FOOTBALL AND PROFITS
Mickey Blue Eyes.
"Cui Bono?" (Translated: To whose profit?)
CICERO (106-43 BC), 'Pro Roscio Amerino', chapter 84, quoting L. Cassius Longinus Ravilla.
"If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich."
JOHN F. KENNEDY (1917-1963), 35th US President, inaugural speech, January 1961. Assassinated November 1963.
The money powers prey upon the nation in times of peace and conspire against it in times of adversity. It is more despotic than a monarchy, more insolent than autocracy and more selfish than a bureaucracy. It denounces, as public enemies, all who question its methods or throw light upon its crimes. I have two great enemies, the Southern Army in front of me and the bankers in the rear. Of the two, the one at the rear is my greatest foe.
ABRAHAM LINCOLN (1809-1865), 16th US president. Assassinated April, 1865.
If you are the kind of footy fan who says, understandably, "Look, I just go the game for a bit of leisure, pay at the gate, and then go home and forget about it," then go no further reading this polemic and its end notes. Probably you are more suited to the status quo or power-dozing. In which case, quite rightly, this will be of no interest to you. Go watch Strictly Come Dancing or Coronation Street or read the Bootle Times or the Daily Mail or take a Prozac.
Meanwhile, those who stay have a football problem, like it or not. Yes, you have a football problem. So do I. So does everyone else connected with the game, be it owner, player, administrator, employee or supporter. The problem is, loving the game as we do, how do we tackle the obvious economic problems of football? Now of course there is no such thing as a perfect system, a football Utopia. There never has been and there never will be. So let's get that notion out of the way before it sprouts limbs and a head in the manner of Sun-style newspaper propaganda. However, things can change and improve. The problem is man-made and therefore can be put right in the same way it was created. There is no need for dismay.
The basic problem of football is three-layered: What is profit? Who gets it? And democratically who controls who gets it? There is no escape from these questions, though many try to ignore them and wish they would merely vaporize. This is a thin hope because we live under a system whose self-appointed high priests claim profit = economic efficiency. The questions will press on you sooner or later, in one form or another. There is no escape in football or anywhere else, including your place of work. But for present purposes let's stick with footy.
In football you do not have to look very far to see examples of what happens when illusion gets in the way of reality and profiteering. You need only look across the width of Stanley Park, or indeed at any football club. Football and profits have made a witches' brew as unstable as nitro-glycerine. And now added to the mix is UEFA's revised Club Licensing and Fair Play Regulations 2010 for clubs wishing to take part in their club competitions. Superficially, the intention is honourable enough: to produce a level financial playing field and force clubs to live within their means. And who could oppose it after the flood of bankruptcies and legalised large and small shares scams that have scarred the game for decades - not just recently. But does the UEFA scheme go far enough? We shall see.
First, consider the notion of "profit." It need not detain us too long if we dismiss self-serving micro-accountancy, legal and economics jargon. It means the cash surplus left after all debts, taxes and costs are paid. In other words, money that is left over for free use. (Yes, yes, there are many weasel words and wriggly definitions employed by right-wing sophists, but we merely need to use our common sense). The issue then becomes what to do with the profit. This in turn raises further unavoidable moral and practical social issues. If you believe the Objectivists, Friedmanites and "Gordon Gekkos" of this world - the so-called "free marketeers" presently in control - its use has nothing to do with you if you don't own any private or public stock exchange shares. According to them, all that matters is self-interested greed, so shareholders trouser the money and that is the only real politik. Everything else is immaterial, including you as a non-shareholder. If you don't like it you have to lump it and take your interest and your ball elsewhere. Under this system, paying your entrance fee merely entitles you to sit, watch and shout for the duration of a game, nothing more. You have no other rights in football and in truth never have had. Many years ago some grounds even carried signs reading, "No money returned in the event of bad weather." If a game is abandoned you are still not entitled to recompense. So far as I know, nobody has ever challenged this in law.
If you want to try to affect matters your only practical recourse in one-dimensional "free market" theory is to stop going to football matches. You must then hope revenues diminish enough to cause a rethink by the owners. Of course that indolent viewpoint assumes the rethink will go in favour of the non-matchgoer, a highly unlikely outcome. Much more likely is decline of the club, maybe even its demise and sell off at a large or small profit depending on ruling economic conditions. Even then non-matchgoers are a tiny voice amongst many thousands who won't stop going. Gates may or may not reduce but the game will still be immensely popular. And no committed supporter is going to take seriously the views of a mere absentee mitherer who sounds like something out of East Enders or a sort of motley contemporary version of the Copperheads.
All of which brings us to......Ah, yes, .Adam Smith's two hundred years old withered "invisible hand," in which he claimed competing self-interests find a balance. Somehow, said Adam, everything will be alright; all you have to do is pay up or not. But to say dear Adam's notion is an outdated base crudity is putting it mildly. Well, if you believe UEFA's revised regulations that kind of simple-mindedness doesn't "somehow" improve matters. You have to take action to achieve improvement, which requires a good deal more than simply withdrawing financial support: you have to think. You have to understand you will be up against monopoly-owned media and academia bought and paid for by the establishment. You are in relatively the same position as the labour movement of a hundred years ago. There are no shortcuts, no miracles. If you wish the sport to change you have to define and argue your definition of fairness and then try to gain a majority consensus. It isn't just about price and value, it is mostly about power.
It goes without saying the established interest, whatever and whoever it is, will always defend itself vigorously. It also goes without saying the establishment will write and implement laws to suit its own interests. You have to prepare accordingly or you will simply be annihilated in debate and in legal dispute. In other words, you will lose. Dear old Adam's notion might have worked after some tiny fashion at the dawn of capitalism and in the local cattle market, but once organised industrialization and mass production got under way it became as practical as a paper road bridge.
So if you require "fairness" you will have to define it before you can establish it. Then you have to put it into operation. Then you have to protect it against corruption, an ever present danger in any form of human organisation. Presumably this will entail an understanding of individual and collective liberty and justice. You have to describe a set of values, which is where it gets complicated. So, what to you is "fairness" in football?
If you are of an Adam Smith mentality you will insist that all your club needs is more money put through the existing system, more trophies will be won and more profit made and everything will be alright. "Fairness" doesn't enter into it; in which case you have largely abandoned your right to complain about bankruptcies, unequal competition, overpaid players and playing standards. You will have no set of values apart from profit. And profit knows no goal other than more profit. It cannot exist without this fundamental motive. If you insist on financial regulation then by definition you are not a "free marketeer." In reality of course all markets are rigged. In a democracy markets are rigged to suit the ruling consensus. This was how, for instance, the National Health system was introduced in Britain - at the time the market was public good, not private greed - and how, for an alternative instance, a disgusting private health system is imposed in the USA. Unchecked, if the British establishment has their way let there be no doubt we also will be subject to the edifying sight of a privatised ambulance crew searching a prone street casualty for credit cards.
But what does "community ownership" mean? More to the point, how do you define it? You can start by looking at available public and private resources and go from there to suit yourself. It can be a long, lonely road. Every social gain during the last hundred years has been made in the teeth of violent resistance by an establishment hell-bent on keeping its strangle hold on society. The gains were made nevertheless. Each time it was made harder for the establishment to claw back, though government actions since 1979 show they never cease trying. So if you genuinely believe in community ownership you have a long struggle ahead of you. In football you run the risk of your club going out of existence. For under present circumstances would you really expect the international banking system to tolerate a leading English club going into authentic community ownership and making a success of it? More likely such a solo attempt would be slowly choked to death in the fashion of KME, a wonderful pioneering effort amongst others in the 1970s that terrified the establishment and which it never forgot or forgave; the result was the most squalid right-wing politics in living memory. Against that, the less alternative allowed, the more desperate they make people, the greater the likelihood of widespread action whatever the consequences. As the successful Poll Tax revolt showed, if you force enough people into a corner they will come out fighting eventually.
In football the supplementary questions are these - Which leading club's fans will be the first to run the risk? In military parlance, who will be first to lie on the barbed wire? Who will go beyond mere street demonstrations to change private owners instead of change to community ownership? Will fans dissatisfaction develop into something more organised and intelligent, or will it stick in its present low, moaning, cathartic ale-house whinge?
As matters stand I think we are a long, long way from the kind of fundamental community ownership this fan would like to see. Understandably, football is way down the list of priorities for most people trying to make a life in an iniquitous, evil and unjust economic system. Circumstances may make it otherwise but somehow I doubt it. Making a decent life for one's family will always relegate football and sport generally to the back of the queue. The chances of the two coming together are infinitesimal, though of course nothing is impossible in human affairs. Sometimes events accumulate and achieve a sort of spontaneous social combustion. But it almost always takes a catastrophe to get grudging change out of the establishment, as the Chilean miners rescue showed. Football is no different.
The future is in the hands of the fans. Sadly, they haven't yet realised it.