18 Mar 2014 | Football

The Foundations of Football Identity lie Deeper than Those Of The Stadia

The current name change argument at Hull City is more than just a name. But why such a big deal?

Fewer than four years ago Assem Allam a Hull resident and Higher Education educated business tycoon bought the controlling stake in Hull City football club. Since providing stability and much money, he has decided to re-brand the club as Hull City Tigers locally and Hull Tigers nationally and internationally. From a business point of view he is so confident that he knows what he is doing, that he has declared that if he does not get his way, he will walk away from the organisation that in all probability will flounder.

This week, the Football Association’s membership committee has decided to recommend that the club must stick with its original ID. At this stage it looks like the fans are one-nil ahead. Or are they?

Hull City fans who will vote on the future of their club’s name really do have to consider whether the old identity is worth hanging onto if the club loses its principal funder.

In 2012, Cardiff City went through a similar change when their owners decided to change their home strip from Bluebird blue to Red. Much anger was vented and although the team achieved promotion, there are probably many fans who still lament the change in hue.

I also find it interesting that fans invest so much in ‘their’ clubs when even before these examples hit the headlines it has been obvious for years that very few club owners or players feel anything other than an economic based rapport with the fans.

But if this is the case why do fans still have this visceral need to protect (what they see as) their identity?  They cling onto club names and club colours with a fierce grip. Interestingly however, there has been fewer emotional outpourings when it comes to moving to newer, (and better and bigger) stadiums. Some Arsenal fans still lament moving from Highbury to Ashburton Grove (I suspect because they still haven’t brought a trophy home there), but overall the supporters of Southampton, Juventus and Swansea have felt the benefits in moving location.

My conclusion is that the identity is so personal that it comes down to portability. Thousands of years of trans-global Migrations and Diasporas have seen people change location, but as they have been able to take with them other less tangible concepts such as faith, mores and beliefs they willingly do so.