An Argentina Independiente soccer fan gets is showing his support for his team. Photo: Jorge Saenz/AP Photo
An Argentina Independiente soccer fan gets is showing his support for his team. Photo: Jorge Saenz/AP Photo
Kevin de Bruyne and his Manchester City team mates won the Premier League title after the blip against Manchester United. Photo: Carl Recine/Reuters
Kevin de Bruyne and his Manchester City team mates won the Premier League title after the blip against Manchester United. Photo: Carl Recine/Reuters
Manchester City's Gabriel Jesus scores during the English Premier League soccer match against Tottenham Hotspur. Photo: Frank Augstein/AP Photo
Manchester City's Gabriel Jesus scores during the English Premier League soccer match against Tottenham Hotspur. Photo: Frank Augstein/AP Photo
It’s common in rugby to have a superior attitude to other sports, probably because there is so much to recommend about it.

I’m guilty of this. But us rugby tragics would be foolish to ignore the merits of other sports like soccer. For all of its faults, soccer gets much right.

Manchester City, who won their third English Premiership title in six years last Sunday, demonstrated themes in their rise to excellence that are relevant to any team sport.

They possess a sassy, street-wise coach in Pep Guardiola. They have keen spatial awareness. They spend smartly, and have a prolific talent pipeline. They plan carefully and execute with precision, banking on superstars like Kevin De Bruyne and Fernandinho who play for the team rather than themselves.

It’s solid, stock-standard stuff, but so many teams and clubs can’t match up, especially as all the moving parts must align. It’s how champions are made.

Another lesson from the UK that could apply to South Africa’s big three  rugby, soccer and cricket  is how supporters are treated. This isn’t necessarily in the sense of them being comfortably accommodated at matches, but formally acknowledging them and their views.

Two days after City’s triumph, long-suffering Everton sent a survey to season-ticket holders and club members asking them to rate manager Sam Allardyce’s ability to “get the best out of the team”.

Kevin de Bruyne and his Manchester City team mates won the Premier League title after the blip against Manchester United. Photo: Carl Recine/Reuters

The survey also asked fans to rate their trust in Everton players “being loyal and performing at their best” and the club’s leadership in “making the right decisions for the club’s future”.

Doing so is a remarkably enlightening attitude that reflects the open, liberal approach that many Premiership teams have. Supporters aren’t taken for granted; they are consulted and spoken to. Their views matter.

Chelsea have a fans’ forum that regularly meets with supporters. Rangers, too, have a fans’ board that helps supporters shape the club’s future through regular dialogue with the board and senior management. In the Football League, some clubs are majority owned by democratic supporters’ trusts.

Swansea, who play in the Premiership, have the City Supporters’ Trust, which owns over 20% of the club.

Supporters have real power in deciding how clubs function, as we’ve seen in recent years with teams like Newcastle United, Hull City, Tottenham Hotspur and Rangers all feeling the wrath of their supporters.

Given the problems that routinely dog SA’s teams  performance, facilities, leadership, you name it - local fans have a right to feel frustrated, especially as there isn’t a similar outlet to vent their frustrations.

Supporters are seldom consulted, even though they are so critical to a team’s existence. Fans are emotionally invested, taking the pain and the pleasure yet having no significant say in how their team functions.

Manchester City's Gabriel Jesus scores during the English Premier League soccer match against Tottenham Hotspur. Photo: Frank Augstein/AP Photo

Several years ago, the Waratahs held a “town hall” with the team and the public, the aim of which was to get feedback and to improve the relationship between the team and their supporters.

It was also an opportunity for the coaching staff to explain why they play a certain style.

It helped that coach Chris Hickey had an open mind. Sadly, the initiative was never repeated, probably because the fans got stuck in. They weren’t necessarily satisfied with the responses, but they loved being heard.

Local rugby has a poor record in this regard. Fans have but two options to vent their feelings.

They can vote with their feet, as many have done, or they can rant and rave on social media.

Anyone who wonders about public sentiment should hop onto the Twitter train on Saturday afternoons. Things can get messy.

One of the reasons attendances are so low is that fans feel disenfranchised. It’s not enough to have activation's and autograph-signing sessions.

Teams must differentiate themselves and offer a compelling reason for fans to rock up. One way would be by bringing them on board, making them feel inclusive.

There would probably be blood on the floor if our Super Rugby sides had a “town hall” meeting midway through the season, but team bosses would have no illusions about public sentiment. Supporters would revel in the opportunity to be heard.

Doing so might even put teams in touch with their most important constituents.


Sunday Tribune

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