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'If It's Football, It's Vital'

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.




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The Journalist

Writer: Tim Stillman Mail feedback, articles or suggestions

Date:Thursday April 10 2008

Time: 8:02PM

Your Comments

That's a powerful piece. Impossible to respond fittingly to in this medium but the sentiment is right. It seemed so exciting when the game sold itself to televison - only to find itself consumed by it. Now Clubs, and its players, are billboards for the sale of other products and its supporters are consumers to which to sell membership schemes, magazines, replica shirts, matching duvets and lampshades, DVDs, corporate hospitality packages, TV subscriptions, stadium tours all in order to extract maximum value from the marketing opportunity. In the meantime the game has got quicker, faster more athletic and more global in order to meet worldwide demand. To the extent that qualifying for the CL is now a bigger prize than either the CC or FAC. Football authorities can even seriously float the idea of playing a domestic league competiton outside domestic boundaries. Will supporters tire of it? Or are we now just a society that wears its football club badge of choice in the same way that it buys clothes by the names on its labels or chooses cars based on what the marketing people tell us its marque says about us? Transient followers rather than football club supporters.
Amos.
Maybe my sentiment is antiquated, which is why I felt the need to mention that I'm not pining for the past as such. Maybe the generation beneath me will feel differently, but we are breeding a generation of kids who can't get to games because of pricing. I read a really good article about kids' football magazines that was struck by the fact that, if you were entirely ignorant about the game,reading the magazine you would have no idea that clubs existed outside the CL and indeed,that the game was even played outdoors. There's nothing about the match going experience, or even about playing the game yourself. Feature articles are now just enormous stat packs about Torres' league goals and Ronaldo's headers. The game is effectively crammed into a cpu or tv monitor. Eventually, club owners will feel the effect of that.
Little Dutch
Welcome to the world of capitalism...accept it, though i do agree with the lack of kids attending matches..shocking really!!
essientric
Good read, you have brought up some interesting points but it got me thinking that if you want to see the future look no futher than sports on this side of the pond (North America). Sports is nothing more than "Big Business" and they make no apologies fit it. Maximizing revenue streams is all that matters with little concern about affordability or the so called average fan that can not afford to attend a live game. This direction has evolved at a quicker rate over here as a result of the monopolistic "franchise" system that is allowed to circumvent general market competition rules. But make no mistake, the EPL is headed in the same direction, not a franchise system but the same marketing principles. It's no mistake that competitive Baseball and American Football games are played in foreign lands with Basketball and Hockey to follow. The same reason the 39th game will go forward at some future point, new foreign Revenue Streams need to be tapped. I understand your frustration but unfortunately, although you don't like it, the game will be more popular and there will be new fans to take your place. The evidence is present if you look at the results in North America.
michaelangelo
great article, but that is the state of the nation. any nation even
mtlgooner
I take your point about sport in the U.S. But I'm also thinking of Serie A, in the early 90s it was the most sought after league on earth, but the clubs got too greedy and the fans walked away. Now the league is in virtual crisis, unable toget bums back on seats.
Little Dutch
A report last year claimed that the number of fans under the age of 24 had dropped from 22%+ to just 9% of average attendances in less than 10 years. Many things about the game have improved over the years. Pitches and stadiums are better. You don't queue for the toilets as you once did and if you are prepared to pay the prices the food is much better. Yet a whole generation of fans are unable to afford the habit of attending live matches. I can't help but feel that omission will come home to roost at some point. Germany has the highest attendances of any league in Europe and allows terracing where a season ticket can be had for 130 - a matchday price of about 7 or 8. Some clubs may be raking it in now but unless they have at least one eye on building their future customer base it maybe more short lived than they thought.
Amos.
now that is what I call a great article. Superbly written and totally agree with the sentiments. Could the PL be the next Serie A? Football is going up its own arse and the core fans who are there through thick and thin are growing very weary of it. Good points from Amos as well, the future of the game must be a major worry when the kids can't get the bug as they can't afford to attend.
The Fear
Football these days is ridiculously expensive. I myself have had to take a season off due to the birth of my little lad, I hope to be back next year but I can gurantee that as soon as he wants to go to matches the number I get to will drop significantly. Gone are the days that a dad can take his sons to the matches everyweek, unless of course the are very wedged up!!!
Rocky7
us fans know we're being ripped off every time we buy a ticket but we do it cos we love our team with a passion n will pay silly money to watch them play. prem teams could charge 10 a ticket & stiil make huge profits. but while we carry on letting them take us all for a ride they wont stop until we make some sort of a stand [any ideas?]. they only care about profit not fans.
dspurs64
excellent article
codbater
 

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