Talk about knowing how to start rumours. On the morning of April 9, West Ham co-owner David Gold tweeted his views on the Hull renaming issue: ‘If the fans and owner of Hull wish to change there name, on what basis does the FA refuse? After all the club belongs to the fans not the FA.’
Given that vice-chairman Karren Brady had previously said that she ‘loved the idea of calling the club West Ham Olympic’ after the Olympic Stadium move – a suggestion promptly shot down by the powers that be – Gold’s comment provoked a flurry of replies. Although he did not expand on his tweet with further discussion, the strength of opinion generated showed the importance of a club’s identity in the eyes of many fans.
With many teams a century or more old, their modern-day incarnations have left most of their roots long behind, so badges, names and colours are among the few remaining significant connections with the past, hence being such touchy subjects.
The way Vincent Tan decided that Cardiff’s blue and white kit, worn since 1910, was merely an accessory which could be changed for the Malaysian (I hate using this word in a football context) market showed he might as well be from Mars as from Malaysia, for all his understanding of fan culture and thinking. The fact Bluebirds (for that is what they are) fans display their blue and white scarves as a gesture of dissatisfaction sums up perfectly how wrong he has got it. The case of Assem Allam in Hull is slightly different, but has descended into similar acrimony.
Taking over and supporting his adopted home town’s club was the latest in a series of frequent philanthropic gestures, but the way he has tried to railroad through the name change by threatening to withdraw his support has caused huge ill-feeling, overshadowing the team’s build-up to their first FA Cup final appearance. Badges, colours and emblems are not just bits of decoration like wallpaper, to be altered whenever people get the urge.
They matter, they are key to a club’s, and a fan’s, identity. Imagine that the Icelanders who owned West Ham prior to Gold and David Sullivan had, in their brief tenure, changed the name to West Ham Vikings, or altered the colours to those of the Icelandic national team. You can bet that their first acts would have been to restore the club’s proper name and colours, as a sign that true fans were at the helm once again.
Many things change over the course of our lives – jobs, houses, relationships – but one thing that remains permanent in the life of a football fan is their choice of team. Even if you’re backing a loser, you don’t walk away. Logic defying? Yes – but since when has the head had anything to do with something that is as much from the heart as football? That’s why the trappings of a club’s identity matter so much. Meddle with them at your peril.