Superbia in Proelio? The Dilemma of Supporting City in the Thaksin Era

Suppose then one accepts the general argument offered in the previous post, that one can support a football team whose owner is likely to have done bad things, without thinking one’s self complicit in moral wrongdoing.

There remains one further question: would one want to support a team with an owner one views in such a negative light?

After all, the formula described above—support the club, distrust the owner, and be willing to accept justice if someday that owner is convicted in a court of law—is a recipe for continual cognitive dissonance. That’s especially true in City’s case, as the early evidence is that Thaksin will be seeking to associate himself with the club in quite a visible way, and it’s undeniably the case that the better City do, the more credit he will get. And while perhaps this cognitive dissonance will have the effect of producing a greater good, if it keeps Thaksin focused on football and away from the reins of leadership in Thailand, it’s not certain that that will be the case. City might in the end be played as dupes, used as simply a glittering, politically efficacious tool in Thaksin’s sprawling business empire.

Supporting City under those circumstances might give one more headaches than pleasure. Sports fans associate their teams with the purest of loves, the full blossom of innocent childhood attachment re-enacted every Saturday at 3 p.m. But if one’s club has sold itself to an alleged human rights abuser, at the end of the day for some filthy lucre, then that love may come into question. Continuing to support the team may feel more like stitching back together a romance with a partner who has cheated on you rather than the blissful flush of new love. And if that blissful flush isn’t there, what’s the point?

There is no way to provide an objective answer to this set of questions; all one can do is pose them. Ultimately, individuals must decide for themselves. Some City fans who feel negatively about Thaksin have foresworn support for City altogether. Others have said they will continue to support the team and coaches, but won’t give any of their money to the owner and hence have canceled season tickets. Others may carry on as before, but with a more cynical attitude towards the club as an institution and football in general, supporting the team but quietly hoping the owner one day gets his come-uppance.

And still others are playing a wait-and-see game—continuing with the same habits of fandom, and waiting to gauge what’s own gut reactions will be to seeing the new City play.

In the end it would be naïve in the extreme to deny that if City do well on the field, more of the fence-sitters and ambivalent will come back into the fold. That’s the way human nature works.

In my case, what’s unsettling in trying to think through this question is that on the football side of things, I could not be more pleased with the changes since last season. Sven Goran Eriksson commands a lot of respect in my book and brings a high degree of professional clout as well as a renewed passion to proceedings. The team he’s assembled looks very promising, with the new players themselves reasonable blokes that one can enjoy cheering for. Joey Barton has gone. There’s a sense of hopefulness; after a couple of years in the doldrums, the dream of winning a trophy is back on.

And yet, the thought lingers: are the premises for this all wrong? Can one really feel pride in a football club owned by someone on Amnesty International’s hit list? I may admire Sven’s accomplishment and the team he builds as a footballing achievement, and may be emotionally drawn to them by their blue uniforms, but can I actually be proud of them? For fans of a club whose motto is “pride in battle,” it’s an important question, and one all City fans concerned about the charges against Thaksin will have to work out for themselves.

Personally, I think and hope I can feel pride in Sven’s work and the players and team he’s assembled. That the money itself will be called tainted does not bother me; Thaksin may have used his political positions unethically to bolster the family fortune, but I’m enough of a Marxian to believe that the effort to precisely separate out “clean” from “tainted” capitalist profit is in the end a fruitless one.

In the end it’s all social surplus, created by workers somewhere, that this particular capitalist has been given the legal right to control. It doesn’t bother me than that the money itself came from Thaksin as opposed to some other wealthy, politically connected capitalist who might have bought the team instead; in the end, I don’t see that much difference between the two cases. If he is legally guilty of corruption, than justice should be served, but the doctrine of rejecting all “tainted” money is not one capitalist enterprises can be reasonably expected to live by within a capitalist system. (This is not to praise or endorse capitalism; just to state the facts.)

The more pertinent objection is not Thaksin’s money but Thaksin himself, the acts he is alleged to have been a willing party to as a prime minister rather than the fortune he accumulated. Now, as we have argued before, there is a good case to be made that it actually will be a good thing for Thailand and the future of democracy there if Thaksin spends his time playing with his football club toy rather than angling for a return to political power (if we take him at his word on that one).

What is most galling is not so much in the end, then, that City accepted Thaksin’s investment; it’s that there is no evidence club officials even thought twice about the human rights charges raised by credible organizations against Thaksin, no evidence that its officials employed any higher standard that than of what would be best for City in the financial sense.

The only consolation is that in all likelihood, none of the other 19 Premiership clubs would have behaved any differently in City’s shoes. The top tier of English football long ago put the god of mammon ahead of any rigorous standard of moral integrity. If one systematically catalogued the various misdeeds of the league’s sponsoring companies—you can check out what Human Rights Watch has to say about working conditions in the United Arab Emirates, whose national airline was allowed by the league to advertise on referees’ jerseys–you’d probably have a pretty lengthy list.

Even so, the failure of City to employ any higher standard than the financial bottom line is disappointing, and a blow to those of us who identified the club with the never-say-die underdog, those of us more interested in beating the soulless behemoths of English football than joining them, those of us who indulged the perhaps quaint belief that City stood for something a bit more purer than the rest of the modern game.

 

Some fans, it appears, are still able to City in that fond light, but for me at least and I suspect numerous others, it’s more of a struggle. I’ll continue to support the team, especially so long as the academy youngsters are playing such a prominent role, and continue to cheer the goals, continue to admire the effort of the players and passion of the loyal supporters.

But I’ll be forced to do so shorn of the illusion that in cheering for City I’m supporting something more noble and a meaningful than a professional football club that happens to wear beautiful sky blue shirts—“without a dream in my heart,” you might say.

To be sure, I may not feel like the club has left “me standing alone” all the time, and there will be times and moments, perhaps, when I’ll be able to put Thaksin and the controversy out of mind just long enough to enjoy the football.

For now, though, there is disappointment and disillusion, and a feeling of loss that I can’t embrace my identity as a Manchester City supporter quite so enthusiastically, quite so pridefully, quite so innocently as before.

Blue moon, indeed.

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One Comment on “Superbia in Proelio? The Dilemma of Supporting City in the Thaksin Era”

  1. a thai Says:

    thanks for setting up this blog! When Thaksin was the prime minister of Thailand, he considered the war on drugs a “success” and praised the police for getting rid of the alleged drug dealers outside the judicial system. Approximately 2,500 (or 3,000 by some estimates) people died without the opportunity to prove their innocence. Some even said that the police planted drugs into the pockets of the victims after the police shot them. This is because Thaksin set the goal of “the more killed, the greater score the police will get.”

    I find it hard to believe that the majority of City fans have turned a blind eye on this fact.


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