Football Blog: Tangerine Flavoured

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. 

1 comment:

  1. A very good blog and thank you for taking the time to share it. MOT


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