On the day after the night before for Bradford City, a comment was made in a live television interview that tried to sum up the achievements of the Yorkshire club. Their story, it was said, was returning some of the soul into football. This was in reference to the “modern” game with high costs for fans, large player wages and an overall sense of business before sport.
It is an interesting idea. One cannot argue that the story of Bradford over the last decade or so has meant that their achievements in this season’s Capital One Cup is certainly one that flies in the face of the Manchester City take-over sort of story and is a welcome change of pace in the British football narrative.
The line-up for this season’s Capital One Cup final emphasises that football is not just about rich foreign investors pouring money into clubs. Swansea City is part-owned by their supporters and both they and Bradford have, in the not so distant past, teetered on the brink of extinction. For both to now be playing it out in a major cup final is reassuring to many fans that money alone has not completely taken over the game.
It is this sort of thing that is meant when discussing the soul of football: the romance; the unpredictability; the competition; and importantly the attachment to the supporters who pay out weekly to watch their team.
Last campaign this competition also saw two Championship clubs battle it out in the semi-final with Cardiff prevailing over Crystal Palace and then pushing Liverpool all the way to penalties in the final. The FA Cup this year has also seen upsets, such as Conference side Luton Town defeating Premier League Norwich City and MK Dons knocking out big spenders QPR.
Away from the pitch, supporters groups have become more vociferous in their angst at the way football is run, leading to campaigns such as ‘Safe Standing’ and ‘Score Campaign: Twenty is Plenty’.
In a climate where much is said about the money and business element of football and its negative impact on the sport, these sorts of examples would seemingly justify the idea that some of the soul is returning to football.
Whilst there are a lot of positives to take from all of this it could also be argued that there is no need to get carried away. After all, cup competitions have upsets and giant-killings every year but that has not stopped those at the top of the game continuing to operate on significant losses which still do not hinder their transfer ability to buy the best and therefore remain at the top. And supporter campaigns in their infancy have faltered in the past.
Whether the soul of football is returning is as debatable as trying to pinpoint when this supposed soul left. Being in the present makes it extremely difficult to confirm, it is not something that will truly be able to be judged for at least a few years. Arguably, all of this is just an entertaining sideshow of the regular business. But if things like these recent events can continue with success, then when the administrative bodies such as UEFA, the FA and the Premier League catch up with their Financial Fair Play rules, maybe things can permanently change.
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