Football Blog: Tangerine Flavoured

Saturday, April 25, 2020

10 reasons why... The Mighty vs everyone else

Lets just take stock for a moment. Football is collapsing in on itself in the midst of global pandemic. Teetering, wobbling, swaying in the (potentially infectious) winds of change, the whole structure is on the brink of total catastrophic failure.

When the implosion of football as we know it is about number 89 on a list of 'things that we are worried about' then we know without a doubt, these are dark times.

Dark times call for light .

Here then, is a celebration of the greatest team, the world has ever seen. (the fact we rarely if ever, sing that, just shows how secure we are in our own magnificence) Believers require no explanation - doubters? Well this is your proof.

Blackpool FC - The Greatest Team on Earth:
Reason 1. Tangerine.
No one else plays in it. Not in England any road. We technically don't really need an away kit. It's brilliant. Most colours that only one team could play in would look rubbish. Lilac. Brown. Puce, Magenta. They all look shit. Tangerine is classy, historic and we're unmistakable for anyone else. Is that Burnley or West Ham on telly? Oh, no it's Villa! Is that Preston or Luton? Dunno, they're both shite... Is that Wigan Athletic or just some Tesco value carrier bags blowing around a deserted wasteland? Same difference.

We are Tangerine.

Reason 2: Winning the most famous game of domestic football ever.
The 1953 Cup final is the most famous game in the history of domestic football. Do a little thought experiment. Try to name a famous domestic game before this match. One that neutrals will know. You almost certainly can't. It was the first truly national game of football and we ensured that it would never be forgotten by serving up a classic Blackpool roller coaster (pun very much intended) in which two starring Stanley's wrote their way into immortality and the nation was gripped. This wasn't some tin pot game, it was a titanic battle, played in front of the nation and featured the only man to ever hit a hat trick in an FA Cup final at Wembley. 

Reason 3: 1966:

Only 3 clubs provided more members of the World Cup winning squad in 1966. None of the other Lancashire sides provided a single member of the squad. We are one of only 14 teams to have provided a player to a World Cup winning squad (two players we developed ourselves) and one of only 8 teams to have a player actually winning the World Cup final. 88% of all other English league clubs can't match that. Preston, Burnley, Blackburn, Bolton, didn't even get a player in the squad.

Reason 4: The Ballon D'or

Only 19 clubs in the WHOLE OF EUROPE have ever had a Ballon D'or winner. Only 3 teams in the UK. We are one of them. It goes without saying that the other two do not include them up the road (in either direction)

Reason 5: 2010/11 Premier League Champions

History may read as if we had a brief stint in the sun, won some friends and admirers and then left for the shade. That's wrong.


How you may ask? Surely that final day saw us relegated and our opponents lifting the Trophy? - Well, that's fake news and a fake trophy. 

Read on to inform yourself about what the mainstream media keep from you...

We all know the Premier League is essentially fixed. There's five or six teams who grossly outspend everyone else and even a Blackpool side not hamstrung (an understatement!) by the Oystons would never break into that club.

What we should be doing, in order to bring back a measure of excitement is weighting each point a side gains according to the wage bill of the club. Only that way, will we be able to judge the league in a sporting manner, rather than as a fight between rich men over whose toys are best. Yes, great, Man City, Chelsea, Man Utd are 'superior' but only because they bought the best and paid them the most.

What would be genuinely sporting would be to see which team has performed the best considering their wage bill. Essentially like handicapping in horse races. So, if we re-evaluated the 2010/11 league table according to the simple, but indisputably fair measure of 'total wages/points' we discover the table looks thus: 

Reason 6: Top of the League and a 100% record for 7 years. 

Some infidels may view this wrongly as a pedantic technicality but the fact remains, that football officially finished in Sept 1939 with Blackpool boasting 6 points from 3 games and sitting atop Division 1.

Proper football didn't resume until 1946 and thus Blackpool boast the above record. It can't be disputed. Blackpool therefore triumphs over Preston and Arsenal's invincibles and mocks Klopp's Liverpool for both losing matches and for moaning about having to wait a few weeks to play again. Try 7 years and a world war. Do you see us crying about 'fairness' on talksport? No. 

'zay von't be going down to Bloomfield Rd to zee ze Blackpool aces now!'

Reason 7: Billy Ayre

Nuff' said really, but in case you doubt me, what other football man is regarded with the reverance of Bill Shankly for his tough, proper football man sensibilities, possessed an innate understanding of what the game means to supporters AND was also a bona fide art teacher? 

Reason 8: We got the Oystons out, like we said we would. 

Other clubs do stuff like turn their back on the game symbolically or get a protest scarf. We waged a 5 year boycott observed by the vast majority of the fan base. We showed the rest of the football world that it's possible to demand change and get it. From self imposed exile to anarchic performance art and everything in between, with no help from the games authorities, we took on our owners and we won. We appreciate the privilege of watching our team like few other fan bases in the whole of the game.

Reason 9: The homecoming

A match against a noone opposition with little to play for, in which we didn't even play especially well. What other clubs have a game like this in their history? A game which ranks alongside, or even above cup finals and play off matches in terms of atmosphere and emotion. One that had next to nothing riding on it and was, aside from the sheer, raw magic of the last few minutes, a total damp squib as a football spectacle but will be forevermore one of 'the great days?' One of the most unique days in football, probably only understood alongside Charlton's return to the Valley and AFC Wimbledon getting to the same level as Franchise FC and the rebirth of Newport County and Accrington Stanley. Most supporters will never understand or experience a day like that. 

Reason 10: The Kop/The Ground. 

The north stand might fill up about 2 seconds before kick off and empty out 10 minutes before half time but it makes a good old fashioned noise that's up there with anywhere in our league and many beyond it. 

The stadium might be a bare breezeblock barn on the inside but it's ours. It's the home of Sir Stan, Sir Jim, that Micky Walsh goal, Jimmy Hampson, Morty, Emlyn Hughes, Alan Ball, Waiters, Charnley, Dodds, the Atomic Boys and so, so many more.

Think about the the name - 'Bloomfield' - it conjures up images of meadow grass and wildflowers. Contrast that with 'Deepdale' - gloomy and dark... 'Turf Moor' - bleak and windswept... 'The Reebok' or 'The DW' - out of town shopping precinct... 'Highbury' - could you not actually think of your own name? 

That's ten reasons why we're the greatest team in the history of the game. There's plenty more and they come in no particular order - the point is - it's a pleasure and a privilege being TANGERINE.

At a time like this, remember, not everyone is as blessed as we are.


Sunday, April 19, 2020

Newcastle United - Where are all the good psychopaths?

I see Newcastle are about to be taken over by Jeff Bezos. Or the Shah of Iran, or Lockheed and Martin from off of Lockheed Martin. Or a syndicate consisting of Charles 'Charlie' Manson and Dr Harold 'Doc' Shipman fronted by Raul 'Moaty' Moat. One of them. Or someone else. I don't know.

What has certainly happened is an unedifying twitter pile on and general hand wringing in which some people have waved copies of The Guardian, spat out their home grown muesli and hand pressed hemp milk whilst shouting 'but what about the children!' and others, probably wielding a copy of 'Imperialist Crypto Fascist Death Machine Today!' have said 'don't give a fuck m8, up the Toon!'

This then prompts such august organs as 'Talksport' to get journalistic heavyweights to ask renowned social commentators and experts on global finance like former Gillingham manager Andy Hesenthaler and Karen from Market Harborough what they think - which in turn elicits the enlightening response of 'well, it's a money game now isn't it?' and 'well, I don't really look at such things, it's what happens on the pitch that matters, for me and that's how any chairman should be judged'

In amongst all this, is the idea that Newcastle fans should be gripped by righteous anger and marching up the hill to St James Park, shouting 'fuck these restrictions on movement, we want an ethical club and we want it now!'

Which is a nice idea.

Perhaps Newcastle could reject the overtones of the Saudi billionaires and get a cuddly, morally pure, positive company involved? Like Dove! Or maybe one of those hopeful but usually hopeless fairy cake start up companies with a shite mission statement that is nowt to do with cakes and mentions love? One that doesn't use palm oil obviously. Perhaps they could do a just giving whip round? Maybe they could get local artists to make some thinks out of recycled material, stuff washed up on the shores of the Tyne and auction them off? Perhaps they could have a stall at Glaston 'Glasters' bury when this is all over, funding the club through tofu, dream catchers and second hand clothing?

There's two things to think about.

1) Football clubs exist to win games. That has always been 'the point' of football, from the moment Sheffield FC were formed and no doubt long before when it was about kicking a pigs bladder through a village in what was little more than a brawl. Yes, the game is ALSO about community, a sense of occasion, taking part, teamwork, local identity, ritual, catharsis, communality and many other things, but at its heart, what makes it a thrilling and visceral experience is the fact two teams are trying to beat each other. Without that, it'd be Morris dancing.

2) The way the game is organised makes it all but impossible to imagine that you can win and retain some kind of ethical (or probably better, morally neutral) standpoint. The top sides, those that contain what is often called 'the winning mentality* cost billions to assemble and maintain. The wealth behind the top few Premier League sides is astonishing...

*code in these wonderfully commercial times for 'having bought the best players'

Fenway Sports Group - £6.6 billion
Abu Dhabi United Group - £22 billion
King Power International Group - £5.9 billion

The above represents the wealth behind the top 3 sides in the table as of this moment. It doesn't include the many other multi-billionaires or the astonishing £99 billion worth of the group behind Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Here's a fact. The worth of the Premier League owners at this point equates to a sum, roughly in line with the entire GDP of Scotland. That's a useless fact, but it's an interesting point for scale.

The bit after the numbers where there's more words 

Not so very long ago, in a land not far way called 'the past' clubs could be run by local business people. Walker Steel and the Blackburn title win are forever linked. John Hall from off of 'building the Metro Centre) and Newcastle United's European adventures, near misses with title and brilliant 'I'd love it' meltdowns go hand in hand.

What is truly mind melting when viewed through jaded the jaded prism of today, is, at the time, people felt those people were distorting the competition. The likes of Jack Walker were seen as an ugly breed of money men, flashing their cash and buying success. Lower down the pyramid, Dave Whelen was buying Wigan through the leagues and regaling anyone who'd listen with tales of his broken leg.

Yet now we're nostalgic for the the ruddy faced local men made good. The type who 'didn't get where they are today by...' The sort who probably have a framed note from Mrs Thatcher in their study and, over a whisky, will entertain their audience with tales of their own moral rectitude and how 'being poor never stopped me, it's just about having a bit of get up and go.'  We actively miss the combovers and the crisp white shirts with fat club ties draped over their stomachs. The friendly bottom pinching of the waitress in corporate hospitality who is called 'love' and 'sweetheart.' We pine for the days when a good old fashioned, proper English fella, who'd made his money in an honest way, (like paying people less than minimum wage to work in his sports shops) could run our football clubs.

John Hall left Newcastle because his money was no longer enough. He sold to Mike Ashley (a very rich man) who is 100% a twat, but in some ways has run Newcastle within their means. (This excellent link from 'The Mag' details some of the other ways Ashley hasn't had the good of the club and fans at heart)

Dave Whelen ran out of money to keep bankrolling Wigan and they've been slowly deflating ever since, the inflation of faux local excitement (Half of Wigan's 'fans' only turned up in numbers to watch the opposition) dissipating by the season as they bob between the 2nd and 3rd tier in their over sized, drafty lego ground built on the sewage works...

Delia 'Letsby Avenue' Smith is the last woman standing. Can Norwich win owt or even hope to stay very long in the Premier League...? Can they fuck...

Newcastle fans are between a rock and a hard place. They've not won anything for years. They can't even hope to compete to win anything without new ownership. That, by definition, undermines the point of being a fan of the club. Yes, community, yes local pride, yes to all of that, but that's based on joy of watching the team competing, trying to win.

Before John Hall, a club 'living within it's means' stagnated and decayed in the second tier. The rich local boy took them close, but his means were soon outshone by the global wealth coming in. The next backer had the money, but wasn't interested in spending it, seeing football as a way to make it.

Where are they supposed to go now? There are no local people with multi, multi billions made from selling bottles of Newcy Brown or making rivets for the shipyard interested.

The last side to break into the 'elite' were Leicester City. It would cost each of the Newcastle season ticket holders (approx 30,000) around £200,000 each to raise the kind of money that Leicester's owners have at their disposal (£5.9bn). The average wage in Newcastle is £26,000.

Ask yourself - where are the ethical multi billionaires? If we google the Forbes rich list, how many of the elite are blameless? How many of them aren't exploiters, or don't have their hands in murderous supply chains or planet corroding practices? How many of them would you call 'really good, down to earth, trustworthy people whom you'd wish to entrust with the concept of community and togetherness?'

Are Newcastle fans just supposed to give up on wanting to win football matches? Fan power, local money, ain't enough, not by a long, long, long chalk. No amount of 'sustainability' or 'cutting cloth' will compete. The point is to compete. This is your club, it's my club, it's every club, from the top to the bottom, not just the top 6 or 8. It's literally the point of football.

I couldn't care less about the 'Toon Army' but instead of getting pseudo satisfaction from a dead game by riling Geordies or expecting them to stand up against the crossing of some kind of arbitrary line drawn in the sand by the weak minded liberal moral guardianship of the 'concerned' - for whom some wealth is OK as long is the blood stains are hidden behind a veil of respectability - stand against the money itself. Liberate the game from the grasping claws of business and return it to the hands of the masses. Why? Not because it wins 'right on' political points, but because it MAKES THE GAME BETTER.

Without that realisation by masses of fans, of all different clubs, then the Saudi billions will still flow and more to the point, the game will just move further and further from what it is - people gathering, singing, having a beer, meeting their mates, having a laugh, communality, community, forgetting the mundane, to watch a group of lads, try to beat another group of lads. Some seasons should be good, some should be bad and some in between. Some teams are lucky, some aren't, some teams build great sides and some don't. Not simply 'who can bulldozers their way financially to the top'

It should be a simple enough process to facilitate people turning up at a ground that isn't a death trap, watching players on fair wages, competing on a level playing field, both literally and metaphorically -  but we've let the game be turned into a global branding exercise and a playground for billionaires to flex their muscles.

That isn't the fault of Newcastle fans and nor will expecting them to exercise some kind of moral campaign on behalf of the rest of football go any way towards exorcising the game of the corrupting influence of massive concentrations of wealth unless everyone else does it to about their own teams and most tellingly, about the total lack of guardianship of the sporting integrity of football.

Don't simpy fuck the Saudi money. Fuck the lot of it, for the good of the game. It'd be a lot more fun.


Friday, April 17, 2020

John Robb part 1 - 'Wow, have we got a team?' Blackpool FC and the 70s

John Robb, at the Hilsborough Justice Campaign 2011 (Phil King)

Running a quite obscure football blog is a non stop media whirlwind. Appearing for 20 seconds several times on Lee Charles TV and having 2 people at work say 'I saw you on youtube' was exciting enough, but now I've got a chance to have a natter about football with a genuine Sandgrown legend... (Who decides who's a legend? I do, cos it's my blog...) 

The Membranes are a cult group, renowned the world over for their angular and original noise. A teenage John Robb ran the nascent band from a phone box on Anchorsholme Lane (so probably had his hair and louche demeanor boggled at by my very own grandparents on their way to Mrs Galvin's bakery in the mid 1970s.) He spent large portions of his youth watching the Seasiders, whilst honing the sound that would see his band propelled to the status of post punk greats

John is also a prolific and acclaimed writer and has interviewed some of the biggest names in alternative music and authored excellent books on (amongst other things) the history of punk and the Manchester music scene

You can read John's own writing at 
Louder than War (which if you've never read it before, is a great insight into new music and classic stuff alike.) You should also explore The Membranes: You can read my thoughts on their latest record here. The reformed band are a shining exception to the general (if slightly cynical) rule that bands that reform are always crap or just in it for the money!

I've met Mr Robb a couple of times and he's been charming, provocative and very interesting company. This (socially distanced) experience was no exception and I'm really grateful to him for being so generous with his time, memories and thoughts.

What follows is an account of me pretending to be an interviewer and John being an absolute dream to interview. I never intended the article to be so long, but there was so much good stuff... 

Part 1: Punk vs Perms...

MCLF: Where did it begin for you? For me, Maidstone, 91/92, it was cold, the game was crap, don't really know why I wanted to go back, but I was hooked! How about you? 

JR: It's funny how everyone's memories of going to watch Blackpool includes the words 'It was really cold! - it must be one of the coldest grounds in the country, in the middle of winter, with the wind coming off the sea. I remember my hands, being white, with cold, you'd put them down your trousers, under your armpits (laughs) - that's a real 70's thing!

First match was Blackpool playing West Ham, could have been 69 or 70, Clyde Best was playing for West Ham, which would date it. Went with my next door neighbour's daughter's boyfriend and he took me and my brother down there. It was amazing, the biggest crowd I'd ever been in. It seemed incredibly... just an incredibly atmospheric thing cos I think there was probably about 20,000 people there then. It was still sort of a big club in those days. I don't think that was a Division One game, I think it was maybe Division Two, I'd have to look it up, I really can't remember - I was about 8 then!

Then, I remember we went to Man United, with my Uncle, a couple of months later - again against West Ham, and there was about 65,000 there and that was a completely different experience again, I remember how deafeningly loud it was compared to going Blackpool.

So then I started going to Blackpool matches late 71/72 and then we used to go every week, first team games one Saturday and the reserves games the next, or the Wednesday nights maybe. The Central league was quite amazing because, obviously, Blackpool's reserve team wasn't that star-studded but you'd be able to go and watch Liverpool and Man Utd's reserves and they had really famous players playing for them.

I actually saw George Best playing against Blackpool when he played for Fulham, that was a little bit later. 75 I think?

MCLF: Did you see the club put the highlights of that game out recently on social media? 

JR: Did they? I'll have a look at that - I haven't seen it since I was actually there. I was at all those classic games, y'know, the Micky Walsh goal of the season, when Bob Hatton was ruling, scoring hat-tricks every week all the way up to Christmas when we were second and we went down the same year (laughs)  I think the Micky Walsh goal was 74 - I was on the pitch - when all the kids ran on the pitch at the end - that was my first TV appearance!

First time I ever heard of Blackpool was probably just before that first match I went to. I was watching Grandstand and I didn't even know Blackpool had a team, I mean before the internet, when you were about 8 years old in the 60s, you wouldn't know outside of Division 1 that there were other divisions... Anyway, they said "and here's Blackpool's team" and I was 'wow! have we got a team?' and they were playing in all white - the kit from the Anglo Italian Cup, based on Real Madrid and we'd beat someone, I think it was Como*, we beat them about 11-0 (*I'd guess it was Blackpool 10-0 Lanerossi Vicenza), so it was like 'wow! Blackpool has got this amazing, European Champions style team in the town!' and that was how and why I started supporting them as a little kid - I had no idea what division they were in or anything, but once you knew we had a team, it was like a connection to the real world.

MCLF: Yeah, it's funny you put it like that, because I didn't really have any idea football existed till I read about it my Grandad's papers - we never got a paper in our house, but he got the Gazette AND a Sunday paper and it was like 'what's all this!?' - Like you say, a window on the world, a connection to the real world, all these exotic places with teams, it was like an introduction to geography... 

JR: ..yeah, I've always thought of it like that, All the towns I knew in England are the ones who had football teams in the 1970s - they always seemed like bigger towns than they were, so Scunthorpe seemed like it must have been a massive city somewhere when you were a kid. And then you find these other towns, that didn't have teams, or just non-league teams, like, say Telford - and to me, that's always seemed like it must be a village and obviously, it's actually a fairly large place. It gives you a kind of upside down geography - I used to have a map of England, with all the teams kits on it, from the 70s - I remember getting that in a sports shop in Cleveleys as a kid - that was my geography of the UK for year until I got really into music and then it became the touring circuit map of the punk venues.

Anyway, yeah, when I was going to Blackpool every week, it was Div 2, we were always 4th or 5th every season, something always went wrong, we didn't quite get the promotion...

MCLF: Who were your favourite players? Blackpool players or otherwise?

JR: I think George Best would still be the greatest player in my lifetime - he was amazing, I think he was unfortunate he came from a smaller country - that's no slight on Northern Ireland, but he never got the platform of a World Cup and I think, if he had, the whole world would have seen he was the greatest of all time - he was better than Pele and all of those players. Even when he came to Blackpool that time and he'd obviously been out on the piss the night before - him and Rodney Marsh were a bit drunk on the pitch, he was still the best player you'd ever seen... He also revolutionised football, he was 'el beatle' - the first modern footballer.

The greatest player I never saw was Stanley Matthews who was... the clips you see of him playing, he was probably better than George Best, an incredible player! - Isn't it amazing that Blackpool has had all of these players? In the 50s, Matthews was European player of the year and he was playing for Blackpool!

MCLF: One of just 4 players from the whole of the UK to ever win it as well...

JR:'s incredible innit?... and he lived in Blackpool for 25 or 30 years as well, however long it was... That team from then was amazing - it's before my time but I was going to games with people who'd grown up watching people like Matthews, so when I first started going, it was only 8 or 9 years since he'd played for us, which seemed like a hundred years when you were a kid but now, thinking about it, it's a blink of an eye. I remember people shouting at the players 'yer no where near as good as Matthews!' and all that kind of stuff which seemed funny then but it was actually true!

MCLF: There's maybe a bit of that now in miniature, people grumbling because the team aren't anywhere near as good as the Premier League side, y'know? 'Yer not fit to lace Charlie Adam's boots' - that kind of thing... You'd have just missed Jimmy Armfield I'd guess?

JR: Yeah, but he was still at games. Everyone loved him didn't they? I know he went on to manage other teams, but he was Blackpool through and through. That's another thing - he was still in the 1966 World Cup winning squad - we had 2 players in that squad, that was only 5 years before I went. Even though we were a Division 2 club, we were seen as a team who should really be in Division 1 and it was still a big club. What they always say, is when we sold Alan Ball, that was the end really, because we became more of a feeder club, we couldn't hold onto the players anymore. Emlyn Hughes went on to Liverpool, only Jimmy Armfield stayed.

MCLF: It's probably a knock on from the maximum wage going in the early 60s as well? 

JR: Oh, yeah, it's all economics, it's nothing to do with the club, the town was too small, and it wasn't what it was in the 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s... When I was first going out in Blackpool or going to Blackpool games, it always felt like a place where something had just happened, but wasn't happening any more... You'd see these posters, like the Beatles had played in Blackpool 14 times and for them, it was a dream to play in Blackpool - it was the showbiz capital of Europe, but by the time you got the 70s it wasn't any more. It was still a popular tourist place, but it wasn't the place to sustain a big football club any more. It was never a big enough town, it's the thirtieth biggest town in Britain or something like that, but the money wasn't there and it was getting poorer and poorer, the money just wasn't in the town to sustain the wages. The big city clubs were getting bigger. When I was growing up, obviously there were big clubs in the cities but Blackpool was still seen as glamorous. In the 1950s, for a player like Matthews, to go and live in Blackpool was a dream come true, to live by the seaside in a glamorous place, not like Manchester which was this broken, post industrial city.

That's all changed now, Manchester has nicked all the showbiz from Blackpool, all the money, that's why we all live here, cos you can do stuff here, that is harder to do in Blackpool and Blackpool suffers from that.

I don't think it's fair on the club now to expect them to be a Premier League club. To be a Championship club would be a hell of an achievement, a mid table Championship side is what a town like Blackpool should be aiming to sustain, pushes up to the Premier League from time to time, some good cup runs. I don't think we should be in League 1, we're bigger than that, we're better than that. I think we'll get there in the end. It'll take a couple of years to undo the damage of the Oystons, but I think Sadler looks good, he's a fan, he's got the money, he's committed to the club. It's not going to be easy, he can't just change everything, there's no magic dust is there? He got to build an infrastructure, he's got to build a training ground for a start!

MCLF: I'm quite reassured by how he doesn't seem to want to showboat with it, he's not making grand pronouncements every 30 seconds to promote himself, he's told us his plans and seems to be quite happy to stay in the background and get on with the unglamourous stuff. The one worry I had was if we got rid of Oyston we'd get someone who came in, spent a few million on his own ego and then buggered off and left us high and dry... 

JR: I was due to meet with Sadler actually, but the virus has got in the way. I know the guy who runs the Tangerine Knights, the anti-Oyston group and I'm writing a book on Forest Green, I'm friends with Dale Vince - the guy who runs Forest Green, he's a really cool guy - I was saying to the Tangerine Knights - we should have a little vegan stall at Blackpool, it seems like the last place you'd expect to have something like that, but that's exactly why you should do it - be the first place to have something like that outside Forest Green. So I was going to link the two of them up, Simon and Dale and get it sorted. It's great that Blackpool's a really traditional English football club, the tradition is great, but you've got to move forward at the same time.

I went to the club about 10 years ago, I had to go and do a talk at some business thing and I remember, the first thing they said was 'Don't say anything about the Oystons' (laughs) and of course, you've got to say something! There were a few awkward moments. The staff took me round the ground, they were really slagging the Oystons off. They (some of the staff) had set up a football team for the local kids, to get them playing, doing something healthy, to try and stop them drifting into drugs and dealing and all that - it's one of the poorest wards in Lancashire, the area the club is in - a team to give them a bit of hope - and I've always thought football clubs should be a central pillar of the community, a facility that people can use to do sport, y'know, why should kids have crap diets and no exercise and all that? Anyway, you've got this massive resource in the middle of an area that needs it and these people had gone to Oyston and asked if they could have some spare kits and he said no! He said they had to buy them out of their own pockets!

MCLF: That ties in with so many stories, one being from a woman I know well who coached one of the girls junior teams who said he refused to pay for any spare footballs so she had to JJB every other week and buy the footballs herself! 

How much is a football? £20? Even if you only have two kids who go on to be lifelong fans, you get that money back so many times over. It's a two way process, it was just so stupid - The club is there for the town, the town is there for the club.

MCLF: Yeah, totally - I started taking my lad and it's him who drives me to go - I'd obviously lapsed with Oyston stuff but even before that got serious I'd waned a bit, but now it's my lad who has driven me to spend whatever it is, £600, £700 over the last year so it was just so short sighted... 

... the money comes back doesn't it? And that's one of the reasons why it should be there, part of the community - The football club is a huge space and they should be using it for loads of people. It's not just there for one person to make a fortune, it should be there for the whole town. Really, ideally, they should be run by the town, but that's probably a bit too complicated - The way even clubs like Barcelona, Real Madrid have that thing where they're sort of owned by the fans - it should be sort of like that. Sadler seems to be aiming a bit for that, obviously, he owns the cub, but he is having dialogue, talking to the fans, he seems to be doing that all the time and to be trying to get it to be a bit more of a people's club.

MCLF: Where did you sit or stand in the old ground? 

When I was super-young I went in the West Paddock, then I used to go on the Kop in the early days but we settled on the Scratching Sheds. The hooligans used to go on the Kop and we weren't hooligans, some of my mates were, but they weren't even hard! That's what made me laugh! - obviously the proper hooligans were super hard, but some of my mates were just chancers, who'd run with them and get in the fights just behind the hooligans and it'd always make me laugh - I'd think 'what you doing that for, you're not even a fighter!' - I'd guess it was just an adrenaline buzz.

The Scratching Sheds was where all the people would go who were they to have a really good laugh, so we'd make up really stupid chants, everyone did, it was really good fun down there. It was all about baiting the way teams goalie as well and some of them got really pissed off and some of them found it really funny and would play along with you a bit. It was a good spot.

MCLF: You're obviously going back further than me, but that's something I think is an odd dichotomy, when I started going in the early 90s, there was more humour in the crowds but even then, still a bit of trouble at the grounds - it seemed as if football crowds have become more angry about the game itself, more expectant and some of that humour has gone - yet you rarely if ever see trouble in ground itself...

JR: That's true of all of culture or society though, people are angrier at the moment, certainly pre virus, I don't know what the vibe is now, haven't seen anyone for ages! - I think the internet stirs it up, you only have to look at Brexit - you never get a reasonable conversation between two different views, you just get a massive argument within three seconds, everyone's polarised. I think the 70s were angrier, there was much more fighting - the fighting would be thousands of people, just scrapping, all the way round Blackpool.

The trouble Blackpool always had, even though it wasn't the 1950s Blackpool any more, it was still a weekend out, so you'd be playing, say, Huddersfield who might take say, 2000 to an away game, but they'd come to Blackpool and bring 8000 cos of the night out - sometimes you'd be outnumbered at your home games! One side of the Kop would absolutely packed and our side half empty.

MCLF: Yeah, even when I started you'd get teams like West Brom bringing say 4500 and us having about 4000...

JR: Back then, you'd get London clubs in Division 2, like Chelsea and Spurs and they'd bring more than they could get in. The town would be swamped by away fans and even when you went to get your bus home, you couldn't find any Blackpool fans - that was in the days when we might have 8 or 10,000 homes fans which is measure of how many away fans there were.

When I first went, the Kop was one of the biggest kops in Britain, even though it got smaller and smaller, do you remember it?

MCLF: Oh, yeah - the Kop used to fascinate me, it was like a ghost of the past - I wrote something recently about how the other stands used to seem about right for Div 4 or Div 3 but the Kop was this incongruous enormous stand, with grass and weeds over half of it, the roof pillars still there without the roof and cut in half by the rusting barriers all covered in barbed wire... I used to just stare at it from the other end and imagine 'what was it like?' 

Yeah... Ghosts! Ghostly memories! I remember what it was like as the Blackpool end and it would be busy, it would be almost full. When I first went, it didn't have a partition down the middle, it would be home and away fans on the Kop - so you could imagine what that was like sometimes! (laughs) I can't even imagine how that could go on. I'm sure when we played Chelsea, it was a shared Kop - I could be wrong, my memory is a bit fuzzy around then, but you can imagine, thousands of skinheads had come up - it was pretty terrifying when you were 11!

Football fighting in the 70s wasn't fair - it wasn't like 'oh, you're only 11, your not involved' - you'd get a kicking as well. We did get battered a few times, in fact, we stopped going as much when my brother got put in hospital by Man City fans in about 77/78 - the cops just stood and watched the City fans chain-whipping him on the floor and his back was all cut open and after that it didn't seem as much fun as it used to.

I kept going a bit, but it just seemed to get darker and also, by then we were all into punk, so you'd be going to watch matches, full of blokes with perms and you'd think, y'know, how punk was so punk and you're watching all these people who aren't punks and I couldn't make the two things fit in my head at all! So you sort of became a fan, but at a distance and in the late 70s, early 80s, it seems weird to say now, but football and music culture just didn't really mix but there was a time when football seemed a bit rubbish, seemed a bit old fashioned - it was something your uncle, with a big perm and flares would like and if you were really hip and into punk, football seemed a bit naff - so it took quite a bit of time to get back into really...

Part 2 - the relationship between music and football, insights into the minds of Joe Strummer and Eric Cantona, what footballers could be seen on the Manchester gig scene and what what musicians were any good at football, Manic Street Preachers and why they don't care what you think of them and why picking on footballer's wages is missing the point and loads more!

John Robb part 2 - Ronaldo, taking pulses in a care home - Football, music and society.

return to part 1

MCLF - I was reading someone talking about the unfashionable status of football amongst musicians in the 1980s, I can't remember who it was* - anyway, they were talking about seeing David Gedge and the Wedding Present tying football scarves around their guitars and being like 'fucking hell! a band who admit to liking football!'
*I remembered after the interview it was former NME editor and football broadcaster Danny Kelly

JR: There was few, but if they talked about, no one was that interested! - What people used to say about it was 'When I grew up, I used to be a fan of such and such' and that was how the conversation would go. There was very rarely anyone who would say 'I still watch the games.' I think it was the football fanzines really, that began to change it, When Saturday Comes and all that, because it started to join the two cultures together - It wasn't Gazza and Italia 90, or New Order - there was a grassroots thing going on...

MCLF: Yeah, that was the mainstream take up of something that was already there? 

Yeah, I think the cultures around the time of punk seemed totally opposite, but as time went on it got more blurred and seemed to join up again.Now what's really weird, is the footballers, all have punk rock haircuts don't they! Only took 40 years! (laughs) 

MCLF: Beckham and the Crass t-shirt was probably the most absurd example...

JR: I get the feeling he probably knows who they are...

MCLF: really?

JR: he's a bit more tuned in... I used to laugh at that but I think he knows they're a cool punk band - he knows who they are but not what they are - To be fair, you'd see him at gigs, when he was living in Manchester, he would go to gigs, but the one you'd see at most gigs was Gary Neville, Red Nev - he'd be turning up at gigs all over the place.

MCLF: He seems quite switched on does Gary Neville... 

JR: He's a pretty cool guy, he's doing stuff now, with the virus and that, Obviously, he's super-loaded and lives out in Cheshire somewhere, but he seems to understand people a bit more than some of them...

MCLF: I was going to ask you about that actually - Are there any footballers who you've admired for their ethos? Any footballers who you think stand for a bit more than the average player? It's quite hard to think of many when you compare it to music...

JR: It's not their job though is it?!

MCLF: No, but some people would argue that it's the job of a musician to play a nice melody and sing in tune, but there's plenty of musician who stand for a bit more... Joe Strummer and so and so on... 

JR: I don't think musicians have to be social commentators either, but when you get one, it's fantastic innit? When you get a Joe Strummer, who didn't present manifestos, he wasn't telling anyone how to live, he was just admitting his own confusion about the world, about how he wished it could get better, but he didn't have a clue how, he never said he knew how to make it better, and that I think is the best kind of politics, I think when people do songs that are earnest manifestos, they seem a bit fake to me sometimes, but when someone says 'the world is fucked but I haven't got a clue how to fix it' that's probably close to the truth - I mean, there ARE some super smart musicians, who are really clued up and listen to people...

Footballers though, 80% of them are basically working class lads who happen to be really good with their feet and have no idea how that happened and end up getting paid stupid amounts of money -how can they have an answer to the world? Saying that, there are some - I met Cantona, he's a switched on guy. The Farm did the Hillsborough 96 tour and they got me in to compere it with Mick Jones from the Clash - We did a gig in Lyon supporting the Stone Roses - who were great, even though they're Man United fans, they were totally into the Hillsborough 96 thing - Cantona turned up, to be a guest and he was really switched on. His favourite band is the Clash, he loved the Roses too and as you'd expect, you could tell, he was far smarter than the average footballer, he was really into all this stuff and wanted to try and make a difference.

I think probably the saddest thing about Cantona is, he's just gone into this...sort of... he just doesn't do very much at all these days....

MCLF: Yeah - He's sort of an eccentric recluse now it seems...

JR: ...yeah, and I like it, he's entertaining, but I think for one thing, he would have made a great manager, because, maybe he wouldn't understand about how to set a team up, but like Ferguson, he'd walk in the dressing room and no fucker would argue with him, he's about 6'6 - he's enormous and he has a real presence. Or, he could have gone into a political or social role, fronting things, without, y'know, going round, looking like a saint - that's the thing everyone who's got any kind of celebrity status is scared of, that virtue signalling thing, where you have to pretend you're a saint, going around looking like the better person - which is why I say the Joe Strummer thing, admitting your own confusion is better, because no one has any answers - even the fucking people with the answers haven't got the answers (laughs) 

There aren't many in football - there's a few, Pat Nevin was always cool, good on his music - I don't expect them to have answers. I thought that thing they did did the other week, putting their hands in their pockets, paying for stuff, was brilliant. I thought they were unfairly picked on as well. I thought it was a deflection from the likes of Philip Green with his yachts bigger than the whole of Blackpool put together and his stinking wealth, they were just trying to avoid people like him, the Richard Bransons, getting the criticism, 'lets pick on the working class lads who make money' -what about the golfers, the rugby union players? And credit to the Liverpool captain, he was already doing it, they'd been speaking already, the week before, saying 'we have to do our bit'

What is their job? - It's to stay fit, be ready to entertain, give people something to get impassioned about, something that connects people together and gives them something more to think about than misery and death. You don't expect footballers to be down the local hospital! People I know who are nurses say 'We don't want a load of fucking footballers in the corridors (laughs) or pop stars... they've got their job, we've got ours but there are things they could do to help' - and one of them was using their wealth to help buy PPE so I thought that thing they did was cool and they deserved credit for it.

Most footballers don't earn that sort of wealth, Blackpool players don't!

MCLF: I wrote about that recently, it's like it's something we never talk about - in all the time I've watched sport, the only time I've ever heard someone say it clearly was on Channel 5 baseball in the middle of the night and the presenter is saying 'Don't you think it's insane that someone gets paid 58 million dollars to hit a ball with a stick' and the analyst replies, 'don't you think it's even more insane that paying a man 58 million dollars to hit a ball with a stick is hobby, a bit on the side for the people who own the team?' 

JR: Yeah, it's that deflection thing again, Nobody's asking why the people who own Man United are worth billions of pounds, they're just pointing at the players and the players are just getting paid what they're given. I don't think it's right, I think the nurses should get paid more, the front line workers, the lorry drivers, everybody - I've always thought that, society should be far more equal but if someone's offered more money, they're going to take it, it's the person offering the money, that's where the problem lies, those people are so rich, it's sick innit?

MCLF: You've written really eloquently over the years about the changes to the music industry and the challenges new bands face getting paid in a digital era - do you see any parallels with the football world? Do you worry about the financial future of football? 

JR: Firstly, post virus, I think we're going to be in a very different world, I think there's two things going to happen - there will a be a move to try and make the world better and that'll be the same battle it always is... and the Trumps will still win and it'll be really frustrating, I think the big companies that can survive the crash, which will include the big football clubs, will be fine, they've got the money, the international reach - they'll be dented, but not too affected. The smaller clubs... it's going to be difficult, you won't get the big wages in division 2. It's going to become, much more semi professional, maybe, like we were talking about earlier, some of those smaller clubs are going to have to become more part of the town, run by the council, as more of a town facility with a semi professional team that plays in whatever league until they can build it back up again, because there's going to be an almighty recession after this - It might not last that long, because money moves in a circle - it's not disappeared, it's just all frozen - people are going to have to be patient, it's not going to be the same.

In terms of parallels with music, it's going to be more or less the same - but I've never been one of those people who thinks, just cos I've made a record, I should get paid a huge wage - I realise my music has a limited appeal - people should pay for music, because it costs us to make the music, but I don't try to make a profit out of it, I try to survive making music, I'm talking as someone who's probably at an average level as a musician, I'm in a cult band, there's enough people who like what I do to sustain it to make another record and of course, I'd like to have more money to make my life easier, but I don't see it as an expectation, I don't see that society is duty bound to support me as a creative person - there's so many people creative now, I think everyone should be creative, but you can't have a society where everyone's getting paid to make music or paint, it's too fucking difficult! - Maybe what what people realise now, in this situation is it's people on the frontline who should be getting paid properly.

We have our role to play as musicians, I'm not demeaning that, some of the people who've bought our records will be using them to escape from the misery of the moment, but I don't think we should be expecting handouts, there's far more important things for a society to do about than paying me to sit around writing weird songs.

MCLF: Have you found this an interesting time creatively? 

Well, weirdly... because I'm forced into my backroom in my flat, I can't rehearse, I can't go into a room with other musicians, we're doing it all online. It's really odd. I'm co-writing songs with people all over the world, I send someone a piece of music, or they send me a drum loop and I'm building bits of music out of it, we go back and forwards, I've got about 12 projects on. It's not a band. I can't tour, I can't go anywhere, I'm just doing all these different things, and it's interesting creatively. Bands are great, but it's not the only way you can make music - on this laptop we're talking on now, I've got software that's like a 128 track studio and I've got a really good mic - I can't make any music I want, in a tiny little room and this is the way music was going anyway... We've been forced to go ten years into the future in ten days!

MCLF: I'm not being sycophantic, but I really liked the arrangements you did on the album with Patrick Jones - that kind of orchestral style is not something I'd heard, it's very different from the Membranes... 

I'm doing a lot of that now, I've got a whole set up for it, I mean, I don't know how to play strings! I'm a punk rock musician, I can hear the music in my head and I do everything with two fingers to work it out, like Clint Mansell does, who used to be in Pop Will Eat Itself - he's one of the top paid film score writers in the world and he's fucking brilliant. He can't play keyboards, he plonks it out with two fingers and gets a string section to play it but he makes amazing music. That's what punk rock was, punk rock was about ideas - I'm not running down people who CAN play, when you watch someone who's a brilliant cello player, or violin player, it's mind blowing and I appreciate their talent, but I will never have that talent to play like that cos I'm too clumsy, but I can hear the music, in my head and if I can hear it in my head, I'll be able to work it out and plonk it out, with two fingers, very slowly but I'll get it done - that's what punk rock taught me - you don't have to be scared, you can create, without the hurdles in the way, virtuoso musicians are amazing, but it's not a barrier to create stuff if you're not one.

The stuff with Patrick was like that, I wrote a lot of that on an iPhone, I can write that music and it's amazing to have that freedom to be able to do that. I'm writing stuff with him right now... It's odd, I hadn't met him till after that record came out... He's exactly like his brother (Nicky Wire, Manic Street Preachers) same mannerisms, same passion.

MCLF: I wanted to ask you, as a writer, as someone who ran a fanzine and has done a lot of music journalism, if there's any particular football writers you admired? I love Mark O'Brien who used to do the Everton fanzine, I think he's a genius but he's just some guy who blogs - do you have any writers like that you particularly appreciate? 

JR: Fanzine writers ARE the best writers... In punk and post punk, everyone was a fanzine writer, none of us went to college to do journalism, in the music papers, there were people who'd been to journalism college, they were on one side of the equation, they never went to gigs and on the other side was us, who lived it and breathed it 24/7 - it was in our blood, it was our passion. Some of those were really good football writers, James Brown, he wrote that great book about 5-a-side, it was written after he'd played for twenty years and the bloke who collected subs had a heart attack and died and they realised 'shit, does anyone know anything about him? Is he married, does he have kids?' cos y'know what it's like with blokes, especially in the north... they'd met up for 20 years and all they'd talked about was football and a bit of music... they knew nothing about him and he was one of their best friends - it's a great book about friendship and the male psyche and who we are as Northerners.

Let's give credit where credit's due, the first football and music crossover writer is Peter Hooten, of the Farm and the people who did 'The End' (seminal 80s fanzine.) Peter's a fantastic writer and it really annoys me that he's never gone on to be one of our main cultural writers, he should be writing for the Guardian y'know? He's got the politics, the hold on culture, sport, music, class and everything. He's a really eloquent writer, he's brilliant and funny. I mean, I guess he's done the right thing, got a great job at LIPA but he's also someone who should be a writer, have a platform on the national stage and I tell him that everytime I see him! He's got stuff to say, he's brilliant on football, despite being a Liverpool fan. I put him in touch with the Tangerine Knights and he got the Spirit of Shankly people on the case, they were really proactive - I guess everyone in football, apart from maybe Preston fans (laughs) thinks really positively of Blackpool cos they associate it with a good night out. They had a really sentimental view of Blackpool, I mean, do you remember that thing when we did the double over them?...

MCLF: Yeah, them clapping us off? 

JR... yeah, they all stayed and gave us a standing ovation! It was amazing really when you think about it.

MCLF: It was.... I suppose it makes it all the worse the multi millionaires who run that club putting their staff out to furlough and then, to be fair to their fans, having to row back on it, because the Liverpool fans rose up and said 'fuck that, this is not what we do!'

JR: Well, it's that idea of 'what we do' or 'what we are' - and the fans see the club as something quite different from the owners, the fans see it as almost some kind of socialist football utopia don't they (laughs...) which it isn't, cos it's a big business. I don't think the American owners really got that bit, but they did, to be fair to them, as soon as they saw the response, and they could have carried on, it wouldn't have affected their business, people would have bitched about them, but they'd have still gone, they'd have still made their money when football started up again, when they realised it was not in the spirit of what they owned, they reversed their decision...

MCLF: The cynical version would be that when they realised it would save them £1 million but cost them £2 million in PR, they reversed it! 

JR: (laughs) I think to be fair, they'd have saved more furloughing the staff....! I see Spurs have gone back on it as well and maybe, some of the lessons are being learned, for the 'post virus world' - it's maybe an utopian vision, but maybe we are realising we can't have some people with all this money, I know it won't be nice afterwards, but maybe some lessons will be learned, y'know, people saying to Richard Branson 'you didn't have a very good war did you Mr Branson?' or Philip Green, those kinds of people. Even Boris Johnson, even though I don't trust him an inch, going on about the NHS, talking about a Portuguese and a New Zealander nurse stood by his bed and all that... Maybe it's lessons being learned. I don't know how much these people lie, but maybe, next time the nurses ask for a pay rise, they won't be laughing about it in parliament, maybe they'll get the fucking wage rise, imagine it... how dare they not give it them!?

It's funny, I was talking to Pete Byrne, the Farm's manager the other day - we'd had this idea to put together a tour in support of the NHS and we couldn't get it together, we went down to London, we'd met Andy Burnham a few times in Parliament, he was going to get Labour right behind it, but then the unions were squabbling, over who was going to be the main union behind it, and then they asked us 'why are you doing this? What's in it for you...?' and we were going...'What do you mean? We don't want any money out of it, we just like the NHS!' It was a stupid, naive idea, but we were going to make the Farm in 'the Justice Band' and get guests to come and play, we were going to gigs where the nurses get in free, the other half of the crowd pay and we give the money back to them. I know it's not a spectacular idea and it was easy for us to do, so we're not great saints for thinking of it, but the amount of suspicion we had to put up with! - Then we started asking bands and nobody wanted to do it, this was about 7 or 8 years ago, so it wasn't really a trendy cause, the only band who were interested, was the Manic Street Preachers, so when the other day, they announced their gig for the NHS and people were going 'oh yeah, that's a trendy cause' and being cynical, I was thinking no - they were always going to do it anyway.

MCLF: If there's one thing you can't accuse the Manics of it's being trendy! They're anything but trendy! 

JR: They believe. They're switched on. They're not doing it so people think they're nice, they just believe that's how musicians should function - that's the thing, you don't have to sing political songs, you just conduct yourself in a political way. You could be David Bowie, doing Ziggy stardust, coming down off his cloud to do a gig for the nurses, it would be great. You don't have to say anything about it, or do interviews about the nurses, just sell 20,000 tickets and make some money for it and get the fuck out of there. Just show that your there, with people. That's what nurses are saying, on the front line, they don't want Ziggy Stardust, sweeping the corridors, or giving out masks, that's not his job.

Ziggy's job is raise morale, raise money, raise awareness and the footballers are the same, no one wants Ronaldo taking pulses in a care home, his job is to put some magic so the people watching, in the care home can say 'wow - did you see magic' - It's an energy and energy makes people feel better. That's what they are there for innit?

Part 3: Can football save itself from itself? What would you do if you were Simon Sadler and 'Oyston Out' the movie! 

John Robb - Part 3: Fucking about with your mates and 'Oyston Out - the movie'

return to part 2

MCLF: The one thing I hope from all this is that we can boil football down to what it is. You get all this stuff on SKY about 'it's a religion' and it isn't. It's an entertainment, a distraction and it shouldn't be so complex, so difficult to imagine 90 odd teams being able to exist and play football against each other. People always talk about the 'football family...' 

JR: ... that thing about 'the family' - I would like to see the Man Uniteds and the Man Cities looking after...maybe they already do and don't make a song and dance about it...but they should be looking after the Accrington Stanley's. It's not just the league clubs as well, it's all the way down the pyramid.... It's like music in a way, it shouldn't be all about the superstars, everyone should have a chance to make music and they've cut back on it in all the schools, everyone should have the opportunity to be in a room, with other people, creating. You learn a lot about yourself and how to deal with other people, it's empowering and that empowerment is one of the most important things, it's not about having a career out of it, or impressing Simon Cowell or being number 1.

It's about 3 kids on a council estate in Blackpool, making something wonderful and creative in a bedroom or a garage, or in a school and learning something about each other, even if it's only for 10 minutes, finding something deep inside themselves, that is artistic and magical. That's the power of music. Too much goes on, like in football, about the lives of the superstars, and what's amazing, is that kid, 14, stays after school for an hour, makes something, a piece of music, whatever it is, doesn't matter, when they go home, they're buzzing, they feel so high, they've made a connection the world - that's what music is about.

It's what sport's about as well. Watching George Best was amazing, his whole story was amazing, apart from the end which is the saddest end to any football story. The caretaker was right in that story,  the one about a caretaker going in and seeing George Best, lying on a bed, with two Miss Worlds, bottles of champagne all over the the floor and saying 'where did it all go wrong' - people laughed at that story for year, but he was right that caretaker. The magic of George Best was on the pitch, not lying drunk in a hotel room. He said that himself, he knew that.

The magic of football is, that anyone can play football, it doesn't matter how crap you are, or what physical condition you are in, you can still have a kick around on the pitch - I remember this from school, everybody used to play play football and the kids who couldn't play used to run around doing football commentaries, taking the piss, having a laugh. It doesn't matter if they fluff a pass, you don't have to be a fucking superstar, just get on the pitch, get some fresh air and just move about. That was the empowerment of football and why it's the world's most wonderful game. You don't really need anything to play,  You don't need a stadium, it was really was that thing that people laugh at, 'jumpers for goalposts' that's how we used to play, in the park, in Cleveleys, it was just a kickabout, and we were all shite but it was magical, we played till it was so dark, you couldn't see anyone else, and that was the power of football, it was so engaging. It's great going watching your local club, you'd see you mates, the players were only slightly better than you ever were, but they really wanted it, but at the end of the day, the best football you'll probably ever know...and you don't need to go on a five-a-side pitch... is just fucking about in the park, running about a bit, having a laugh...

That was the same with music at that level, it works, fucking about with your mates - that's the magic of both sport and music.

MCLF: On that note, I'd like to know what musicians were any good at football... Joe Strummer was supposed to be good... or have I made that up? 

JR: No, no, I read a thing about the Clash playing football when they were making London Calling  and they were supposed to have played in the same style as they were like as people, so Mick just ran with it, on his own and never passed it, Joe just shouted at everyone, Simonen was pretty dirty and Topper was pretty nifty. I think the best football is Johnny Marr, he was meant to be a really good player he had trials I think, Billy Duffy too - he had a team in LA - Hollywood Utd, Steve Jones played with them. Bobby Gillespie too, we played against him a couple of times, when we gigged in Scotland, we'd play internationals, England v Scotland against the Scottish bands, like the Pastels and Primal Scream, Stephen from the Pastels, he was really good, him and Bobby were nifty wingers, but we'd always be fucked up after the night before on acid and we'd lose about 9-0

MCLF: Back on Blackpool; if you were Simon Sadler and you had your big pot of hedge fund money and you'd scooped out however much it is you've decided to invest and put it in an envelope marked 'Blackpool FC' - what would you spend it on?

JR: The first thing is, I think the day the Oystons were kicked out of the club was the equivalent of 1953, which is the greatest cup final of all time, as everyone knows - even my Preston fan mates admit that, it’s such a magical story… What would I do…? I would make it into a ‘people’s club’ - I’d open the doors up a bit more, maybe they already do this, I don’t know, but I’d have it so the facilities could be used by people in the town, I’d have it to encourage physical fitness in the town - Blackpool has got one of the worst rates of everything, health, diet and there’s a massive sports club, right in the middle of it - there could be all kind of sports played there, just to encourage kids to play sport, they don’t have to be the best in the world - just play, it’s good for you, mentally and physically. - So, it should be forward and outward facing, not inward facing. 

I don’t expect us to win the Premier League, I think we’re a championship club and anything we get above that, a season or two in the Premier League if you get lucky, that’s cool. You’ve got to be realistic. The Championship is a great level, there’s big clubs in it, Leeds United have been stuck there for years. 

Hopefully, we’ve not seen much of the new manager yet, but I loved it in the Holloway era, it was like Robin Hood, it was like we said before, like playing in the park, where nobody would play in defence and that really suits Blackpool, that cavalier style. As you know, it’s quite a dour town sometimes, and everyone gets a bit down and it lifts it, when you get a team playing like that… y’know, when we 4-0 down in the Premier League and chanting ‘You’ve only got 4’ and then we’d score a couple and they’d start shitting themselves - those were the best games that season, nobody’s heads going down, it was inspiring to watch. Holloway was the right man at the right time. 

I’d like to see forward thinking, progressive thinking, linking up with people like Dale Vince, we don’t have to use an old model, we can use a new model, but also not lose touch with its roots. There’s no reason it can’t be a middle class and a working class club at the same time, it’d be good for Blackpool, put Blackpool on the map, change perceptions of the town. All those things are really important. 

MCLF: Ok, one more! As a 'person in the media', are you aware of anyone out there who could help tell the story of the Oystons and their removal from the club? It’s SUCH a good story… 

JR: I know at some point, someone was going to write a book, but I don’t know what happened to it, but I think it just kept going on, he kept hanging on and everyone got so dispirited with waiting for it to happen... It IS a great story, but I think the trouble is, up to the point of the virus, the narrative of football has all been about the big clubs, everythings about the lives of the people at the top of society, it's a the soap opera of Liverpool and Man United and a few london clubs is what football had become isn't it? No one is interested in places like Blackpool, the Oyston struggle was a local struggle... 

MCLF: That's true, but it's maybe got something to say to the top clubs? You've got Newcastle and all the years of conflict, Man United and the Glaziers, I can never work out if Arsenal actually have got anything to moan about or are just spoiled, but they're not happy, even Liverpool a few years back with the old owners - of all the clubs going through this, we're the one group of fans who've actually gone 'fuck this, we're not having it' and gates went from 10,000 to about 1,000 home fans - I'm not saying it was all the fans, there was all the legal stuff obviously, but there's no doubt it had an effect and it's got to say something to the rest of football... 

JR: It's a great story and what's great about it is, it was about those 10,000 people, it's not like Man United with 8 million fans all around the world, it's about those 10,000 people, with not very much money, taking on a very rich person. It is a Robin Hood story, a story for our times and in a post virus world, it could be a really inspiring one, because now, we're beginning to see things differently - I think for years, people thought, people who'd made that amount of money must be smart and now people are starting to realise, a lot of them were selfish and lucky, and maybe in football, the people on the terraces, and now the people on the front line, know what they're talking about and should be listened to as well, so maybe, ironically, that story fits really well into a post virus world... It'd make a good film, a really good film... All those great characters, like Afroman - you could make a film about him alone! 

MCLF: Yeah, it's the range of characters too, there's three or four people who are absolutely bonkers doing brilliant, anarchic stuff and then some really, really, serious, thoughtful, eloquent people as well, loads of different backgrounds, they're all united in the same cause... Compared to some campaigns or protests, there's no massive factions or squabbles, just a group of people, who aren't even that political, just going 'no, we're not fucking having this...' 

JR: The irony is, the most inspiring character in the whole campaign, over all the years, is Oyston himself, cos every time he opened his mouth he made sure 10,000 people were against him! 

MCLF: Those two (and their relationship) would also make fantastic characters...

JR: Karl, at any minute he could have sorted it out, gone 'ok, hands up, I've fucked it up, I'm sorry about what I've said, lets get this sorted out' and everyone would've gone 'ok, you're a bit of a dick' and got on with it - but no, he's so arrogant. CEOs, dictators, they're like psychopaths, they have no empathy. People I've met who've been really successful don't give a fuck about anyone else, there's a few exceptions but Oyston and Trump, they're really, really similar characters, but the tragedy for Oyston is, he's a failed Trump! Trump ended up running the biggest country in the world and Oyston's legacy is getting kicked out of a medium sized football club and losing all his money at the same time

MCLF: That's a very good way of of putting it, I'd never thought of it like that... I was at the game after he'd been charged with rape, and he came out on the pitch, with a microphone and talked at a bemused crowd for what seemed like about 20 minutes, it was truly weird, we're were all stood their thinking 'what's he on about...?' and now you've said that, it does seem really 'Trumpian' because it was all 'don't listen to the lies, it's all a plot' and just bare-faced rubbish about 'I've put my whole life into making this club great' - exactly how Trump would speak... Karl always intrigues me, especially the relationship with his dad... he seemed really reasonable, y'know, almost decent sometimes then he'd just do the stupidest things...

JR: Yeah, like taking his picture with the van outside, or going on the messageboards... Why would you want that much hatred in your life, why would you look for that much antagonism in a small town, where there's nowhere to hide... It's mad innit?! 

MCLF: I think there's a 6 part cult TV series in it... Last one, it's quick! - Come and do half time entertainment!

JR: Ha, that'd be great! Once all the virus stuff is over, I'm coming up for a game, I've not been for ages and I've been invited up to meet people. I'm not really an executive box kind of person though! I'll go and find my mates, I still know people who've been going since 70/71.

With that, we exchanged a few brief stories of lockdown experiences and John was on his way...

My huge thanks to John for being a pleasure to chat to. You can follow John online on Facebook and Twitter. His own interview work is brilliant and you can always find something on his various channels to wile away the long hours of lockdown stasis, from Liam Gallagher to Steve Albini, from Nirvana or Patti Smith to Stewart Lee...

Or you could crack on and do some of your own fucking about. Everything starts somewhere.


An open letter from Rick Parry (football hero)

Dear soccer fans (little clubs) 

You might remember me as Rick Parry head of the Premier League or Rick Parry, CEO of Liverpool FC. Back then I was well into mad unsustainable spending and all of that. Hey, I was all for a European Super League but now, I'm on your side. We're all in this together.

Some of you might be thinking 'hang on Rick' - haven't you caused some of these issues wherein football clubs are living hand to mouth, mired in debt and borrowing against their own assets. Some of you might be thinking... , Rick, weren't you a key part of creating the culture that made that a necessity, if you wanted to compete?

Don't worry about all that. Leave it to the people like me, the money men, to run the game because we know best. I've checked things out (on my computer - some of you may have one of those in your office or at the house of a rich relative who works from home) and you'll be surprised to know that I've calculated that having fans at games is important! I know. Who knew?

To that end, we've sorted it all out on ifollow, which is obviously the main thing at the moment, because you're all just gullible consumers.

Please can you also pop outside tonight at 8pm - We're going to be having a #clapforsponsors sponsored by the sponsors followed by a #clapforirvingscholar followed by a ceremonial burning of club funds in praise of the gods of the free market.

Thanks all.



Thursday, April 16, 2020

Billy Ayre's Tangerine Army (forever)

To the outsider, the reign of Billy Ayre at Blackpool might seem unremarkable. Initial success, a couple of play off finals, one lost, one won and two seasons struggling at the foot of the third tier. In this era of heat maps and XG where the lazy stats pundit is the lord of analysis, it would be easy for the cynic to say 'you just squeaked promotion and he'd taken you as far as he could'

How wrong they'd be.

You couldn't possibly explain him like that. A man who, despite the relative brevity of his reign and a lack of silverware is still universally known as King Billy.

What was it about him? There's so much to say:

Who couldn't love a manager who wore the kit to manage the team? That should have been crap, but it wasn't. Cos Billy did it and he meant it. Who couldn't have loved a man who ran out, fists clenched, whipping the fans up like it was some insanely fierce South American derby and again, meant it. Really meant it. Who couldn't love a bloke who looked like he'd run through a brick wall for the club but could be calm, measured, thoughtful, funny and kind at the same time. I never met him, but the stories fans tell of meeting him and the affection his former players and those who knew him within the game universally seem to hold him in speaks volumes.

He seemed fierce and kind at the same time. His deep North East voice dripped with passion and wisdom and humour. He was one of those North East fellas who seemed hewn from the rocks but possessed of a silken soft touch at the same time. My grandad was of the same stuff.

The best way to describe him, I think, is he seemed way older than his years. He'd only just turned 42 when he left Blackpool. He seemed to have many more years of wisdom. He seemed to understand that football is merely a game but at the same time means so much. That the role of those who play it is to care and that to have the chance to care is a privilege.

The list of players who went on to bigger things from Billy's time at the club is impressive and if the club could have invested on the back of the success of the likes of Groves, Wright and Tricky Trev then his reign might have been even more impressive statistically.

What I'll remember him for, is being a man unafraid. Playing kids against men and making them believe. He seemed to inspire the gnarly old pros and be able to put an arm round the young lads. The list of young lads who came into the side under Billy is incredible. Especially when you consider we're in the same division now and we've had a season in which a couple of Football league trophy appearances for the likes of Shaw and Bange and a sub appearance by Sims is the sum total of our youth development.

Billy kept us afloat at the same level, losing proven quality like David Eyres to rivals, players like Bamber to long periods of injury and players like Garner to age. He wasn't given any resources to rebuild, despite decent fees coming in for for a clutch of players Billy didn't moan or throw his toys out the pram - He promoted Mark Bonner, Chris Beech, Andy Gouck, Neil Mitchell, Jamie Murphy, Grant Leitch, Chris Speak and more to the side. At the other end of the scale, his coach, Neil Bailey had to several times come out of hibernation in 1992/3 and play despite having not played a game of pro football since a loan spell at a relegation bound Newport County 5 years years earlier. 

Looking at our squad from 1993/4 it is palpably worse than the one who took us up two years prior - but his sides still entertained and still fought. We still got behind him and them, because it was Billy and because he cared. He obviously cared, so much, despite doing a job that was almost impossible. A side in which Bryan Griffiths was the most creative player, where Beech and Bonner shouldered the midfield burden and David Robinson spent chunks of the season simply not being Dave Bamber because who could possibly fill those boots?

We loved Billy so much we bought him players because Owen wouldn't. We created a ticker tape welcome for the side when they were good and we carried on doing it even when it started to seem ironic because Billy believed and we went with him.

What other manager, of any club anywhere, would have been carried on the supporters shoulders at a Cardiff final, his name ringing out again and again, despite what is (on paper,) a fairly average seeming record and having left the club 7 years before? It wasn't like we'd had years of success. It wasn't as if we hadn't seen the side battered at home, seen them struggling, looking lost. We'd seen some terrible stuff, but he always pulled it round. He always had the strength and the will to go again.

It sounds ludicrously hyperbolic to say that he had the same quality as Shankly and maybe it is, but it's Shankly that is remembered by Liverpool fans, despite having a far inferior record to some of those who followed him. He's remembered as much for who he was and how he conducted himself as what he achieved and in his own dignified, passionate and human way, Billy is forever remembered by those of who were there. It was his passion that lit up what was at the time, an often more than half empty rusting shed of a ground and turned it into a place that captured your soul.

It's over 25 years since he took his last walk from the Bloomfield dugouts to the corner of the south and west stands, over 25 years since he took charge of the final day thriller away at Leyton Orient (a game I listened to on the South West Coast of Scotland, on the edge of a cliff, my radio phasing in and out of signal, listening desperately for news and getting one last miracle amidst the static.) 

Really, no matter who comes and goes, we're still his Tangerine Army. Larry, Ollie, Macca, Critch and all the rest were just borrowing us. 

Temporary generals. 

Billy Ayre's Tangerine Army

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Cap in hand: For a new modern football

Two of my favourite players ever. No reason. Just because it's my blog and I can. So there. 


This is a long post. I hope it's not too indulgent as me or my team only get a few brief mentions. It's probably overwritten, but I think the points within need to be rammed home. It’s about football as a whole and what and who it’s for and why we desperately need to reevaluate the way the game is run (both in response to the current crisis and in more general terms.) 

Football isn't urgent in comparison to some things in wider society, but within the game there is an urgent need to recognise that some simple changes could make some huge differences.

It starts with a simple thought experiment. An invitation to visualise something. It’s a theme that recurs as a motif and it’s probably quite useful in gauging whether or not you want to read on.

- If the imagery appeals to you, then hopefully the article will do as well.
- If it doesn’t, then you can go and watch Tiger King, Instagram your toaster, curtain twitch with a stopwatch timing your neighbour's daily exercise or whatever it is that normal people do these days, as the article is unlikely to be for you.

Lets go!

Part 1: We all like football. 

Think about football for a moment. Think how much you miss it.

Think about the throbbing expectation of the few moments before kick off. The building anticipation, the beat of a drum corralling the support. Both sets of fans chanting, trying to outdo each other, players stretching, some of them jumping, some of them running on the spot, some clapping to psych themselves up.

Think of the referee, calm in the midst of the intent and desire, no way to win or lose, stood by the ball on the spot, the apex of a rising storm, everything held in place until he raises his whistle to his lips. Hear the shrill sound and see the players break, the game begin to form and feel the crowd rise as one, to implore their side towards great efforts.

You've gone. The week has gone, your life has gone. There is only this now. The phone in your pocket is forgotten. The argument, the overbearing line manager, the overdraft, the sickness, the sense of underachievement, the heavy weight of mortality and the dragging, drowning feeling of mundane hopelessness all forgotten. At least for a few hours. 

Victory Park, Chorley - one of many places where people play and watch football.

You can picture this at Old Trafford or the Bernabeu, you can picture it at a 9th tier barely semi pro side with a few fences and one ramshackle stand. You can picture at anywhere between the two extremes, almost anywhere around the globe. It’s the Saturday 3pm experience wherever you are.

Football is the best game. There is no dispute, no argument, no question. Tennis. Wrong. Cricket. Love it, but too fiddly. Athletics - don’t bother unless you’re a physical freak. Dungeons and Dragons? Social play therapy, not a sport.

It’s the best game because no matter how it’s branded, no matter what deals are done to show it in far off climes or how powerful the names on the advertising hoardings are, it’s the same game.

It's a beautiful, simple thing, honed over hundreds of years, basically unchanged but alway evolving. It's a game where one form of skill doesn't always predominate, where ability rubs up against effort and doesn’t always triumph. A game that is easy to understand but forever innovating with itself. There is no sport that matches it for simplicity yet timeless and infinite variations.

All you need is a (ideally but not critically green) space, two goals and a ball. Pick teams and go. It’s a thing of beauty and we owe a debt of gratitude to the ancient Chinese, the public schools and the industrial heartlands of Scotland, Lancashire, Yorkshire and the Midlands for helping us get to a point where Association Football is a very definite thing.

Football is under threat, we are told. There is an existential crisis, a deep and real problem. The money has stopped. The wheels of industry are not turning. 

Let's establish something, here at the outset - the game of football is not the football industry.

Part 2: Football itself is NOT a business
The game is not the business. The game is not the 24/7 soap opera and relentless filling of TV channels and radio shows with breathless empty supposition and speculation. The game is not in house media partners or official fucking coconut water providers. It’s not getting ‘credit in the media’ for achievements based on the quality of the PR team. It’s not contract sagas that never end or players whose wages for the week could run a hospital ward for two bickering with club legal teams over who owns the rights to a picture of them. 

Lets establish something else - that it’s wrong to simply ‘blame the players’. It’s wrong to paint them as (even though some of them are) greed merchants who would sell their nan into an early grave to get a better contract and who are probably buying ventilators just to chuck out the window of their mansions and photograph the smashed up bits for their Instagram profiles.

The blame lies fairly and squarely with the 35 year rush towards endless monetisation of what is, at its heart, a simple sport the main byproduct of which for over a century was people coming together on a Saturday or a Tuesday afternoon and watching their favourite team play.

Realising that the ‘experience’ of being a football fan could be sold to stay at home armchair supporters and a more monied football fan alike, the games authorities set about constructing the best ‘product’ they could and whilst it’s probably, on the balance of things, good that supporters don’t stand on crumbling terraces whilst piss runs over their shoes with the ever present threat of being charged by weapon wielding away fans, the price we’ve paid for the gain of a plastic seat and a slightly wider range of crisps at the kiosk is ever worse financial governance, ever decreasing actual competition and thus ever dwindling opportunity to enjoy success, ever less say about when games take place and at what time and ever growing disconnect between the money we put into clubs and what and how they pay it out again.

The ‘best product’ means that the biggest brands get the most exposure. The biggest brands get the best shelf space. The biggest brands don’t get tainted by failure or threatened by upstarts. The ‘football industry’ such as it became known sometime in a broadsheet between 1998 and 2002 is fundamentally rigged.

From the mid 1990s onwards, moderate success was rewarded by a Champions League place. The Champions league place gave clubs more money to spend. More money to spend equates to more attractive sponsors, more attractive sponsors equals better players, better players equals more Champions League football and so on and so on.

The ‘top teams’ had a head start. Season upon season they relied on their previous success and their financial largesse to steamroller their way back to those places. We’re nearly 30 years down the line and football is like a feudal state. The lords of the top few teams who take what they want, when they want, from the peasants (everyone else.) They dole out a few handouts every now and again but really, all they are doing is amassing and protecting their own wealth.

It is this system that has driven up wages, not the players as clubs gamble more and more to try and break into or protect their place in the ‘elite’ tier. 

An unrelated picture of 1984 Spectrum game 'Elite' that breaks up the visual tedium of all the words
The phrase - ‘one of the elite’ says it all. This is a game, not a social order and yet it’s part of the everyday language of football. To this cynical eye, today’s elite are cowards. Stockpiling players and jealously guarding their place in the money spinning pseudo competitions that pass for the European Trophies. They’re not ‘better’ than the teams of 30,40,50,100 years ago because they’ve won more or stayed at the top longer - they’re just better protected financially from their own mistakes because they’re that much richer than everyone else. 

The commercialisation of football has run in direct parallel to the loss of its competitive edge. The last non-premier League champions (Leeds) followed up their success by finishing 17th. Great teams of the past that dominated for periods (Huddersfield, Wolves, many others, even Manchester United) suffered ignominious falls from grace, relegations, long fallow periods relatively hot on the heels of their glory because the game was so competitive. The game was such that a side could be promoted from division 2 from time to time and win the league the next year.

That is competition. That is excitement. Not the same names, year upon year upon year parading across your TV screen whilst you stuff your face with Doritos and think you're a football fan because Ray Winston told you to have a flutter and you bought a shirt at DW sports and have ‘banter’ at work about ‘your team’. You ain’t helping the game - you are responsible for perpetuating the cowardly anti competitive arrangements that mean the ‘top sides’ never even have to think about failure, whilst all the time ramming it down our throats that ‘it’s never been more competitive’ or ‘it’s all about fine margins’ - Bullshit and more more bullshit with fucking massive ‘official Barclay Premier League propaganda’ shaped cherry on top. 

People who don't like sport at Wimbledon. On telly. 

It is the same willful, deliberate and fundamentally anti-social commercialism that has meant it is nearly 28 years since we’ve seen a football match from the leading competition of the national game on UK domestic television. Think about that - the national game, not some once a year village fete in Wimbledon with blokes in white shorts hitting a tennis ball back or women grunting in there stupid little skirts so perverts can eat strawberries and get off on it whist Sir Cliff sings along. It’s not Crufts or yachting for fuck sake. It’s the leading sport. The one most people actually like or care about by a giant margin. One of the key drivers of exercise in young people and by far and away the most accessible and most played team sport in the world. Not a single minute of it on telly for twenty eight years.

Why? Because those in charge sold the sport to the highest bidder, and stood back and watched as it became more and more grotesquely bloated and creamed off the excess for themselves. Because it suits them. Not the game. Them.

Part 3: Don't: Blame the players Do: Panic!
Who gets the blame in public? The players… Shouting at the players is like shouting at the veal calf for getting fat. Screaming at it for taking part in immorality. Blame the farmer, blame the diner. Not the calf itself. It’s like putting the Lufwaffe on trial and giving Hitler a free pass and commending him for the quality of his wealth creation and stylishness of his brand. 

An innocent and blameless individual earlier this year. 

If the players don't get it, then a favourite explanation of the 606 host or lazy podcast slags is 'the clubs are only doing what the fans demand!' as if that's how society works. Multi million pound business just run themselves into the ground because someone on twitter asks them too. No fans got together in the mid 1980s and planned a breakaway league. It wasn't fans that put together subscription TV and no matter how closely you lsten to the soundtrack of the crowd on 'Match of the 70s' you can't hear anyone at Upton Park in bell bottom trousers, saying to their mate 'Tell you what I want to see? I want to see these player getting paid so much that the best of them could buy the stadium and everyone in it with their spare change and better still, if the club could bankrupt themselves in the process - that would really improve my 'football matchday experience'

What pundits (what even is a 'pundit') mean is fans are ambitious and want the team to do well. Of course they do. Ambition has always been part of a football fans make up. We always want our teams to win, but now, most of us, even those who support some of the biggest and most famous clubs in history, find ourselves trapped by ambition into willing our club become a play thing for a multinational company with morals that make politicians look saintly or individual so rich the illuminati probably have a conspiracy theory about them. It's either that or accepting endless humdrum mundanity where our ambitions are limited to being ‘the best of the rest’ 'not going down' and any accidental, against all odds or plain freak success is ‘once in a lifetime.’ At no point did we ask for that. We just go along with what happens. That's the point. We're fanatical. We're followers of the game, not organisers of it, so fuck off all the other lazy talking heads on 5Live and TalkSport who often speak about the game (for cash) with such feigned reverence and so little thought that they're  beneath contempt.
Southampton fans get excited at begining of the season 'Will we be 12th, 13th or 14th?'  
Is it any wonder that the crowds are quieter than once they were? Is it any wonder that clubs are bankrupting themselves just to get a little taste of success. What’s the point in the game if you can’t at least dream of winning something one day? Nobody outside of the top few teams expects success now and some of us know it will never come whilst the game is in it's current guise. For many, it might never do anyway, but if the dream isn’t there, then football becomes just about going through the motions. And whilst, ultimately there’s no point in anything, what with us being a solitary species cursed with inexplicable levels of self awareness on an over crowded and eventually doomed rock in the middle of an inhospitable void of endless black nothingness... but y’know, it would be nice if we could pretend like something meant a bit once in a while eh? 

What do we actually lose from the game if we tighten the reins and halt the galloping horse of commercial intent? It’s a genuine question asked in good faith - you’re supposed to actually consider it... What do we actually lose?

Doesn’t the imagery at the opening sound good? Aren’t you so desperate for this to be over that you can almost bad beer and pies? Isn’t it one thing you are really looking forward to? If it isn’t, do you actually like football? Why are you reading this?

Does it really matter how many of the players you are imagine in that little vignette are the absolute ‘elite?’

Is the price of having a few top clubs with all the best talent, the very survival of everyone else?

Hotels near Old Trafford Football Ground | Manchester | Best ...
The (slightly tatty) Theatre of Dreams

Repeat the thought exercise of the opening paragraphs - Remember, we’re imagining the universal moment of anticipation shared by all fans, from Old Trafford to Trafford FC* and everyone in between. Now, visualise the spectrum of grounds: The vast yawning stands of the biggest, the identikit mid range ikea stadia, the hotchpotch ramshackle of the smallest and all the grounds in between that don’t quite fit in, the few classic old school ones, the half built stands and everything else - they’re full of fans, the pitches have players in red, blue, black and white, hoops and stripes and quarters, yellow, green and of course, tangerine. Imagine that 45 seconds of anticipation and the moment of release on the whistle again…

(*Northern Premier League North West Division if you were wondering… incidentally and somewhat in keeping with the tone of this piece their final pre shutdown result was a 3-3 draw against Sheffield FC, who by merit of being founded in 1857 hold the distinctly pre 1992-93 of being the oldest football club in the world)

….Now, imagine some of them silent. Imagine the gates locked and grass growing long, meadow flowers on the pitch and all the perspex in the dugouts smashed. Imagine bulldozers and piles of rubble. Imagine, yet another housing estate (10% affordable homes all round! Fill your precariously employed zero hours contracted boots y’all!) with a name like ‘Striker’s Mews’ and ask yourself a simple question; is that what you want? Is that a price worth paying to keep things as they are? 

Coming soon to a ground near you? (The likes of George Reynolds are as bad a disease as any pandemic)
If you think that your club is fine and that you aren't really affected by what happens to other teams then try the next paragraph as an exercise.

Think of music for a second. It’s fine that the likes of Adelle sell bucketloads of records. It’s music for people that don’t really like music and it’s ok because out there in the musical ether is endless noise. Now imagine there was ONLY Adelle and some other pop star that people liked. Imagine Adelle was number one forverevereverever except when she was at number two and that other pop star that people like was at number one and then Adele was number one the week after and every time you put on the radio it was Adele or the other one who people like. Nothing else. Just them.

That’s kind of like what football is already like. An unchanging diet of the same competition-fearing corporate monsters, a soulless trudge through the chart countdown with the same names at the top every single time. In at number 7 - Well done Burnley, you aren’t quite a shit as you should be, have a pat on the head and a tinfoil cut out of a trophy to wave before you get dumped out the cup again. A new number 1! It's Leicester City, you once in a lifetime, dreams come true fairytale. Hands up all of you at home whose dreams of football as a kid involved Taiwanese backers who were billionaires more than 5 times over! Such a genuine and classic tale of little club that makes good despite only having one insanely rich family behind them.... which just goes to show that anyone can win anything in this topsy turvy, crazy, best league in the world, especially if you ignore the indisputable evidence of the last twenty odd years and keep repeating crap like that enough.

It’s only going to get worse in the coming months and years. It’s not the ‘elite’ that are going to the wall, even if some of them are furloughing staff (or rowing back furiously after calculating the damage) - it’s the rest of us who are looking worriedly at our own clubs balance sheets, or, dare I say it, nervously wondering if our rivals will disappear. Questioning if games that have layers of meaning built up over centuries are to be wiped off the calendar and matches which crackle with particularly fervent tension are to just disappear without even a last chance to say goodbye.

Tom needs Jerry. Imagine an episode where one of them just goes about their life, untroubled by the other. Wouldn’t really be the same would it? Wouldn’t be especially captivating. Imagine a version of Tom and Jerry, where Tom is able to lazily catch Jerry and then eat him, every time. Where the plucky mouse is powerless against the all powerful cat. Again, not really the plot breakdown of a classic is it? 

That’s what watching top flight football feels like. 

This isn't a still. It's an entire embedded episode of the cartoon 'Tom' 

Part 4: The obligatory reference to 'what Andy Holt thinks' and lots of numbers

It doesn’t actually have to be that shit. You could fix the problems faced by many ‘lesser’ clubs in an instant. Accrington chairman Andy Holt estimates his club’s (survivable) shortfall as around £1.5 million pounds.
A good chairman and a prolific twitterer. Other people say 'tweeter' but I'm running against the stream. 

What comes next is so astonishing that after I’d done worked it out on a calculator, I had to get my maths checked by an actual maths teacher! (Reader, I REALLY did, it’s that mind blowing…)

Accrington Stanley would require just 0.016% of the Premier League 9.2 billion pound TV windfall to fill their cash shortfall. That’s absolutely astonishing. A founder member of the Football League, one that has fought their way back from oblivion and shown a dedication to the simple pursuit of ‘having a football club’ could be facing administration because some other clubs have snaffled all the money for themselves.

So astonished was I about the smallness of the percentage involved (and I find hard to envisage 1.5 million, let alone 9.2 billion) that I took the maths further and applied the percentages involved to everyday figures.

For extra topical bonus points, I’m going to replace the 9.2 billion pounds with the pre tax maximum 2.5k monthly salary of one of Mike Ashley or Daniel Levy’s furloughed staff that the 9.2 billion pounds apparently can’t afford. I’m going to replace Accrington Stanley with a very sickly person who desperately needs to fund some life saving treatment or a starving person who needs some food.

So, essentially, I’m asking the following question - what is 0.01630434782608696% of 2.5k and it would it be reasonable to ask someone who is furloughed to put their hand in their pocket and donate towards the wellbeing of another individual?

The answer is: 40p.

So, if you want to work out (in everyday terms that you or I can can relate to), what sort of money it would take to save one (incredibly historic) football club from the Corona virus, then you have the simple answer - less than the price of a cup of tea, less than the price of single cigarette, less than the price of a packet of fucking crisps. I can’t actually think of anything that costs less than 40p. When you divide that by the teams in the Premier League it works out as 75k each. When you apply the same sum to the 2.5k monthly salary it works out as 2p.

Wouldn't even cost this much!
I don’t think I know ANYONE who would be that tight arsed as to keep the 40p for themselves and I think even a full blown twat might flick 2p at a beggar in an act of contemptuous giving.

Let's take stock now, because this is going to continue a bit more and get more numbery - Thus far we’ve saved one club from administration with what barely counts as useful pocket change. The Accrington ultras are still waving their corny flags (I actually quite like their flags, but Lancashire rivalry forces me to save face by saying they’re rubbish) and we’ve established that we really like football and it would be a good thing for it to carry on, in as many places as possible. Are you still with me? Are you ready for more numberwang?

It’s sadly not going to be quite so easy to save everyone. Accrington are a very well run club who have eschewed the model of spending money they haven't got in favour of a pragmatic stewardship based on a hardcore of dedicated players, staff who bleed ‘Stanley,’ both on the training pitch and in their community liason work, getting the absolute best fan experience they can and encouraging home and away supporters to drink and eat at the ground and topping it off with astute free transfers and loan signings. That summary probably does a disservice to them in its brevity. It’s undeniable that it’s worked for Accrington to this point and it’s hard to see how they could be more diligent and responsible or more open and transparent about their circumstances.

Not everyone is Accrington. (It’s here that the numbers start coming, thick and dizzyingly fast - maybe recharge your glass at this point)

In the same division you have Sunderland and who really knows the truth of their financial situation? We can only guess how the cost of not playing games is racking up for a side who expect 25k plus gates as a minimum and lest we forget who paid a fee that can rise to 4 million pounds for the now seemingly worthless and thoroughly extinguished Will Grigg (who was apparently on over £1million per/annum at Wigan Athletic, who themselves are laden with upwards of £14 million pounds worth of debt and even without Will ‘damp squib’ Grigg are paying 168% of their income on wages.

If that made your head hurt, I started off saying ‘Sunderland are probably/possibly a bit fucked’ and moved on to point out that Wigan definitely/definitely pay 68% more than they earn on wages (to achieve a status of being really average in front of a mostly empty ground)

Lest you not be grasping the full extent of the mess of Wigan’s finances, you should note that figure doesn’t cover the full extent of their losses. It’s ONLY the wage bill. Not policing costs, maintenance, transfer fees or anything else… JUST wages.

Another founder club of the football league is Preston North End. They’re slightly less average than Wigan and sustained similar losses in front of a similarly under capacity stadium. Derby County (who along with Sunderland and Accrington were also at the league founders party) are in a similar boat but their losses for last year total approximately £47 million pounds. Add Blackburn to the mix (122% of income on wages and an £18 million loss and you’ve got half the gang back together and without a pot to piss in. If West Brom joined them in a reunion, their 66% wage/income ratio might have them buying the first round but their losses of £17 million probably wouldn’t allow them to put the card behind the bar.

The Reebok. Look at how well it has secured Bolton's future prosperity! 
We’ll now add a seventh member to the school of 1888 get together - Bolton Wanderers, who would still be wearing a suit from 10 years ago and drinking water. Yes, they’re technically there and joining in, but they’re saddled with so much debt and with such memories of recent torment that they’ve not really got over that they daren’t even trust themselves with a free drink in case they’re expected to buy one in return. This is the club of Nat Lofthouse, the lion of Vienna, in penury. A club whose very existence in a shiny, new(ish) state of the art stadium with associated revenue making facilities like hotels and leisure clubs seemed the epitome of late 90s, early 2000s upwardly mobile classlessness in the shiny new state of the art football. Yet here they are, all their history, old and modern, counting for naught - They’re on the brink and it shows.

Why am I citing the founder members in particular? - Because these sides started all this off, they are the teams without whom we’d never have got to where we are now.

Imagine a world without the sheer thrill of having a Europa League 2 or that ‘hilarious’ banter show they put on Amazon (when the football was over) with ‘Crouchy’ and some other footballers acting like they’d been kidnapped by a psychopath who was making them have a party. It felt for all the world is if he’d told them, if they didn’t enjoy themselves he’d slice their youngest born into bits with a ham slicer until they bloody well looked like they were having fun and he’d be watching every fucking breath they took to make sure they had THE BEST TIME. Each time ‘Crouchy’ or the other footballers laughed, it felt hollow, frightened, a bit too loud and a bit too empty and the relief when it was all over was palpable and quite the most cathartic bit of the whole experience. Without the 12 founder members, we’d never have experienced that.

Without those clubs, there would have been no jobs in football for Rick Parry and Richard Masters and no goodbye fund for Richard Scudemore. Think how empty the world would be.

It occurs to me that the £5 million point gift bestowed on Scudamore on departure from his Premier League role was enough to cover Accrington’s shortfall more than 3 times over. But then, obviously Scudamore has contributed a lot more to football than a mere club who play the game in front of supporters in a ground, fulfilling fixtures and providing competition for other teams, and who was to know at that time that football clubs were losing money? - We’ll not begrudge him that gift - It would be churlish because I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve turned to someone at a football match and said ‘say what you like about Richard Scudamore, but I don’t know if I’d still enjoy football without his sterling work’

Again, let's catch our breath - this is a slog, I know and we lost track for a moment... At this point - we’ve cast around and found some of the most famous names in world football history are, too use a Lancashire phrase, ‘brassic’ - they’re living beyond their means and unsustainably so. Accrington are by far and away in the best position on their balance sheet and even they (according to their own chairman) are likely to need administration. That’s a club in a good position.

We haven't mentioned Macclesfield or Charlton Athletic or any other ‘crisis club’ - We’ve managed to talk about financial crisis and modern football without mentioning Bury, or their near neighbours Oldham who might find themselves in the same boat as the twice FA Cup winners (and joint holders of the the biggest margin of victory) 

FA Cup 1990: Manchester United 3-3 Oldham Athletic (aet) - BBC Sport
Happier times for OAFC
We’ve also not mentioned that only 8 sides in the Premier League (where most of the money actually IS) made a profit and that yet another founder member, Everton (holders of the longest continuous top flight place in English football) made a £107 million pound loss in their endless pursuit of sixth place that makes Aston Villa (the 9th of the 12 original sides) and their £67 million pound loss in pursuit of going up and then probably going down again seem positively frugal and frankly exciting in comparison.

We’ve resolutely, without even trying particularly or being financial experts in any way, skimmed across the surface of football and discovered it to be pretty resolutely fucked.

But why is it so fucked? If you’re still reading now, you probably want something to take away, other than the misery of a global pandemic destroying the fabric of a game already weakened by years of terrible governance.

In the spirit of keeping our ruddy chins up and bloody well not getting too down about all of this I want to propose some things that could not only save the game at this point, but improve it, immeasurably in my view (I would say that) over the coming years. I’m not suggesting herd immunity. 

Part 5.1: What can we actually do about this? (followed by more numbers)
Firstly, there is no reason to have two governing bodies running the professional game. It’s insane and it was borne of pure greed. How you legally unpick that, I don't know but I cannot thing of a single footballing reason to split up the governance of the game as it is (aside from the bonus of not having VAR in the EFL.)

The disparity between the divisions (and governing bodies) has bred a two tier system in which chasing the rewards of the Premier League are a necessity - remember, we have to accept the point of professional football clubs is to win games, get promotion, win trophies, beat rivals etc - and we can’t be too critical of them for trying to do that. I don’t propose hippy football where we all go and watch some non-league club that wear pink and play with Corinthian spirit and everyone draws 2-2 every week and we all clap all the goals and cheer fair play trophies. That would be shite.

The result of this drive to reach the top division (which has alway been there, but never such a steep climb to the peak) means many teams in the Championship can’t live within their means and succeed. In fact, it’s actually worse than that - Year upon year teams can’t live within their means and merely stay in the division as by now, so many sides have fallen from the Premier League with inflated bank balances and a legacy of greater spending power or a higher quality squad. There's little or nothing the EFL can do about that as the money bestowed on those who come down comes from a different body.

It’s pointless giving up on the league and trying to win the cups as the big few have a virtual monopoly over those, even the shitty league cup which no one wants to win that much, but Man City do anyway, just to prove they can, turning up in the last few rounds with a proper team, like a kid from yr 11 battering a yr 7 kid just because he wants to. 

When is the Carabao Cup third round draw? Man Utd, Arsenal ...
Don't get your hopes up about winning even the crappest of cups
The separate governing bodies ensures that this situation goes unchecked as the Premier League are not especially bothered about whether Rotherham can live within their means and survive in the championship or if Ipswich Town get back into the top flight in the next decade. Their brand is not built on Ipswich or Rotherham. It’s built on big clubs, spending big money and being ‘the best in the world.’

We have to remind ourselves that some of the teams are so unbelievably good and so mind-blowingly wonderful is the product on offer that the Premier League don’t want anything to damage that. Least of all unglamorous, low market share teams being good. Any measures that might mean one day, Rotherham or Ipswich give Liverpool or Tottenham a bloody nose should be avoided at all cost. They certainly don’t want Rotherham or Ipswich getting into Europe and wasting all those branding opportunities. The people of Nigeria (or wherever else) are not going to be paying their TV subscriptions to watch the Millers (or any number of clubs) after all. If people in Nigeria stop paying for their telly, then that damages the Premier League.

With all that in mind, you no doubt will understand why - that in order to ensure the greatest competition in the world stays as the greatest competition in the world, it needs to be as uncompetitive as it possibly could be.

It all makes total sense.

Secondly, we said earlier, that it’s not the player’s fault. It definitely isn’t. Confusingly though, I’m now going to say wages ARE a HUGE issue, - After all, I spent several paragraphs listing the fundamental issue of player wages outstripping income. We considered that this is an issue even within the Premier League, with its £9.2 billion TV deal and multinational sponsorship of everything and anything adding further billions to the coffers of clubs before a ticket is even sold.

What we’ve got to understand (and each person who claims to like football needs to take this to heart and really think about it), is that players aren’t our football heroes anymore. They aren’t actually there just to score goals, win tackles and headers or make saves. That’s really not why they get the wages they do.

They get paid so much, because richer people than them (or businesses that are worth far more), think they (the players) are able to make them (the rich people or the businesses) money. They get paid this much because nothing stops people paying them this much. Because the desire to make money dictates their ‘market value’ and we’ve decided that it’s quite alright, in fact it’s something to positively celebrate, if football is left to the vagaries of the free market, for better or worse. 

Footballers get paid because their mere existence promotes the brand of the club, which in turn promotes the sponsors who naturally demand the top billing in order to want to be associated with a given club and thus pay out their money to them. They also promote the way of life of a footballer, the glamour and the get filthy rich for doing not a lot, wander around in your flip flops and show your crib off lifestyle that is tremendously salable. They are just pawns, just actors who didn’t write the script. Very well remunerated pawns, but ones whose role is to flog an ever so slightly attainable dream to (often really poor) people all around the world who will thus aspire to be like them and buy the associated sportswear in lieu of the car and career and place the bets that Ray Winston promises might just get them rich.

Have you ever stopped to wonder why you just don’t seem to get ugly as fuck scruffy footballers any more? Because they aren’t footballers. Even the funny looking ones get groomed till they have a passable level of glamour. You can’t polish a turd, but you can give Bobby Firmano a more flattering haircut and do his wardrobe. They’re fashion icons and if fashion does one thing, it bleeds us dry, reminding us forever that we need new things to remain relevant and the money train of the Premier League can never stop because it always requires new and better catwalk models.

The players didn’t invent that. They just were good at football. Someone else did and even if they didn’t know what they were doing at the beginning, when they got half a sniff of what it meant for business, they were very keen to protect the revenue and market share of the top teams, the ones with the maximum ‘reach’ to the most ‘markets’ and that enabled them to spend big and keep spending big, outdoing each other in landing the most marketable, most exotic, most outrageous transfer coup. Every big transfer is promotion. It’s global marketing and it makes sense financially for the very biggest clubs. Their balance sheets don’t lie.

It’s all working fine for Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal, Tottenham and Chelsea. The model works. Look at the profits. Lagos, Adelaide, Scandinavia are all calling and they all want to stock your replica shirt and to show your match in the bar. Think how happy the sponsors will be. Good for business. 

It’s shit for football itself though. It’s really shit. We know how much money these teams have - the 2018 accounts illustrate the biggest 6 club’s turnover as being between about £380 million (Tottenham) and £600 million (Man Utd). The rest between about £125 million and £189 million (that’s Everton in 7th by the way)

We’ve got a game where the 7th biggest club is starting from a position of more than 3 times less financial strength as the 1st biggest and roughly half that of the 6th. There are 91 teams in the league (RIP Bury.) There is no way on earth that it can be good for competition to have a side like Everton so financially inferior to Manchester United or Liverpool. It’s fine for Everton or anyone else to be shit and unquestionably, Everton have had their share of shit signings and shit managers. I'm not trying to argue against good teams being good and I'm not advocating creating a league without excellence.

The problem is - Everton (not withstanding the deep pockets of their owner) and everyone below them has less ability to absorb their mistakes and whilst errors that big clubs make might get the fans a bit of stick on twitter, the same mistake by a slightly less financially privaliged team could ruin them for decades. Secondly, being outside of the ‘elite’ positions they have less ability to attract players and consequently less brand recognition on the global stage. This equates to less turnover and everything just goes around until someone insanely rich buys into a club every few years and once in a blue moon (see what I did there?), is rich enough to put them into the elite and/or committed enough not to leave them in the lurch, owning a pile of debt and a load of underwhelming signings that went wrong.

A club like Everton are rich in one sense, but in another are entirely at the mercy of an owner who has no ties to the club or the community. That's not xenophobia or misplaced nostalgia for the 'good old days' - many foriegn owners put the likes of Peter Swales firmly to shame and there's plenty of villainous English business people had or had their fangs in the neck of our game.  

Blackpool chairman Karl Oyston axed by dad Owen after amazing ...
If we can get rid of that family, we can fix football!
We’ve not yet put a figure on the difference between a league 1 or league 2 side and the Premier League… Suffice to say that the entire League 2 turnover is more than £30 million less than the lowest turnover of any Premier League club. Both League 1 and League 2 combined turnover less that Tottenham. How does a club who finds itself in the lower leagues at this point in its history (and remember, football is fluid, ever changing, teams go up and down) even think about competing at a higher level? It’s hard enough for Everton so what’s the point in Exeter? How do they possibly hope to fund a similar level of training facilities or offer incentives for promising players to stay another year? How can they possibly compete in scouting or god forbid, trying to market themselves to their catchment area, against teams who turnover significantly more than their entire division put together?

It might seem unthinkable that Exeter or Grimsby or Rochdale could ever have a season in the sun, but Watford were almost perennially hopeless before being catapulted into Europe. Oxford United have won major trophies within my lifetime as have Luton Town. Carlisle United and Peterborough Town spent seasons in the top flight. Lest we forget that Manchester City were in the third tier not so long ago. Chelsea were relegated in the 80s, Manchester United and Tottenham in the 70s, Liverpool were a distinctly mediocre Div 2 side for a long time prior to Shankly, Huddersfield Town were by far and away the best side in country once upon a time and Wolves probably the most famous and glamourous English club before hitting rock bottom and finding their way back. The examples are endless. Football should change, it should fluctuate. There’s always bigger clubs and smaller clubs but the engineered stasis we have now is not how history tells us football was before clubs took their spending through the roof and (as we outlined above) ensured that the rewards were structured in such a way that allowed an elite few to perpetuate their success ad infinitum.

‘That’s just modern football - it’s just the way it is’ - This phrase makes me want to beat the person who utters it to a bloody pulp and then force them to eat their own waste that they excreted in terror at being forcibly faced with their own leaden lack of understanding and paucity of thought. It’s not football. It’s business. It’s branding, it’s marketing, it's a fucking cartel, a closed shop. It’s anything and everything but sport.

Selling shirts in China has fuck all to do with football. It has everything to do with business. Striking deals with global corporations to sponsor your ground or your kit isn’t football. It’s business. Nobody takes their team on a pre-season tour of the far east for sporting reasons. It’s business and nothing else. None of why things are the way they are is down to the way people kick a ball around.

Football was once the worker’s escape, it was (and I’m not going to get romantic for long for being wistful for the Victorian era is the act of a fool) something other than the 6 day week of hard physical labour that was underpinned, as every worker knows, by the factory balance sheet. Football and football fans should not be so willfully living in this realm and anyone who thinks they love football should not be fetishising the business behind their club. 

The evolution of the football fan - and what it says about the ...
Do you think we overpaid for exclusive access to Bloomer's image rights? I've heard Villa offered him 40 woodbines and a bycicle with pneumatic tyre but he turned them down!  

Go back to the beginning of the article and read again the first bit. The players, ready to play, the fans, the tension building. This isn’t about spreadsheets and marketing. It’s not about middle management and chains of command and running an idea up the flagpole to see if it salutes. That’s what happens in the week. You get to escape that mind killing, awful, evil shit for the best part of two hours and it’s brilliant. Why would you accept it in football? Why would you happily clap along and part with good money to perpetuate the stagnation of the best game in the world? Why wouldn’t you want it to be played as a game, first and foremost? Why would you want ‘the business side of things’ to do much more than ensure the players get paid a fair wage, the policing bill is settled and the printer gets paid for the programme? Why the fuck would you want to consider much beyond that?

It shouldn’t matter what the global reach of a club is. I’m not trying to be parochial but fuck the Lagos Gooners and the Adelaide branch of the Man City fan club. Go and watch some football in your own country. In Africa, the game is in a parlous state. Domestic football is in a perilous situation with crowds down and barely any quality players left because the Premier League (and the other ‘elite’ Leagues have swallowed them. The effect of the English (and Spanish) game on China and the Middle East has created a series of imitation leagues, in which the world’s greatest cast offs get paid insane amounts of money to demonstrate the wealth of the powers behind the idea or the franchises involved.

This is not especially beneficial to football as a whole. Yes, the odd player moving abroad ain’t a bad thing, but the wholesale ransacking of a continent’s talent or basing the growth of a league around vastly inflated foriegn imports is not a model that seems to shout ‘long term sustainability and level playing fields’ The same arguments about sustainable growth that apply to our own lower leagues, apply just as neatly to the domestic competitions of multiple countries.

We’ve wandered from player wages a little - the point is simple enough - the inflated wages of the top clubs force everyone else to compete and the effect is not limited to England. How can countries where the economy is a parlous state or the game fragile to begin with, possibly hope to compete when the giants of the world game are aggresively courting not only their best players but also the loyalty (and money) of their football fans. 

Part 5.2: What can we actually do about this? (the most important concept) 
It is within our collective ability, if we actually give a fuck about football and want to see a better and more competitive product, to stop subscribing to SKY and BT Sport and thereby deprive the governing bodies of their income and thus preventing them from further turning the game from spectator sport that was previously subsidised by the crowds into a global marketing phenonoma in which the crowd is novelty extra that provides cutaway coverage and colour.

That alone is not enough - it’s overly simple and it denies the televisual nature of the era. If TV companies don’t film it, then fans do. It’s almost impossible to stop the game being a media spectacle in some form or other and thus more radical action is required by those who are in charge of the game. The action required is simple enough - Firstly, a wage cap is needed. It needs to be progressive and related to divisions, not turnover and it needs to be broadly in line with what allows a club like Burnley to turn a profit - i.e. within the reach of all teams in the division.

It’s worth noting that Burnley ‘only’ pay an average salary of £36,000 p/week and that means that their players earn, on average in one week, more than the average UK yearly wage and thus in one year earn more than an average person does in a lifetime. Burnley’s players are ‘only’ millionaires.

This idea might be unpopular with players and probably more importantly, their agents. I don't want to dwell to long on agents, because slagging off agents is kicking at an open door. I think it's safe to say, if footballer's wages were subject to more standardised contract types and their was a defined ceiling for every player, the role of agents would be diminished. There's a certain truism that free markets bring efficiency and football agents are the ultimate retort to that idea.

Not all agents are evil, we tend to only hear about the worst kind. Players deserve financial advice and protecting from unscrupulous clauses and help seeking work. It is not beyond the whit of man to sort out a system of independant representation or legal oversight or to limit agent's fees to reflect their limited role in offering anything of discernable value to the end product. (You pay for agents everytime you buy a match ticket or a TV subscription. You pay them a hell of a lot more than you pay the person who sells you the ticket or sorts your SKY payment...)

It might also be unpopular with a certain breed of supporter who wants to see big money signings and enjoys vicariously living their fantasy of economic control over others through the actions of their oligarch chairman. I don't think that's the profile of your average football fan and even the most dyed in the wool Thatcherite could surely see that without some form of intervention, a few teams are effectively becoming monopolies and thus the market isn’t free, it’s rigged. When one club turnsover nearly three times as much money (Manchester United - £591 million) as two entire (professional) divisions (League 1 and 2 combined - approximately £210 million) then you have to question whether this is how it's supposed to work or if it's just all got out of control and no one knows or dares to coax the genie back into the bottle. 

It might be unpopular with fans of bigger clubs, used to a diet of the world's best players and uncontested access to the European riches, year upon year. My counter argument is a human one. I know a living, breathing, real life Man City fan (a season ticket holder for years, a one time Kippax regular, who goes misty eyed at the mention of Paul Lake) who has packed in going to the City of Manchester stadium because (and I quote, verbatim) “It’s boring, we get one or two decent games a year, you just turn up most weeks and watch City roll over a side who aren't even in the same league” 

League Managers Association - ALAN BALL MBE
At least it was interesting
If City (you can replace their name, with that of any of the biggest clubs) couldn’t offer outrageous wages...
  • ...would City have such an advantage over most other teams? 
  • Would they be as lucrative a global brand? 
  • If not, would that help encourage more local interest in football globally? 
  • Would there be more decent games of football for their fans and fans in general to watch?
  • would it be possible to divert more money to the lower divisions and ease the insane leap in income (and subsequent cliff if you're relegated) and thus negate the need for parachute payments that then distort the competition below? 
  • Would it be possible for a smaller but well run club like Rotherham United to survive and grow in the Championship? If so, would it also be possible for a much bigger but more poorly run club like Manchester United to be relegated or at least genuinely struggle?

With a wage cap, could we see a return to the genuine uncertainty that characterised the beginning of a football season up until such a point that the financial advantages described above became ingrained?

Would it matter, to the VAST MAJORITY of the supporters of the 91 professional league clubs (and the many beyond) if the English game wasn’t, by default, the predominant league in Europe? Was it actually THAT BAD when Seria A was really good?

What if the world’s best talent wasn’t coalesced around the top few divisions in Europe? 
Maybe winning a European Trophy would be a genuine achievement instead of a really boring slog, where you brush aside a load of crap teams who’ve had all their talent pool drained, then win a couple of games at the end and declare yourself amazing, even though you finished fourth in your own league and you’d have to be piss poor not to have achieved that given the financial advantages at your disposal. 

If you’re old enough to recall when an English domestic team playing a Scottish domestic team was a big thing, then why on earth wouldn’t you want that atmosphere and competition back? Why wouldn’t you want the Dutch league or the Portuguese league to be decent? Why wouldn’t you want the African leagues to function?

If you genuinely want a kind of modern European or international superleague beyond the domestic game, why would you support the kind of economic model that essentially guarantees that most teams from most nations can’t possibly compete in it?

What’s actually in that for you? As a football fan? Is it all that good now? Is it really the best that football has ever, ever, ever been and ever will be (until next week?) Or is it just a well produced story, where higher production values are masking ever more predictable storylines?

The only people who benefit from the current model are (the blameless) players and the (distinctly blamable) football authorities and some club owners. Even the latter engender some sympathy from me, locked as they are in a spending war to try and maintain parity with their few rivals, unable to be ‘merely’ custodians but forced to spend or face wrath like no other. It was once enshrined in FA statutes, that individuals could not profit from the stewardship of a football club. It seems an archaic concept, but I’m only 40 years old and that rule was rescinded in my living memory.

It seems as if from that point, football as a whole has slowly, but perceptibly become less and less interesting and whilst it felt as a kid, that it was a game lots of people played and Liverpool won, it always felt (and it pains me to say this) that their dominance wasn’t simply down to being ‘the biggest’

There’s a movement called ‘Against Modern Football’ - I think it’s got its name wrong. I’m not against modern football. I’m all for it. I’m absolutely for managers trying new things, players finding new levels of fitness and skill, fans not getting crushed against fences or by falling walls at grounds, being able to use the toilets without wading through piss and plenty more are a few examples of ‘good things’ that have come from an era of accelerated and visible change in football.  

Bradford City Stadium Fire: The Forgotten Fire Tragedy of 1985 ...
Change isn't a bad thing
There’s no point just wallowing in the nostalgia of rusting stands and tight shirts and tighter shorter shorts. The bulldozers have been and gone. They’re no more likely to come back as John Lydon is likely to write a good song again. The moment is over. We have our memories and our YouTube accounts...

But you could, instead of just retreating into the past, without needing to use an excessive amount imagination, imagine a different way to manage the game - One in which fleecing every penny out of the supporters to pay vastly inflated wages, (which in turn supports the commercialisation of the game, which in turn leads to the chronic lack of competition, even within the top 20 clubs in the country, let alone the rest) was not the norm.

A game in which the TV viewer wasn’t fed a constant diet of ever more outrageous financial porn in which to justify his or her subscription fee. It really does feel as if football is trying to find the most outrageous monetary acts it can possibly perform for the titillation of the fiscally desensitised viewer of Sky Sports News.

Real Deal Retirement » Blog Archive » 4 Signs You May Be Addicted ...
MASSIVE transfers fees, little club getting SHAFTED by BIG BOYS

Imagine a game which wasn’t so much about being an ‘event’ at which ‘one has to be seen’ or at which ‘one must take the clients’ A game, which, at its heart, was simply about two teams, playing each other on a roughly level field, in which (and this is a key point that I’ve not touched on yet) the quality, intelligence, motivation and guile of the respective managers would truly be tested.

On one level, Pep and Klopp have achieved less than we are repeatedly told they have. Yes, they've won things. That's without doubt. They took teams in and around the top of the richest league(s) in the world and with the backing of rich owners, won them (or nearly in Klopp’s case.) Fans of the two or three top teams like to argue about net spend and wage bills, but the bare fact is, these managers are competing against a few clubs not an entire division.

Graham Taylor might not have had the most aesthetic style, but he took Watford from division 4 to 2nd in the league. Clough TWICE took clubs from nowhere to the league title and European Glory (nearly in Derby’s case, all the way with Forest, not once, but twice.)

We’re told these men wouldn’t have had the success in ‘the modern game’ because ‘it’s a pressure industry now’ and ‘the game has changed’ - whilst I wouldn’t argue that Taylor’s rugged and direct style would beat Pep’s team or that Clough’s strict ethos of not considering the opponents and playing neat, fair passing football in a 4-4-2 would beat Klopp’s Liverpool, it’s not comparing like for like - football has, like it always does, moved on. Klopp in particular, I think is an outstanding manager. But so was Clough, Revie, Shankly, Kendall, Stein, Chapman, Ramsey, Robson and countless others.

Had Taylor and Clough been schooled in modern tactics and preparation, they may well have achieved great things. What is unlikely is that even such managerial greats, (who repeated their success at multiple clubs (Taylor taking Villa from Div 2 to within an inch of the title, then taking Watford from Div 3 to the top flight) and Clough sustaining Forest on a relative shoestring after the glory days, reaching Wembley finals and winning trophies in his latter years before succumbing to drink) would be able to overcome the financial barriers in place by sheer management alone. 

They'd probably have needed to (as Pep and Klopp have) perform their feats at bigger clubs. Think how much less rich the history of football would be, without the fairytale of the club made good? A football club lifting itself into a higher league, winning things and doing it on spirit and sporting merit can bring something imeasurable to a town. I sat, spellbound by Ian Holloway as he told an audience of people in Blackpool they could be what they wanted, if they were prepared to work hard enough. For a short time, we actually believed him. We really did. Because he, like Clough at Derby and Nottingham Forest, like Taylor at Watford had shown a nowhere, no mark town that it could achieve something. That it could be the BEST. That being from a shit arse end of nowhere place didn't mean you were a shit arse end of nowhere person.

That's not the point of football. It's not a spiritual awakening for the downtrodden in society, but it can and has functioned like that and it's a crying shame that it takes an oil sheik (or a Taiwenese family worth £5.9 billion) to even harbour the possibility of achieving something similar in the modern era.

A wage cap would return also return power to the managers within a dressing room as well as levelling out the playing field upon which they compete with each other. Maybe Eddie Howe IS a genius? Maybe Shaun Dyche COULD take Burnley ‘to the next level’ - What of Carlo Ancelotti? Maybe his influence could lead Everton to the top of the league. Perhaps Marcello Bielsa could take the Premier League by storm? Maybe Chris Wilder is even better than we think, maybe he IS the next Clough? 

Manager in the media: The criminally-ignored Chris Wilder ...
Imagine if he won the league? Why should it seem impossible that he ever could? 
Management is an art form that has become increasingly undervalued as 'the boss' wrestles with players earning far in excess of his own wage and desperately tries to find ways to outwit opponents who often have far more clout on the pitch and the ability to simply take any decent players that he unearths or produces. Being a manager of most Premier League teams is like being a chess player but starting the game with missing pieces and a timer, when you're opponent has a full set and all time in the world.

If we limited all top flight clubs to wages somewhere around Burnley’s average, then managers would have the power to talk players into signing on the basis of their management style, the training, the culture of the club. It wouldn’t be a given that promising young players who are blossoming stars for mid or low rank sides get snapped up and then left to gather dust in the reserve sides of bigger clubs. A side like Palace could genuinely build around a player like Zaha instead of seeing every game he stays as a bonus and another year where relegation is staved off.

You could either cap the player’s wages or the overall budget. If you did the former, then an average player who spends his career in the Premier League could expect to earn around £15-20 million pounds across their career. It’s hardly penury and it’s reflectant of the short life span and precarious reliance on the body - even someone whose like Paul Lake or Dean Ashton, gifted individuals whose careers ended far earlier than they should, could be set, if not for life, but for a long time. With less money spent on wages, greater funds could be available to support players in transitioning from the game to ‘real life’

Some people will inevitably see this as an impingement on ‘the right to earn what you deserve.’ The answer to this is devastatingly simple. Whether it works legally, I don't know, but it works on a moral and logical level. So many professions have defined wage structures. It doesn’t matter how ruthless, brave or heroic a soldier is. It doesn’t matter how many minds a teacher changes, it doesn’t matter how many people a nurse brings comfort to - the pay is the pay is the pay. You can ascend through the ranks, you can excell and earn responsibility and seniority, but you cannot break into a world of pure unregulated pay freedom. Even an MP is tied to their salary - and nothing would stop a star player doing their advertising contracts or media work if being they wanted to upgrade their mansion and their soft top Audi.

To put all this in an everyday context. Since lockdown began Burnley’s average player has been paid between 3 and 4 year’s of the average full time UK worker's earning. Remember, Burnley are resolutely low spenders who in their division who are models of financial restraint. The average full time worker in the Uk is 43 times less valuable than the average Burnley player.

It doesn’t even bear thinking about what Alexis Sanchez earns in comparison to me or the average national wage. I can’t bring myself to do the maths because it will inevitably lead me to recount the point that above Sanchez is someone or something else, earning money that makes him their mere pawn and we’ll all feel very small and very insignificant.

Then we might remember that a few paragraphs ago we were on about Lagos and the average wage there makes the average wage in Burnley seem like a prince’s ransom and Lagos is definitely one of the more prosperous, opportunity filled parts of Africa in comparison to other places on that continent where Premier League football is consumed. So let's not do those maths because it’s just too depressing (and we're all numbered out) and agree that the exercise really does emphasise that taking Burnley’s wages as benchmark won’t condemn the football profession to the gutter any time soon.

Despite what feels like the obvious common sense of the idea and the seemingly small price to pay for a huge and broadly felt benefit, there'll always be people who say 'but how would it work?' as if they only thing they can imagine is the situation as it is. 

Football works within a structure. It is, like, other professions, regulated and operates within a governing body who grants teams their licences to take part in their competitions. There is no earthly reason why, if those bodies can tell League 2 sides how to finance their playing squads, (wages must not exceed turnover) they can’t apply the same principle to the game as whole. It seems perverse that a governing body would resist this, especially if, (and I don’t see who could mount a particularly strong argument against this beyond ‘we might not always get as far in the Champion’s League’ and ‘a few players might go to Spain’) those measures are overwhelmingly good for the health of the game as a whole.

The next argument to imagine would be 'but the clubs will just get round the system' which seems again, to be a piss poor argument. There are over 25000 state schools in England and each one has a governing body that scrutinises it's financial decisions and ensures it works within budget and justifies its spending. These bodies are voluntary organisations where nobody is remunerated. Most public institutions have similar checks and balances. If you are seriously suggesting that it's not possible to monitor the spending of 91 football clubs, given all of the money in the game, but you simoultaniously accept I havn't made the concept of governance up, then you are insane. Clubs could be subject to regular, stringent and expert regulatory checks and it would barely cause the league coffers to break sweat.

If you doubt that, consider this absolutely final piece of (back of the fag packet) maths. I looked at the total wage bills for all the Premier League clubs (2018) and considered how much could be saved (and thus redistributed towards football as a whole) and I didn't get to Tottenham before the figure had (and I was using round numbers in a conservative manner) risen beyond £1 billion. If you accept that capping wages, could mean reduced payments direct to clubs and more money spent on the games broader governance, then I'm pretty sure that whatever financial or legal expertise was required to ensure the wages of 200ish blokes were legitimate would be within the budget. It's a big game, but it's a small game. The voluntary governing body of a large high school have got about the same number of staff to consider. They manage. I'm sure a multibillion pound organisation could find a way, if they had the will. 
Altenatively, you could have a different take on the same concept and cap squad wages as oppose to individual ones. This would leave greater freedom for individual players to earn what they wanted and preserve some of the bargaining and drama that some people weirdly enjoy as much as, if not more than the actual football. 

It would also present managers with fascinating dilemmas. Do they adopt a ‘one for all and all for one’ ensemble approach to wages, paying all 25 members of their squad exactly the same and building a rugged and powerful team dynamic? Do they favour 3 or 4 key players who are gifted, and then supplement them with younger players who might get their break or lower league players who they think could make the step up and accept their supporting role willingly?

How would debating the tactics and decisions behind that be less boring than the endless hours of pseudo analysis about one sided matches that we hear now? Sometimes I think that ‘XG’ and heat maps were invented purely to distract us from the fact there’s actually nothing to talk about. Guess what? Aguerro scored 4 and City beat Brighton. Who’d have thought it? Who do you fancy for the cup this year? THE SAME FUCKING TEAMS AS LAST YEAR. FUCK OFF.

Imagine the images at the beginning of the article again. This time, imagine it’s the beginning of the season and anything seems possible. Try to imagine that we could be genuinely excited by the prospect of what lies ahead… We don't have to be desperately searching for ways to maintain our interest if we support one of the many. We don't have to be stifling our boredom if we support one of the few for whom there is no real jeopardy, no real tension, no real edge to most games. It could be different. It could be better.

Part 6: Global economic turmoil as catalyst for change that is needed anyway
And, now to finish. This all might seem like a load of wishful thinking, but we’ve got a global pandemic which threatens to ravage the economy and leave it eviscerated, bones bleached in the sunlight. It threatens the least well run businesses, the most precarious of institutions the most. Football (and we've not even touched on clubs like Reading) is directly in its line of fire and as anyone who looks (as we’ve done) beyond the veil of glamour and the slick spin of presentation, will see that running football clubs as businesses and allowing the game to be dictated by market forces has left many (far more than mentioned in this article) in a parlous state at the best of times - none of the figures (aside from those offered by the Accrington chairman) reflect the Covid19 losses. Football as a whole is not in a seaworthy state let alone equipped to ride out this storm.

We can throw a load of cash at them. We can chuck taxpayers money at them if needs be or we can hope that the biggest clubs dribble down enough money to allow as many teams as possible to survive. The odds don’t look great for a big charitable action though - when you’ve got the most profitable club in the country threatening to furlough their own staff, it seems unlikely they’ll be thrilled about paying the wages of their competitors. Maybe we can loan barrel loads of cash to plug the shortfalls. None of it is especially positive.

If we get 91 clubs through this, it’ll be a minor miracle but it’s the only thing that matters really.

If we do, then we face a clear choice. Clubs starved of income, potentially even further indebted, a fanbase potentially crippled by economic circumstances. Football may become a luxury that many choose to do without, whether on TV or in the ground which could further damage clubs. Even if that’s not the case, the finances of all but the ‘elite’ will be worse than they are now.

That’s why now, more than ever, it’s time to return football to being a game and to simplify the finances. To take hold of the whole sport and to shake it, until the money is distributed in such a way that the imbalance is lessened. ‘The way it is’ has killed the sporting spectacle and reduced the game to less than it could be. It’s the greatest game in the world and for it to be played out as a puppet show with oligarchs pulling the strings is not what we should do with it.

Nor should we entertain reckless financial management purely to enable a few clubs (and ultimately, a few people within and associated with those clubs) to have football the way they want it to be. Less of a sport and more of business.

We’re facing questions at this point in history about the very existence of football at the heart of many towns and cities. It might be stupid, pointless and the definition of madness to even bother supporting most clubs, but what else actually draws people together? What else brings people to one place, at the same time for any sort of communal experience on any sort of regular basis?

Even if you’ve never set foot in a ground in your life, it’s the sense of occasion that makes it what it is. Strip that away and you’ve just got some blokes with silly tattoos and overly expensive haircuts who might as well be running around in the park. It doesn’t matter how good they are. Without the crowd, without the sense of competition and the atmosphere, it would be like watching a glorified training session. Pointless.

If you love or even like football, start thinking about it. Don’t you want a decent game to watch? Don’t get caught up on ‘is this possible’ or ‘what about the legal issues’ or ‘but isn’t the money in the game good for the grass roots’ or any of the other gutless, imagination free, oft made, trite excuses there are for not demanding better.

We’ve embraced an outdated version of the modern for too long. Football culture is the embodiment of ideas from the mid 80s and 90s in which we’ve been forced to be ‘intensely relaxed’ about people getting very, very rich off the back of our game. Just as we embraced the offside rule, just as we did away with the maximum wage, abolished back passes and adapted to the Bosman ruling, it should be within our collective imagination to be able to imagine something other than football in exactly the form it is.

I don’t think anything I’ve suggested is backwards looking. Fundamentally, I want football to have the broadest possible appeal, with as many teams, clubs, fans and players involved as possible. I want all of those teams to be part of the best possible competitions, playing the most challenging games and appreciating the highs and lows and at times the mundanity of mid table.

I honestly think, deep down, it’s what even many fans of the biggest clubs want. Meaningful competition, where are many games as possible actually matter. If you’re decent at football yourself, or ever played football against a bunch of kids younger than you, you’ll know it’s only fun for so long. Pushing lightweight opponents over gets boring. It’s boring to play in games like this and it’s mind numbing to watch them, week after week.

Limiting wages would only go so far and there are many other questions but it would immediately equal out much of the advantages to be gained from last season’s successes. It would start us back on the track of glory being for the sake of glory and not for the sake of consolidating your position in the UEFA rich list or attracting the marquee signing that will give you ‘brand push-through’ in the far east.

The billion pounds plus annually saved in wages from limiting the wages of players merely 1.5 million pounds would pay for EVERY SINGLE SEAT sat in by a fan (up to the cost of £40 per/match) for the NEXT THREE SEASONS. Every single fan outside of the top tier corporate sponsors lounges. All the home and away supporters. Think how suppressing wages could allow clubs to cut prices and make their stadia financially accesible to the local communities in which they sit.

We need to unite behind some simple ideas. There’s plenty of ifs and buts and loopholes but if we get caught up in those, we do nothing. We need to put pressure on however we can for the survival of football in many places. This is about the present moment and the future of the game as a spectacle in the middle and longer term. We need to move on from nostalgia. The past is not coming back as it was, but it's there to learn from if we can look objectively at it. The future is not yet written and it’s there to be shaped as ever it is. The Premier League culture is not ‘modern football.’ It’s football as it ever was, but under the spell of finance. It need not be. Football could still be the biggest game, the best game made better by being spellbindingly unpredictable and nail bitingly competitive. This is the modern football we want. This is the modern football we demand. This is the modern football that we are resolutely FOR. The impossible can happen. Things can and DO change. Power fades, something else takes its place. 


This post took a long time to write and I did bother to put some research into it. Facts are taken and illustrative examples chosen from reliable sources such as those listed below.

It didn't take enough time and effort to start pestering you for money or owt in a coy 'hey, can you spare the price of a coffee' way. There's nowt up with that but instead, if you thought it was ok, I really, really would appreciate if you would share it. Email, facebook, twitter, whatever. That's would be worth a lot to me. 

Alternatively you can send it to the FA in an envelope marked ‘Whoever does Graham Kelly’s job now, The FA, Football House, London, Londonshire - Read this you twat’ if it makes you feel better about being a hipster that doesn’t use social media.

Also read John Nicholson's ‘Can we have our Football back?’ - It’s like this blog post, but better, longer, more wide-ranging and and the single best book I've read on football in years. 

Price of Football - Accountancy and analysis:

Annual Review of Club Finances by veteran of investigative football journalism David Conn:

Andy Holt - Accrington Stanley Chairman and vocal advocate for financial reform: 

David Goldblatt - The Age of Football  

John Nicholson: Can we have our Football back? 

Provided You Don't Kiss Me - Duncan Hamilton

It's not intended to be an exhaustively cited piece of writing. It's sad enough writing this much about football governance for the sheer hell of it without turning it into a pseudo dissertation. I provide the links so you can either enjoy the excellent writing/journalism or delve into the same statistics and see for yourself the state of football. 

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