Clubs In Crisis
Nobody wins unless everybody wins... 13 April 2009 - 16:37

"Road Swing" - Travels through Sporting America, By Steve Rushin

Cover of Road Swing

So what is an American travel book by an American sports journalist doing on the "Clubs in Crisis" web-site? Well, the author is one of us - a fan. In his "travels through sporting America", he is scathing about self-serving, money-driven American owners that move their clubs, without concern for the feeling of us fans.

But he is also made aware of the problems on this side of the pond, as he arrives in Denver, Colorado:

"On this beautiful spring day, the Broncos managed to dominate the news. Owner Pat Bowlen wanted a new football stadium, and he wanted taxpayers to bear most of its $220 million cost, lest he be forced to move the team - all of which struck one state representative as an act of "extortion". Nevertheless, the proposal was narrowly approved by the Colorado House of Representatives just yesterday.

Or so I read in the Rocky Mountain News, standing with several other cheap people in Denver's renowned Tattered Cover bookstore, reading periodicals without paying for them. I put down the News and browsed a copy of The Independent on Sunday, a London newspaper published only forty-eight hours earlier. Above the fold on the front page of that paper was a story on an altogether different way of treating arrogant football team owners.

"Supporters of Brighton & Hove Albion Football Club invaded their own pitch yesterday, wrecked both goals, hurled wooden stakes into the crowd, tried to storm the players' tunnel, and forced the abandonment of the Second Division match with York City.

The fans were protesting at the decision by the clubs' directors to sell the Goldstone Ground, their home for 94 years . . . and share the Fratton Park ground of Portsmouth FC, 40 miles away. Goldstone is being sold to pay off debts of 6 million.

Police had expected trouble. After the club's previous game against Carlisle, 600 fans invaded the pitch, calling for the resignation of David Bellotti, the chief executive. Early yesterday, supporters broke into the ground and painted "Sack the Board" across the pitch and directors' seats.

Mr. Bellotti and his fellow directors were told by police it was in their best interests to stay away from the game, and before play started the 12,000-strong crowd heard an announcement that no directors were present . . ."

Now, I don't mean to suggest for a moment that American fans invade their stadiums and menace team owners with wooden stakes - unless that owner is George Steinbrenner [former owner of New York Yankees]. I'm only saying that, in England, teams seldom move. They do not, near as I can tell, blithely demand 100 million of public money after milking a region for years.

I presume that English owners are parasitic bloodsuckers, just as they are in the States. At least that would explain the wooden stakes".

Personally, I have vivid images in my mind of that day, which I'll never forget. I wasn't even at the game - I'm an "exile" now, and came home from shopping to find The Goldstone on the national TV news! Well, the Albion's crisis reignited a life-long passion for me, helped by the Internet. It is possible for fans, anywhere in the world, to group together and become a powerful force to help save their club. Clive M.

At the same time as Brighton fans were fighting to save the club (but still losing our beloved Goldstone), American Football club Cleveland Browns were being moved from Cleveland to Baltimore by owner Art Modell, who blamed the city for not putting enough money into the club (sound familiar?). It was an act of spite, and Modell is "unlikely to appear in Cleveland again, except as an effigy". Ironically, the immediate result was that the businesses community removed all their advertising from Cleveland Stadium.

Of course, the deepest impact was on the fans. Rushin interviews many of them, and notes that they all "grieved more for family than for football". Imagine it was your club, and these people are your friends and family:

"This isn't just football that's being taken away. It's a part of people's lives".

"To know that when I have my own kids, I can't bring them to Browns games, that hurts me".

"It's sad that we can't come to games as a family anymore".

"They're a part of the history of our family".

"I have a four-year-old who I wanted to raise as a Browns fan, like I was. And this sucker Modell has snatched that away from me. When you have grown men crying about a football team, you can't say it's only about sports. It goes way deeper than that . . . It's who we are. Football is in our blood. The Cleveland Browns are in our blood".

"As I view it, Art Modell has murdered my memories. He's murdered a friend. I'm going to the final Browns' game, even though my money goes straight into Modell's pocket. But I'm not going for him. I'm going for my father, who raised me on the Cleveland Browns. I'm going to see a friend. And to pay my last respects".

The final word goes to Lou "The Toe" Groza, a player in the first ever Cleveland Brown team, and a season ticket holder for three decades:

"It's like a fire has burned out, and all you're left with is ashes"

"Road Swing", by Steve Rushin.
ISBN 1 85410 690 2
Published by Aurum Press Ltd, 25 Bedford Avenue, London, WC1B 3AT

Many thanks to Aurum Press for permission to print the above extracts. This book is thoroughly recommended!