"A corporation has no conscience." - Thoreau
UPDATE - The UK government (well, not the government excatly, but a group MPs) have decided to investigate the financing of football. The report is due to be published during February 2004. See the All Party Parliamentary Football Group website for full details.
Football - the game of the common man. Now run by business men. Consider these facts;
- Several years ago, FIFA (the same body that is currently in severe financial trouble) appointed an advertising agency (called HHCL & Partners) to 're-brand' football. This exercise cost FIFA a lot of money. This money, originally, came from the pockets of football fans. Now, I don't know about you, but my football does not need re-branding and I would like my money back.
- Again in the late 1990's, while the Premiership TV rights were up for re-negotiation, the English FA took on two "TV rights consultants" to advise them. These two gentlemen were Sam Chisholm and David Chance, former employees of Sky Broadcasting, and their contract with the FA was, potentially, worth tens of millions of pounds. In the end, the two had to make do with only £11 million as a payoff. And again, I think we deserve a refund.
- Peter Kenyon, the former Manchester United Chief Executive, reckons English football can only support 40 clubs. That may well be his vision of the future. But here's an idea, Pete. Why don't we introduce wage caps, a fairer transfer system and an equitable distribution of TV money. Don't worry, you'll still get to keep all that cash you make from your replica shirt scam and therefore keep the Arsenal/United Premiership duopoly going (which is, after a decade, very boring).
I know that you are probably a bit surprised to find these opinions expressed here, but I do believe that a few of the big clubs (and one in particular) are actively moving towards a point where the 'lesser' clubs go bankrupt or can only operate on a part-time basis. But more than that, I think that will not be the end of it - you can now watch Manchester United reserves and youth teams on subscription TV. What next - Manchester United South (Milton Keynes)? This at the same time as Manchester United telling everyone that there should be fewer clubs.
Anyway, I'm looking forward to revolution when the football fat-cats are lined up and given their red cards. Until then you will have to make do with my football links.
- Luton Town - a team that sums up the 'Francome ethos'; drama, highs and lows, commitment to principles, it's all here. Come on you Hatters! The club website is here and the fan's own site is very good as well.
- FC Basel - from playing in the local park two years ago (albeit while their ground was being re-built) to their recent exploits in the second stage of the Champions League, FC Basel have proved that dreams can come true. Their website is also an example of excellent web design.
- Liverpool. Yes, I know I said that I was opposed to 'corporate football', but Liverpool FC actually turned down the chance to become a PLC a few years back (thus re-deeming themselves).
- Finally, to placate Francomes from 'the fatherland', I'll include Swindon Town
- Given the prospect that Luton could be 4 games from going out of existence it is cold comfort to say that this event has been on the cards for several years (if not decades) and a large part of the football "establishment" is actively aiding the destruction of smaller clubs. Consider the evidence - 1. Since the late 1970s the "big" clubs have been threatening to break away and form a Super League. Power clearly rests with these chairmen, they get to call the shots by flexing this one simple arguement - "If we don't like it we'll get a couple of other clubs and play in the Pepsi League of Europe (or whatever...)." Rules of the game (number of subs, cup replays) & administration rules (gate money distribution from league games, number of teams in the league) have been altered to suit these men. The only sanction the administrators appear to have is banning players from representing their nations if these players enter into "unapproved" competitions. 2. The chairmen look after their own clubs interests - not just as a primary consideration, it is their ONLY consideration. And why should they view the wider "health" of the game as in any way important, this is sport not a hippy commune. Every recent change in the game has been aimed at securing the status of the big clubs in the long term - you can write next season's league table now, and chances are those will be the same names in 5 years time. Small clubs that hit the big time for a few seasons (like Swansea 20 years ago) are a thing of the past (oh, I forgot Wimbledon, the Premiership's token small club). The system now ensures (and insures) the big clubs from going down (the lone example of Man City is a painful example of what can happen when you allow the team's performance to get in the way of making money). 3. Since clubs started getting money oriented (either as a PLC or a private concern) the reality of profit/loss has hit home. All the big clubs have (in the last 12 months) seen a huge decrease in merchandise revenue (I saw the Man Utd shop in Dublin Airport last week - it was empty ...). How do they expand revenue (which the PLCs are legally obliged to do) if the existing fans have purchased all the Man Utd toilet roll holders that they plan to get? Only by expanding the number of potential consumers. If Luton (and the others) go under, will you a) start watching another sport or b) keep watching football & follow another team. If the answer is "b" then you could be in the market for one of those toilet roll holders... 4. The running of football in England is now in the hands of a very small group of people, people with a vested interest keeping the power and money within a cartel where the big get bigger and the small go bust. Sky and the FA/Premiership have a mutual understanding - one benefits the other in ways that would have been unthinkable a few years ago. Sky get a captive audience to buy their second rate TV channels ("I only got it for the football") & future exploitation (remember that pay-per-view would "never ever happen" - that's why you pay a monthly fee, right?). Sky (and the rest of the Murdoch media) get to flog the game at embarrasing levels of hysteria. I've only seen a few games on Sky in Switzerland, the desperation with which the presenters try and talk up every small incident as if it ranks along side Geoff Hurst hitting the underside of the crossbar is laughable ("please tune in for the second half, somebody might get a yellow card ..."). The Giggs "wondergoal" article from The Sun was repeated in the Times and the Sunday Times. TV and press get to save overheads when they only have a few high profile games to report on. And it's easier to write about David Beckham's latest fashion statement than send a hack to write-up a lower league report - when was the last time you read a national newspaper give a decent amount of space to a genuine match report in our league. The Nationwide leagues are now reduced to those numbering systems for player performance (I guess journalists can't write any more, only count). Danny Baker (albeit in a Murdoch paper) wrote a good article on going to see his first Premiership match - it was dire, but when he got home the highlights on Match of the Day made the game look like a thriller. He reckoned that there was some high tech editing suite in west London where they compiled an alternative "TV version" of the match. 5. It's not just corporations that are getting rich, these boys know which individuals to do business with. Sam Chisholm and and David Chance, the two former BSkyB executives, are set to pocket potentially 10's of millions of pounds in "consultancy" fees to advise the Premiership on their options for the new TV deal. Despite the outcry in the press these 2 are still under contract to receive the kind of payout that would keep the lower 2 leagues in business for a few years. Nice work boys, by the way - if you photocopy the current contract you can charge the FA for the administration costs of typing up a new one and pocket the cash. 6. What of the government. When the little guys form the majority (55% of people support a non-Premiership team) you expect the government to legislate. And Whitehall's response? The Competition Commission (a great misnomer for modern football) is investigating the Premiership which it accuses of being a cartel. Brilliant, somebody better phone the Foreign Office to check that they know the Berlin Wall has come down. It is incredible that they could be so far out of touch, or is this some kind of training exercise for when they REALLY intend to investigate football? Well here's a hint for them - it's called "barriers to entry" and it's one of the first things that they are supposed to look for when checking for monopoly powers. The FA (!) has decided that youth teams should now play in a special league, but to be eligible you have to have an approved "school of excellence". Such an establishment will cost three quarters of a million pounds and will allow your youth team to continue to play with the best. The message is clear, if you want a long term future get your cheque book out now. 7. The only surprising event recently has been he blocking of the Man Utd bid. But Murdoch will be back, this is a tactic he's followed elsewhere (he owns the LA Dodgers baseball team). Murdoch (according to the Daily Telegraph) has promised an "unholy war" against the Blair government for blocking the bid. Perhaps the mess that Murdoch managed to inflict on rugby (see http://www.csun.edu/~kab42291/latimes1.html for info) saved United from being turned into Murdoch's Marauders United. I'm only surprised that he tried to buy such an obvious target; but perhaps that's a ploy, it would make more sense to buy a "sleeping giant" (say Birmingham City) pump in 60m-70m pounds on players and let the economics of modern football do the rest. Murdoch will find some way through - either via a minority stake where he pulls the strings or by settling on a "lesser team." .