The Men Who Sold the World
Before I begin this article, I should probably acknowledge my own hypocrisy. As somebody who willfully contributes large sections of his annual income to Arsenal, on a season ticket at the Emirates Stadium, to watch away games at the Shiniwatra owned Man City and Abramovic run Chelsea, I am guilty too. But understand that I type this reasoned polemic as a proponent of the once beautiful game. Fuddy duddy am I none, I was born into Thatcher's England, raised as the youngest of five children in a single parent family in South East London. I cannot regail you with war stories from the Clock End's brutal terracing, the urine of working men has not snaked bountifully about my feet in a sea of beery breathed, cloth capped working men. I am a post Taylor Report, white middle class male. A post modernist pre apocalypse man raised into a pleasant metropolis, yet still reeling from broken hearts and promises. That sense of middle class guilt unabashedly informs the sentiment of this piece.
In 1976, Johnny Rotten infamously spat into his microphone, 'noooooo future, noooo future for you.' His bile reflecting the indignation of the working man in post industrial England. A little over thirty years on, his anthem of decay rings horribly true. There has been much recent conjecture in the top flight regarding the ownership of football clubs. Liverpool fans unhappy with Hicks and Gillet have formed an independent club as they feel the current Liverpool side have become inaccessible to the ordinary fan. In protest to the Glazer's ownership of Manchester United, AFC United were formed and regularly play to 6,000 crowds at Bury's Gigg Lane. Of course, Wimbledon were the trendsetters, once the Milton Keynes Dons became English professional football's most far flung gypsies, AFC Wimbledon were formed. They scored a huge victory recently in being permitted to call themselves 1988 F.A. Cup Winners. A move endorsed by heroes of the day Lawrie Sanchez and Dave Beasant. Currently, we have a Chelsea team in the golden period of their history resigned to advertising home tickets in London's littany of freebie newspapers, even going so far as to give away tickets for the upcominG away game at Everton.
My own football club, in its stadium that actually physically demarcates the class of its supporters from one another with its 'Club Level', sponsored by a national airline, finds itself fighting off the solicitous advances of another oligarch desperate to plunge his snout into the trough. We are currently the chargrin of local workers around the Emirates Stadium, who are being evicted from their land with paltry compensation offers being offered. The fact is, fans are getting tired of this constant corporate avarice that surrounds our game, to the point that they are forming breakaway guerilla clubs. Yet the warning signs have been there for a long time. Not long ago, anschluss was all the rage, with Brighton & Hove joining to form one club, along with Dagenham & Redbridge and Rushden & Diamonds. But far from elucidating Thatcher's deplorable advocation of trickle down economics, the sense of disenfranchisement seems to be trickling upwards.
Supporters of Mansfield Town have been trying to oust Keith Haslam as their owner for years. Now they have attracted interest from Motor Racing guru John Batchelor. Batchelor had a short stint as owner of York City in 2002-03, promptly renaming them York City Soccer Club and incorporating a chequered flag into the club crest. He now announces plans to rename Mansfield 'Harchester United' after the fictional side in Sky One's tacky soap Dream Team. Indeed the very idea could have spewed forth from the laptop of a production line celebrity gossip columnist. Batchelor recently, rather chillingly pronounced, 'I am not interested in discussing it with fans, but I will talk to customers any time.' Few of us doubt that this is how we are viewed by our club's supremos, but as a balls out statement, it matches Stoke City manager Alan Durban's infamous retort, 'if you want entertainment, go and watch clowns,' in the 1970s. Nick Hornby pinpoints that quote in Fever Pitch as an affirmation that 'the game had gone to the dogs.' Hornby was of course talking in terms of quality on the pitch, Batchelor's naked lack of chivalry is testament to the way the balance accounts are festered in canine faesces.
We also see Rotherham United laid waste to by corporate vampires. Keith Booth sold the club two years ago, but still owns their ground, Milmoor. Having relinquished control of the club, he held onto the ground and oversaw a four fold increase in rent which sees the Millers in administration for the second time in two years. This, a club who was relegated from the Championship as recently as 2005. The lower leagues are littered with these horror stories, Halifax Town, who very recently enjoyed the spoils of league football, owe £1.1m and are in administration. The resulting ten point deduction sees them staring relegation to the sixth tier of English football. Gretna, AFC Bournemouth, Luton Town are all entwined in their own nightmarish whirlwinds of debt and prostitution. This season has seen a grand total of 45 points deducted from football clubs in administration. Fifteen last minute winners thrown away in an instant.
Now we see the Premiership becoming similarly alienated by men in suits. While Scudamore and his chronies attest that the Premiership is like, totally the bestest league in the world, clubs such as Blackburn Rovers, Wigan Athletic and Bolton Wanderers are going cap in hand back to the people. The progress of all four English clubs to the last eight of Europe's Premier competition has Richard Keys and his mates telling anyone who will listen, 'the Premiership rules, o.k.' Yet, outside of the big four vortex, they pointedly ignore the fact that the Premiership has no representatives left in the UEFA Cup, pointing squarely to how thinly distributed the wealth is. Fans of lower leagues might look at fans of the turbo charged self congratulatory 'Big Four' and look on with a mixture of envy and bitterness. Yet fans of these selected few are beginning to turn away in their droves. The glory hunters, parasitically consuming their replica shirts and plaguing radio phone ins with the new £30m wonderkid their team should be signing are there for the meanwhile. But the bums that man the seats are growing twitchy.
Of course, as well as the clubs themselves, the bodies that are supposed to be governing them are busy hoovering up champagne on the gravy train. Scudamore seeks to ruin the integrity of English top flight football with his ill fangled 'thirty ninth game', as well as destroying the foundations of indiginous leagues. In a report recently published by the One World Trust, FIFA languish twenty fifth in a table of thirty on accountability and transparency amongst international non Government organisations, transnational corporations and international government organisations. The very body designed to promote regularity and administer who is deemed 'fit and proper' to run a football club are apparently very cagey about revelaing their own hand. That is not to suggest FIFA are themselves involved in anything shady, but with the game awash with blood suckers, FIFA are cloved in garlic. Nosferatu is being allowed to roam the streets unchecked, with the authorities charged with the integrity and interest of football not just running for the hills, but willingly dousing their necks with BBQ sauce and imploring 'bite me!'. If Scudamore, Blatter, Usmanov, Bathcelor and the like don't do away with the fangs, the townspeople will soon flee.LD.