets. Yet is was down to a small group of fans in the Twitter community to try and create that last push.
Once the club reached the 4750 / 4800 figure (which one would imagine would be their internal target) the promotion aim seems to have changed. It was massively in their interests not to hit the 5000 ticket figure at which point they have an exposure of 5000 shirts which even at cost price probably equated to about £100k. (roughly 50% of RRP). Indeed the announcement that came out yesterday that season ticket holders would be eligible to buy an away shirt at half price plays even more into their court. Like most half price marketing promotions, this will encourage the increased sale of away shirts (which they probably wouldn’t have previously sold). Even at half price, the club are likely to be making a small profit from each sale or are at least increasing footfall into the club shop. 
Of course there is the view that good news financially for the club is good news for the supporters. Increased season ticket sales & £100k saved on free shirts might be £100k to spend on the salary of a loaned player. Extra away shirt revenue from the half price promotion together with increased sponsor exposure from additional away short sales also boosts the coffers. I can’t help thinking though that this has been acheived at the expense of the supporters through a promotion which had very little chance of ever delivering. 
Maybe I’m just being cynical. It would be interesting to know what the season ticket total was last season to understand how high the bar was originally set and to understand why it was so difficult to get any information from the club as the target got ever closer. 

Sharing The Love of The Game

Have we forgotten the Love of the Game?
(Image © Richard Matthews Richard_Of_England)

I was recently lucky enough to take in a Chicago Cubs baseball game whilst on business in the US. The game was against their ‘local’ rivals St Louis Cardinals who hail from just down the road (by American standards anyway!). My evening started with an hour train ride into central Chicago which was an experience in itself. The carriage which rapidly filled up as we journeyed through the suburbs contained both Cardinals and Cubs fans and it was like being in a cosy village pub. Everyone chatting to each other (even the solo Englishman in the corner), passing around beer and some pretty knowledgeable light hearted banter between the two sets of fans. In the stadium I sat between a group of Cardinals fans and Cubs fans and the banter and chat continued. By the end of the night, fans were exchanging details and buying each other beer. The result – a uncharacteristic drubbing of the Cardinals – was passionately celebrated but didn’t get in the way of a great evening of social interaction. Don’t get me wrong, these were not part time fans. They loved their clubs, the support had  in some cases been passed down from generation to generation as it is in football. Often, they were more knowledgeable in the history, stats, strengths and weaknesses of their players than the average football fan is here. Yes, they definitely love their team. What also struck me though was that they loved Baseball.

It put me in mind of a conversation I had at work last season with  a Chelsea season ticket holder. This is an intelligent man, a man significantly higher up the food chain than the average mortal. He was talking about his disbelief that an opposition fan was sitting next to him during a game. He was angry, no furious even, that this had been allowed to happen.  It had all started, he said, when the guy next to him had the cheek to stand and applaud his team as they were announced. You can imagine how that made him feel he said. It got worse. On the first attack of the game, he shouted the strikers name and issued the standard oooooohhh as the ball was blazed wide. Luckily, said my subject, at that point someone behind him told the alien fan to “shut the f*** up!” and he retook his seat. Unfortunately, when the opposition scored, the fan was unable to contain his excitement and leaped in the air. A stand up confrontation, started (with full admission) by my work colleague led to a steward being summonsed and the fan was ejected. “It was a good job ‘cos I was ready to hit him. Could I believe that this has happened?” I was asked.

I’m afraid I cannot get my head around this sort of manic tribalism. I understand the passion of the football fan. I understand that the majority pick (or are handed down) the support of one club and embrace that for life. What I don’t understand is how two grown adults, intelligent grown adults, cannot sit next to each other and accept that the passion they hold for their team might not be the same as their neighbor. I find it incredible that two people who in theory should have the passionate support of football in common cannot get past the sole focus on their own club. 

I generally sit in the area of the ground where the contents of my sandwich are inspected rather than my ticket and the fans are slightly more mixed. I admit to a thrill when I see opposition supporters sitting around me. It generally means an afternoon of banter, of background and assessment of both teams with the rivalry between the two teams thrown in for good measure.

The occasional event to a certain extent restores my faith in human nature. I noted that in both the Forest and MK Dons playoff finals that, with very few exceptions, the invading and celebrating fans of the opposition teams consoled the defeated players rather than taunted them. The community on Twitter that on the whole  engages in lighthearted and well informed banter makes me see light at the end of the tunnel. It makes me think back to Chicago and reminds me that we do share a love. Not of individual teams but of football itself. 

I’m Not A Real Football Fan

Every time I sit down to watch an MK Dons game, Twitter on my iPhone and Bovril on the wall in front of me, I am confronted on said Twitter by a repeated question. This often takes the form of “Franchise Wa***rs, not real football fans, wonder who they supported before?”

Now I know I should turn the other cheek. It’s easy sport for op

Loyalty to Football Or The Club
(Image © 
Mariusz Cieszewski: PolandMFA)

position fans. I’m not sure I wholy agree with the Wimbledon / Dons transition either (although it’s certainly not as black and white as many make it). It’s not the franchise bit that gets me. It’s the inference that because the ‘accuser’ has only ever supported one club, has followed them home and away, sleet and snow, promotion and relegation etc they are real football fans whilst the rest of us aren’t.

My guess is that MK Dons draw from a diverse range of  football fans. I know many dads who have given up lifelong season tickets at Arsenal, Chelski and Spurs because of two reasons. Firstly, The MK Dons invest a lot into local schools, the kids see them and ultimately drag dad (and mum) along. Before long, the season ticket has gone and the Dons have become the norm. Secondly, the reality of life kicks in. Following your team home and away was great whilst single, childless and without  job comitments. However, time moves on and the difference between leaving at 2:30 and back at 5:30 for a game locally to a full saturday out becomes marked. Suddenly family life is part of the individuals time equation.  I guarantee in the mind of the ‘ Twitter Accusers’ that this in itself means you are not a ‘real football fan’.

Then there’s the other category (which I fall into). And I fully admit, many of my mates just don’t get this! I have always supported my local club. I’ve had season tickets at York City, Hull City, Nottingham Forest, Swindon Town, Rushden & Diamonds and MK Dons. Many of those I have followed passionately – home and away, through relegation and promotion, sleet and snow etc. Guessing though that again, because I have not followed one club from cradle to grave I am not a ‘real football fan’.

In addition to that, particularly in my younger days, I would watch several teams in one week. So I might do York City on a Saturday, Leeds on a Monday, Scarborough Tuesday and Harrogate Town on a Wednesday. In short I couldn’t get enough of live football at whatever level. I’ve watched football on holiday, created holidays so I can watch football even.  Many of those games I would be impartial but others I would take sides. Again, the ‘Twitter Accuser’ indicates that this short term loyalty it means I’m not a ‘real football fan’.

In summary, I’ve probably seen more sides, more grounds and watched football at more grounds than many of the fans that fervantly follow one club. My lack of loyalty means I can often comment more objectively on a football match that I watch.

But hey what do I know? Right now, and because of my family growing up with them, probably forever, I am an MK Dons fan and therefore I know nothing: I am not a ‘real football fan’.