I was really surprised to learn of Vladimir Šmicer’s comments regarding fan protests at Sparta, and especially his assertion that such protests don’t happen in England. As I will show, this assertion is completely wrong.
It is 12 years since Šmicer left England. In that time, the money in English football has grown to an almost ridiculous level, and clubs have been bought by owners or companies who have not always had the best intentions. Šmicer focuses on Sparta fans protesting about the coach, but he surely knows that the fans are more discontent with the ownership of Daniel Kretinsky. Here for the benefit of Mr Šmicer is a quick tour around the many clubs whose stadia he has played at, where fans have recently been protesting against owners.
Where better to start than at Šmicer’s old club, Liverpool. Here they are in February last year, protesting about ticket prices. They walk out of the stadium on 77 minutes.
In exactly the same month, fans of once mighty Leeds United, owned by a clearly mad Italian with a criminal record, Massimo Cellino, used a projector to beam their protest messages onto the side of the stadium
Of course Manchester United have been protesting for much longer about the ownership of the Glazier family. Some have gone so far as to set up a new club, FC United of Manchester, which now has its own stadium and often attracts around 5,000 fans (about the same as Slavia on a bad day..)
Blackburn Rovers, once champions, are now in the 3rd division under the ownership of the Venky family of India. They have made their money in chicken farming, so fans recruited a live chicken to help their protests.
There have been protests against the owners of Newcastle, Aston Villa, Hull City, Cardiff, and Coventry in the years since Šmicer last played in England. I would like to think that among the most creative protests are those at my club, Charlton Athletic. Šmicer played against Charlton in the Premier League, but under the bizarre ownership of Belgian businessman Roland Duchatelet we are now, like Blackburn, in the 3rd division
Šmicer describes the protesting fans as ‘radicals’. It is certainly true that protests usually come from those parts of the stadia where the noisiest fans congregate, but he is quite wrong if he thinks that most fans disapprove of the protests at English clubs. I doubt he knows what the non -radical Sparta fans think of the current ownership regime either. He speaks of the ‘respect’ shown by fans in England, which he says is missing here in the Czech Republic. He seems to suggest that fans should respect club owners. Well, Mr Šmicer, in England, respect has to be earned. The problem in the cases I have shown above is that club owners have dis-respected fans. Even in the often empty stadia of the Czech league it remains true that without the fans, football is irrelevant. Mr Šmicer will remember the wonderful English coach, Sir Bobby Robson. But he may have forgotten one of Sir Bobby’s most famous quotes:
“What is a club in any case? Not the buildings or the directors or the people who are paid to represent it. It’s not the television contracts, get-out clauses, marketing departments or executive boxes. It’s the noise, the passion, the feeling of belonging, the pride in your city. It’s a small boy clambering up stadium steps for the very first time, gripping his father’s hand, gawping at that hallowed stretch of turf beneath him and, without being able to do a thing about it, falling in love.”