From Leigh RMI to Leigh Genesis

‘Visionary chairman’, when in a football context, is a troubling little phrase. It’s widely accepted that chairmen know if not absolutely nothing about football, then next to nothing. Stick the word ‘visionary’ in front of them, and it’s panic stations time. Football has been around a long time. Most of the important revolutions and evolutions have occurred – crossbars, substitutions, the balti pie: what’s left is just tinkering. Yet these supposed visionaries come in, with their mad-cap ideas and hair-brained schemes, and mess everything up for everyone.

You may think this is the view of a footballing Luddite. A sporting Cro-Magnon man sheltering in his cave, terrified of progress. But it isn’t. Change is good. I crave change. But change for the sake of change is crap. Undeniably a bad thing.

In the past, backing up my point, have been visionaries such as Pete Winkleman. He decided to up and move Wimbledon to Milton Keynes? Why? Because he was a visionary and that’s what visionaries do. Then there’s John Batchelor, who bought York City, changed the team name, the kit design and the badge to reflect his own ego, and then left the club virtually bankrupt, while he made a tidy little profit. And for what reason? Because he was a forward thinking revolutionary who craved and demanded progress. He surfaced again recently when he attempted to buy Mansfield Town, and rename them Harchester United, the fictional team from Sky TV’s ‘Dream Team’ series. Harchester had a greater television presence, and therefore a greater chance of making him loads and loads of money.

So yeah, you’ll excuse me if the words ‘visionary chairman’ fill me with a mixture of dread and perverse fascination. What the devil will these idiots think of next?

Well, ladies and gentlemen, I give you Leigh Genesis.

Leigh Genesis

Last week, Leigh RMI, formerly Horwich RMI, finally dropped the RMI suffix and re-branded as Leigh Genesis. I wont go in to the complicated and long history of Horwich RMI, but it’s out there in wikipedia if you’re interested. But in 1995, they moved the seven miles from Horwich to Leigh to give themselves a better chance of making it to the Football League. 13 years on, they still haven’t. In fact they’re worse off now than they were when they made the move. It was a move caused many fans to retrospectively call the team ‘the original MK Dons’. It was change for change’s sake.

RMI, a rather splendid little suffix, stands (stood?) for Railway Mechanics Institute. It hung round the neck of the new club like a train shaped albatross. “There isn’t even a train station in Leigh” whined the fans, as if this somehow not only precipitated the need for change, but justified it. Well, I hate to break it to you, my Leigh dwelling chums, but neither is there a Phil Collins prog-rock act. But we don’t see you going off on one about that.

The press release announcing the change made for incredible reading. The opening gambit alone had me falling off my comfortable, blue, swivel chair in shock and awe.

“Recently appointed, visionary Chairman Dominic Speakman, 32, explains the thought process behind this radical move to give the club an all-embracing brand for the future.”

An all-embracing brand for the future? What does this even mean? It didn’t stop there, however. Filling the press release with terms such as ‘ideas of colour’, ‘core of the new brand’, ‘The alignment of football to fashion’ and ‘a contemporary edge and is unique in the world of football’ gave the impression that the unspeakable Speakman knew exactly what he was doing. But even a casual read revealed that the whole thing was meaningless. It was a classic puff piece of spin and hyperbole. Nothing had any substance. The whole thing was vapid and, frankly, offensive.

I was obviously furious. Speakman was essentially trampling over history and removing any trace he could find of the previous club, Horwich RMI. By creating a new club, in a new stadium, in new colours, he has formed a new team half way up the pyramid. The only thing that links Leigh RMI and Speakenstein’s Monster, is the town in which they’re based.

Initially people, thankfully, seemed as up in arms about this I as was. As far as I could tell it was seen as a travesty, and another case of football eating itself. Message boards (OK, maybe I was naïve taking Internet forums as proof of anything other than there being a scary, scary world outside my front door) were full of debate and comment about how this was a terrible thing. I posted a blog entry about it, expecting messages of condemnation for Speakman and Leigh Genesis, but instead got something rather different.

It seems the people of Leigh are fully behind this move. Not one ‘Genesis’ fan I have spoken to has anything other than a good word for Speakman and his new club. Apart from those who have a very bad word for me. A very bad word indeed. They are genuinely excited by the fresh start, and the opportunity to progress. They have been blinded by the promise of a better future, and perhaps, aren’t thinking critically enough about it.

Leigh Genesis, apart from the re-branding, will be playing professionally next season. They are, as far as I know, the lowest placed team in the football pyramid to be doing so. I can think of two other teams who attempted this at Northern Premier League level, Grantham Town and Colne Dynamoes. Grantham have only just regained a sound financial footing a decade later, and Colne Dynamoes folded in 1990. There just isn’t the fan base and money at that level to support a professional team. But what does history know when up against a ‘visionary chairman’?

Leigh will take to the field in August, and everyone will be rosy-cheeked and optimistic about the future. And while I hope Speakman gets his legs kicked out from under him – let’s not forget he’s the real bad guy in all this – I don’t wish any ill whatsoever on the fans. I’m disappointed they’re so thoroughly behind this abomination, but hey, that’s the beauty of football. Differing views, personal choice, it’s all part of the rich tapestry of life.

No. What I’m really angry about is that this is another example of football being allowed to destroy itself. We’re stuck in a vicious circle with this type of name changing and club moving. The more common place it becomes, the more acceptable it will appear to people. And the more people accept it, the more it will happen in the future. And while Leigh fans may be delighted with Speakman and his new start, others in the future probably wont be so lucky.

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