On Saturday, January 18 I did something I’ve never really done at a football game before — I tried to help plan a protest.
Before I go any further I want to make it crystal clear that I speak for myself and only myself, and that this piece is personal rather than an official piece for 1875.uk
I’ve written this here and not on my own website as it’s probably too meta and too personal for almajir.net.
The simple aim of the protest was to show strength of feeling against the current CEO of Birmingham City Football Club, Ren Xuandong.
As neither I nor my friends at 1875 Chris and Matthew can speak for the fans, we wanted to offer fans the opportunity to show their feelings, with the understanding that if the takeup wasn’t there then we’d got things very wrong.
We arranged to print 10,000 of these red pockets with words “Dong Out” in Chinese (actually “Dong Step Down”) on the front, which we would hand out pre-game.
We conferred with a Chinese football expert to ensure we got the phrasing right on the card, and with friends in the Chinese community to ensure that there was no way our idea would come across as disrespectful.
The Plan in Action
I was given a box full of flyers with the responsibility to get as many handed out on the “town” side of the ground as possible. I had help from a few volunteers — Ritchie, Dave and Lee, for which I was very grateful — and as such we tried to do our best to get as many handed out as possible.
I suffer with anxiety, and I have to admit it was through the roof by midday. I’m not very good at talking to people I don’t know, so the idea of giving out a few thousand leaflets was not one I’d do again in a hurry. However, to do things that are worthwhile, sometimes you have to swallow your pain and get on with it.
On the one hand, the take up of the red pockets could have been better. I was surprised (and admittedly a little disheartened) by the number of people who were disinterested or ignorant of why were out handing out flyers. It feels like the club has been in a mess for a long time and yet people seem very apathetic to the whole thing; it’s as if the fact Blues are a mess is now an accepted state of being, and we just have to get on with it.
On the other hand, it was nice to hear many people telling us we were doing good work and that they were backing us. I didn’t hear anyone say outright that we were doing something wrong; I had many people shake my hand and offer their appreciation that someone was doing something about it.
The protest called for people to show the red pockets on four minutes, so naturally Blues scored after 3 and a half minutes. This just isn’t something you can legislate for — but it was good to see a fair few red pockets raised after the goal celebrations died down and that some people thought it was a good idea.
In the directors area, one was handed to Dong himself which is something I’m pleased about. I think if you’re going to do something like this then you’ve got to be able to look that person right in the eye and do the same thing.
Was it Successful?
On the surface, I think the three of us have to admit that it wasn’t the success we had hoped for. Maybe we could have been a bit more open beforehand about what we were doing to give people time to digest it — but I think we also have to accept that maybe people just don’t care about how the club is run as much as we would like them to.
However, deeper down I think we have at least caused some things to happen.
(this is the bit that gets me into trouble)
On Thursday, I met Dong in his office at Wast Hills along with a few other selected fans. The meeting was hush hush, not to be discussed with others and it was a chance for him to tell us what he wanted to say. We were told what was discussed was confidential and none of it could leave the room.
This has been gnawing away at me for three days, which is why I’m talking about it now.
Part of me thinks I should have just got up and walked out, as secrecy doesn’t sit well with me. After all, any fan could rightly ask why I was given the opportunity to discuss things with Dong and they weren’t. I didn’t because I wanted to know what he wanted to say, and I thought I could make a decision afterwards.
The timing of the meeting seems very coincidental too. I’ve been pretty much persona non grata in Dong’s eyes since he’s been at the club and now he wants to get pally pally with me? Why?
For those who are intrigued, nothing of major substantial impart was spoken about. It seemed like a session designed to charm people and while I cannot speak for anyone else, I can honestly say that my impression of things was not altered one iota after the meeting.
However, as much as I think Dong was trying to get people back onside with this cosy hat, I don’t think it’s the answer.
A proper interview with a proper journalist asking proper questions would go a long way I think to making things better. However, that means opening up and being honest and my impression is that it’s not something Dong wants to do.
This comes back to why I got involved in this protest idea. I want a better club, and for me part of that is a club being run in a competent manner.
I’m not expecting Dong to fess up for all his mistakes, and give a mea culpa speech about why things are bad. I want to see him show leadership in improving things; I want to see him actively show how they’re going to rise to the financial and regulatory challenges the club currently faces. Alternatively, I want to see someone come into the club who can take that mantle.
In the main, people have been nothing but nice to me about this whole 1875 thing. I do struggle with imposter syndrome often so it’s reassuring to hear other people tell me that they’re supporting what I’m trying to do.
While the protest could have been much more successful, I’m happy to see many people pleased that someone is trying to do something.
There have also been some critics, some constructive and some not.
The chief criticisms against me are that I’m in it for financial gain; that I’m in it for egotistical reasons or that I’m a narcissist.
Looking at the state of my overdraft right now I can’t help but feel if I’m doing it for financial gain I’m doing it very wrong. I do accept people wonder what I’m getting out of it but the answer really is purely the satisfaction that I’m doing something positive.
The anxiety I feel when I do anything — even writing this — makes me think that I’m not in it for egotistical reasons. I doubt myself all the time and I do wonder why I do this to myself.
This makes me think that the criticism of being narcissistic is probably closest to the truth. I write my blog almajir.net because I like the challenge of research and writing, and I do admit I like being recognised for being able to do both. I think I get involved with this stuff because I need to be seen to be doing something, which is kinda narcissistic too.
I think the three of us need to take a couple of days to reflect on what we’ve done and to think about what we should do next. While I think some people are expecting us to give up I don’t think that is going to happen; I think this is a learning experience and maybe one that helps push us on to better things.