Friday, July 27, 2007

What's In A Name?

What price would you put on the name of your club? I ask the question now because a bright spark at newly-promoted Conference club Farsley Celtic has decided that now is just the right time to consider changing the name of the 99 year-old Yorkshire club to "FC Leeds" or "Leeds Celtic". "If we need to change our name to take us up another level from a crowd support point of view then that's what we need to do", said their chairman Andy Firbank. Presumably when he gets home tonight, he'll be suggesting to his wife that she changes her name to Marilyn Monroe because it will make her more attractive.

Of course, it could be that Mr Firbank has been considering this, and the fact that it has only become public at a time when Leeds United are teetering on the brink of closure. The alternative, however, is that Mr Firbank has got pupils the shape if dollar signs and thinks that he changes the name of his club, who are spending the coming season at the highest level that they have ever competed at, and, presumably, dresses them in white, he'll pick up a couple of hundred of disgruntled former Elland Road regulars. It is the sort of viewpoint that you could only imagine coming from the chairman of a football club: "I've had a brilliant" idea. Let's change the name of our club, alienate the people that have stood by us for the last century or so, and all on the basis that we'll pick up a couple of hundred supporters from another club, who'll spend every Saturday afternoon with with their ears glued to the radio listening out for Leeds' score".

The club itself, strangely, don't appear to have a website at the moment (at least no one that Google can find), so it's difficult to find out any more on their official stance over the matter but, on an unofficial message board that I found, the club's supporters were none too happy at the idea of it. "Farsley Celtic has a proud history going back nigh on a century - a great little club who have successfully worked their way up the pyramid. A Leeds name makes it sounds a little... franchisey!", writes one fan, and he's quite correct. As I said on here, non-league clubs are considerably more adaptable than their bigger brothers in the Football League, and they're not averse to mergers, ground-shares and name changes if necessity requires it, but this is obviously not a club in crisis. The announcement may or may not have been made with the best interests of the supporters at heart, but there can be no argument that the motives are purely financially motivated and, considering the plight that Leeds United currently find themselves in, in somewhat bad taste.

I'm also irked my consideration being given to "FC Leeds". The first club to move the suffix of their name to the front of it were Bournemouth, who, in 1971, changed their name from Bournemouth & Boscombe Athletic to AFC Bournemouth. According to legend, this was an attempt to give them the honour of being the first club alphabetically in the Football League (which has been conspicuously ignored by everyone ever since). In more recent times, the first club that I can think of to adopt the prefix "AFC" were AFC Sudbury in 1999, who came about as the result of Sudbury Town and Sudbury Wanderers. Since then, however, the prefix has become somewhat synonymous with the growing movement of supporters trust run clubs. AFC Wimbledon, FC United of Manchester and AFC Telford United have all followed the same path, along with other "re-born" clubs such as AFC Hornchurch. I'm less than comfortable that this prefix, which is rapidly entering the general lexicon as a byword for supporter empowerment is considering being adopted by a club which, so far as I'm aware, has no links with this movement.

So, if Ken Bates decided that your club was next on his list, pitched up there, sacked all the players, played out the rest of the season with himself as a lone striker and then announced that he was closing it down and built a palace for himself on the site, what would you call your new club? I think I'd go for Verulamium Ironopolis for St Albans, myself. Solid and sturdy, like an Isambard Kingdom Brunel bridge, whilst invoking the city's Roman heritage. I'm sure that you lot can do better with your own teams. Try not to make them too revolting, though.

It would appear that Farsley Celtic have, at least, decided to consult their supporters before any decision is made. Whether this will make any difference or not may be more down to the reaction of Leeds fans to this announcement than them. If there's one thing I've learnt in thirty years of watching football is that you can never underestimate the contempt with that the people running the game feel towards the people that, ultimately, pay to keep it all running. I shall, for now, give Andy Firbank the benefit of the doubt, and put his little outburst down to a rush of blood to the head. We're keeping an eye on you now, though, Andy.


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