THE "REVOLUTIONARY" (FOOTBALL) GAMES PEOPLE PLAY
Mickey Blue Eyes
revolution...n. 1 a the forcible overthrow of a government or social order, in favour of a new system. b (in Marxism) the replacement of one ruling class by another; the class struggle which is expected to lead to political change and the triumph of communism. 2 any fundamental change or reversal of conditions........
The Concise Oxford Dictionary (ninth edition) (1995), page 1180.
Professor Grotschele: "Where do you draw the line once you know what the enemy is? How long would the Nazis have kept it up, General, if every Jew they came after had met them with a gun in his hand? But I learned from them, General Black. Oh, I have learned."
General Black: "You learned too well, professor. You learned so well that now there's no difference between you and what you want to kill."
Fail-Safe (1964), a film by Sidney Lumet, screenplay by Walter Bernstein. (From a novel (1962) by Harvey Wheeler and Eugene Burdick.)
The football world is coming to its umpteenth End of Days. Literally, what price revolution in administration and ownership of professional football? But are you a genuine idealist revolutionary? Or are you merely a frustrated, flabby, middle-age, never-satisfied internet mitherer with a dogmatic chip on his/her shoulder? Or an armchair guerrilla eating your liver with envy because you are "out of the loop"? Or are you just a straightforward spiv looking for a slice of a cake you can almost taste? What do you really know about revolutionary change and how it happens?
I ask these tiresome questions - and will pose them at length - because in Scotland the Rangers Football Club we knew no longer exists. Last season its average attendance was over 46,000, its turnover about £57 millions; straight faced, we can note something went very badly wrong in Caledonia. Shades of Leeds United and Portsmouth in England. Also, five lower division English football clubs recently announced varying methods of financial or administrative change. They were Nottingham Forest, Wycombe Wanderers, Watford, Port Vale and Leeds (again). There have been many others. You can do your own research on their differing methods of change. A proposed umpteenth takeover of bankrupt Portsmouth is now in doubt because of Football League sanctions. Manchester United seek to float shares on the US Stock Market to mitigate debt payments, and probably pave the way for sale of the club. Meanwhile, scatty rumours come and go, fools hanging on every word. "Change" is in the air. Again. Perhaps. It prompts the thought that occasionally what is unthinkable today may be possible or even inevitable tomorrow. Amidst economic turmoil maybe the English game is ready for its tenth great revolution. Maybe football's contemporary financial system is dying of its own defaults. Maybe not.
So, first some outline background. Later, consideration.
Few serious people doubt revolutionary change brings traumatic intellectual or physical conflict. Which of the above TCOD definitions you believe, sooner or later you have to confront the kind of dilemma, if not lethality, faced by fictional Grotschele and Black. So how peaceful can change be? How much damage will you tolerate? Questions are easy, answers usually difficult, chaos always possible. There is always a price to pay.
If you go along with definition 2 you can identify nine main revolutions in English football history, plus one in Europe. They are:
- Formation of the Football Association in October 1863.
- Collation of the Laws of the Game in December 1863.
- Acceptance of professionalism in July 1885.
- Formation of the Football League in April 1888.
- Formation of a players' union in December 1907.
- Abolition of the maximum wage in January 1961.
- Admission of commercial sponsorship in The Football League from 1983.
- Introduction of the Football Spectators Act 1989.
- Formation of the Premier League in 1992.
- In European law, the "Bosman Ruling" of December 1995 on players freedom of movement and employment.
Development, if not "progression," is obvious. Since the subject was a mere sport, all of these revolutionary changes were achieved peacefully, though not without struggle or dispute, sometimes through direct or legal action. Other sports found change even more problematic. For instance, class-ridden rugby union didn't adopt professionalism until 1995, one hundred and ten years after football.
In the second decade of the twenty-first century the ownership system of professional football clubs has again become an issue: should they be privately or community owned? If the latter, how? It thus becomes necessary to define the "social value" and "social capital" of a club and how these are calculated. You can find basic technicalities here
And what of commercial sponsorship - why have it at all? Has the current global economic depression brought views into sharper focus? Or will the boom-slump cycle repeat endlessly......the more things change, the more they stay the same.....plus ça change, plus la même chose?.....Above all, what is realistically possible and/or likely?
Now, everyone except the very young and ignorant knows that football is an irredeemably trivial pursuit where twenty-two gaudily-clad players kick an air filled bouncing sphere around a field. Its frivolity could scarcely be more obvious, which is why definition of its "social value" is important. The game has such global cultural appeal it cannot be ignored by other more serious-minded non-football citizens, politicians, economists, philosophers, artists, crackpots and crooks. This can be mortifyingly funny and solemn and wide open to satire, occasionally all at the same time. However, its problem roots run deep. To wit:
Some basic crude figures and facts. Systemic bank disaster and thievery has brought us yet again to the kind of socioeconomic depression the West endured between two world wars and in the nineteenth and eighteenth centuries. When shooting finished in 1945 there was such public revulsion it led to a "post-war settlement." These statistics are disputed, but it is estimated the 1939-1945 war cost Britain about £1,045 billions and 451,000 military and civilian lives; the war of 1914-1918, about £727 millions and 1,226,500 lives. Madness begot madness. All of this happened in the space of thirty-one years, a single generation. Small wonder people had enough of capitalism and its industrialised mass killing and poverty. As a direct result Clement Atlee's Labour post-war government wrought unprecedented change in five years, which in turn created a long boom fuelled by a distorted version of Keynesian economics; Beveridge's Welfare State defence was institutionalised; a rough national consensus was formed.
Still with me? Wait, there's more.......
The long post-war boom was deliberately ended in the mid 1970s, first by Jim Callaghan's right wing Labour government and then intensified by Thatcher's deeply reactionary Tories. Essentially Callaghan and his successors abandoned the founding principles of the Labour Party. From then to the present day the establishment clawed back as much as it could make off with. Hence privatisation (read: theft) of community-owned assets during the last thirty years. The basis of their kleptocracy was a hybrid of the peculiar outdated notions of, amongst others, Adam Smith, Friedrich Hayek, Karl Popper, Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman. In Britain it was spread by tenth-rate minor foot soldiers and propagandists like Niall Ferguson, Rupert Murdoch and Patrick Minford. In reality it was the same old corrupt Victorian poujadist/rentier mentality restored. Out there in the cold mentality of suburbia, minor spivs thought buy-to-let the answer to their debt problems. All of it was concealed behind the arrant nonsense of "a property-owning democracy" and "free markets." After an early skirmish Academe put up little or no defence. Forty years on you would have to be dead from the neck up not to see the catastrophic results.
At the time of writing UK admitted unemployment stands well over two and a half million, and admitted poverty at fifteen million. Some European nations are in an even worse state. Overall European Union unemployment stands at nearly seventeen and a half million. The USA has over twelve million unemployed and over forty-five million on food stamps and without adequate health insurance. Even food stamps are controlled and profited from by New York bankers J.P.Morgan (who have announced current trading losses may total $7.5 billion); the division running the scam has annual revenues totalling over $5.47 billions. Yes, that's billions. Last time I looked, UK personal debt stood at £1,456 trillions. Yes, that's trillions. UK public sector debt in the same period ran at £1,022.5 billions. Plainly, the UK public sector has a lot of debt to accrue to match debts created by "entrepreneurs" and "risk takers." So does the USA. Their comparative figures are: total personal debt at $38 trillions and total public sector debt at $15.5 trillions. With all that as background it is obvious just changing your bank manager or bank isn't going to save your local or national economy, let alone European or world economies.
And the most awful affects are not yet evident. Even the present government admits there is no end in sight until 2020. This time there will be no settlement. This time there will be an opportunist attempt to impose even worse long term theft to eliminate remaining social gains. There will be an attempt to reduce or abolish even minimal welfare defences. More public assets will go under the hammer as economic gangsters take advantage of the mess they caused in the first place. As long forecast, change is at hand. Or is it just another swing of Schlesinger's political pendulum, this time even further to the right? Still, do things ever return exactly to their previous state?
So what does this have to do with footy?
Answer: everything. Incoming imposed "austerity" will affect global society. Football cannot escape the consequences. Money will be scarce for everybody except the self-appointed elite and the latest boom sector employees. Now there is no hiding place. Emigrating to the USA or Australia won't make much difference, could, in fact, make it worse. More efficient communications technology has brought us closer to a global consciousness. But there is still a long way to go before that translates into popular action.
These events demonstrate the only certainty, that change can be for good or ill, that improvement and progress are not inevitable. Regression is always possible, indeed likely under certain circumstances. And while Homo sapiens behaviour is sadly predictable, this is true only up to a point. You can never be absolutely sure; too much depends on circumstances and individual exploitive ability. In a democratic society this means even beneficial change is a mix of triumph and frustration. There will always be proper general mistrust of perceived demagogues and promised utopias. Prospective revolutionary leaders always have a hard time of it.
Football has arrived at such a moment after twenty years gruelling experience of the Premier League and its associated developments. Deteriorating circumstances throughout European football have forced introduction of UEFA Club Licensing and Financial Fair Play Regulations. However, these extend only to clubs who wish to qualify for UEFA competitions. They have no bearing on domestic league administration. If I am right, the football questions now are: how will fans deal with change? Will they even bother beyond mere club chauvinism? Are they able to organise nation-wide, let alone continent-wide, let alone globally?
Problem is, football fans are notorious for mixing freely their stridency, their morality, their hypocrisies and their metaphors. They are seen as truculent, racist, fish wife gossips, sullen, overly-conservative, bitterly chauvinist and envious. Unless their team is winning. And that is before you consider their too-often shoddy and careless arguments, self-serving credulity and convenient amnesia. So goes the non-football perception. Yet how much truth is in these allegations?
Actually, like any other diverse group of humans, they are not so one-dimensional, though you can always find comical and not-so-funny exceptions. As we know to our cost sometimes hate-filled know-it-all moronic stereotypes can be all too true. However, the fact is in recent years fans are comparatively much better informed about all aspects of their hobby. This keeps the sport in rudimentary if restless health. Yet this improvement did not prevent clubs spiralling toward bankruptcy, anymore than a better educated generation of 1945-1975 was able (unwilling?) to prevent the rise of a neocon spiv society in the 1980s and since. Clearly, something else is in play.
Even if fans notoriety was entirely true, why should they behave differently if football is a harmless trivial pursuit, merely a place to blow off steam? What harm does it do? Is it any different to any other collective leisure activity? After all, if you don't like footy you can always pursue another hobby. Nobody forces you to support the game. But if you stay still long enough you are just as likely to become as rigid and dogmatic in your views as any other conservative on any other issue. You too can become stale. Go in the opposite direction and you can vanish in your own bitter cynicism. As an example of both, the Football League was once infamous for its "Old Pals Act" by which new aspirant clubs were kept out of the league by bottom clubs banding together to vote in their own interests. Mutualism has its limits too. Therein lays apparent "danger" for those who seek change.
All of which leads inevitably to other questions. Why not let it evolve on its own Darwinian path of trial, error, failure and success? Why not let clubs spend themselves into bankruptcy? Who are you to say what is right and what is wrong for everybody else? And if you are ignored and then merely sulk or carp, why should anyone care about you? What makes you so special? Some observers even declare football fans have no power at all in the game, a claim only as true as any other uninformed generalisation. A more valid but less dogmatic assertion is that fans are almost powerless in ownership and administration of "their" football club. (In case you missed it, "almost" is a crucial adverb and "their" an irony.)
But the reality is that fans do have power. It is the crucial if one-dimensional ability to create or destroy revenues. In any society, capitalist or socialist or social democratic or totalitarian, the power to pay or not pay can be decisive. However, many fans have forgotten it, not yet realised it, or for whatever reason lack the will and organisation to exercise it en masse. In reality it has been thus in football since creation of professionalism and adoption of the private limited company and similar private ownership. After which, organisation of the sport stayed much the same for almost one hundred years. The irony is virtually every English club was created not for profit but out of various forms of social motivation and usefulness, many from christian sectarian philanthropy. This original driving force quickly disappeared and was long gone even by the start of the First World War in 1914, though altruistic and sectarian/chauvinist illusions linger even now. The hard truth is that there never was a "Golden Age" in football.
Then in the late twentieth century mutualism was openly declared obsolete with the aforesaid swing toward authoritarian right wing government. In Britain mutual building societies were converted to banks and looted for profits. In the United States, equivalent savings and loan institutions were raided until they were drained too. Many pension funds are now on the same route. In short, financial "markets" were rigged in favour of short term profiteering. In fact, always have been...except this time they were legalised with absurd sophistries. And enough of the general public tolerated the nonsense to enable it. The post-war settlement was jettisoned without a suggestion of conscience from the establishment. Initial opposition soon faded.
Society, you were informed, did not exist, à la the Russo-American neo fascist "intellectual" Ayn Rand. Then, without a trace of irony, contemporary self-styled so-called "free marketeers" and "risk takers" called this "the smack of firm government." By then it had also become obvious how much profit could be made in football through manipulation of shares ownership and global TV broadcast rights. In football the words "investment," "brand" and "market" were and are thrown around as easily as "transubstantiation" in catholic christianity, and with about the same regard for reality. Somehow, you were also informed, "the market" would deliver. But of course it didn't. All it brought was social disaster and concentration of wealth and power in even fewer hands. Thus, inevitable creation of the Premier League in 1992 and inflation of "the football bubble."
Still, as always, professionalism in sport meant more money could buy better professional players, but at an ever increasing inflationary rate. Players-as-workers will always go where the money; they are no different to anyone else. It has been that way since 1905 when Alf Common became the first professional player transferred for £1000. After 1992 the trend line simply shot through the top of the graph and hasn't stopped since, only slowed. Where fans once talked in tens of thousands of pounds, now it is in tens of millions; a "billion" is almost a standard of strategic economic measurement. In football, the Gordon Gekko Illusion is complete.
Now this concept is not difficult to grasp. Anyone who thinks otherwise is unaware, perhaps wilfully, of the history of football, transfer fees, the maximum wage, and the retain-and-transfer system. Underpinning by monopoly capitalism is not new or innovative or creative; it is opportunist. Fundamentally, "the football bubble" and "the dot com bubble" are no different to the eighteenth century "South Sea bubble" or the twentieth century "Souk Al Manakh bubble." Under capitalism we are forever blowing bubbles that fade and die. Inexorably it takes everything not nailed down, especially when monetarist/supply-side spivvery overwhelms common sense. In the current jargon this is called "pragmatism," a looter's deliberate misnomer for the gullible.
We now have a football generation which has been fed little else but the search for the soapy bubbles of profit and hubris. They react accordingly. At its worst this manifests as a disregard for everything except winning bonuses, more revenues and increased profits on shares. This is called "success." Now it is quite the social norm to know the price and profit of everything and the value of nothing. Honourable exceptions apart, mutualism and co-operative action are scarcely recognised, a deficit made worse by a mass of lonely individuals hunched over a computer VDU. Face-to-face contact and civilised conversation is in the same danger as reasonable manners and union solidarity. At melancholic cost this generation has been subjected mostly to and indoctrinated by Rightist propaganda and censorship by omission. Current opposition from the Left is a kind of feeble guerrilla action. Once-formidable British unions long ago abandoned social idealism for a mere, lesser, bargaining position. So did the Labour Party when Blair and his helpers eviscerated its constitution. This is where our entire socioeconomic and cultural system now stands. And of course football with it.
Therefore, if you are serious about change in the game, equally important is a full understanding of what fans power and the how and the consequences of using it. This is because most exercise of power is uncertain of outcome. It usually follows the military dictum that no plan survives contact with action, which is why spontaneity and instinctive courage are prized by wise leaders. Wild-eyed glory and dead heroes is the last thing required; often the outcome of such pathological pursuit is a disaster. Example, US general George Patton's, "No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country," which sounds commonsensical enough at survival level, but leaves a bit to be desired in democratic dispute, sophistries aside.
Mostly, though, mere will produces only relatively short term gains. Examples: Cromwell's first English republic lasted eleven years; The French Republican experiment started roughly in 1789 and was eventually replaced by an emperor twelve years later; Mussolini's Italian fascist state lasted twenty-one years; Hitler's "thousand-year Reich" lasted twelve years; Franco's Spanish falangist society endured thirty-six years; Russian totalitarian communism survived for seventy-four years; South American dictatorships even now come and go at a dizzying rate. Whatever the long or short time span there is always a reaction in accordance with Newtonian physics. A revolution always devours its children. Every revolution brings a counter-revolution, every attack a counter-attack. For every hammer-and-sickle there is a double headed eagle. Dazzling short term success can turn quickly into long term catastrophe. Chance, capricious as a beautiful woman, weaves through everything. Any capable manager or historian will tell you the same thing.
There are also unavoidable questions of morality. Throw those into the mix and you have potential for serious anarchy or worse, the question always being, "Can morality be a consideration in a democracy?" How can you achieve "the greatest happiness of the greatest number" in a sport where an openly stated objective is precisely the opposite? This is why in football "objective" morality has disappeared...if it ever existed in the first place. Amongst other things you are then faced with eternal conflict between ends and means. Are you willing to gamble with the future? If you do, and there is no success, are you ready to live with and take responsibility for the results? Are you able to resist mere short term populism to express your opinion? As events (and the club bankruptcy and indebtedness rate) have shown these can be near-mortal questions.
In fact, all too often professional sport is a lurid example of Bentham's principle of utility that man has but two desires, gains and profit, winning glory or monetary. In the general melee, sadly, some fans have come to act and resemble those they attack - people swayed by money, willing to use any means to further their ends, secretive and conspiratorial, convinced of their superior intelligence and rectitude, unable to see anything in their moral maze except evil. Ultimately the English game could easily degenerate to the corrupt level of Italian football - now little more than a drugs-ridden, money-laundering Mafia charade - or to the American model of franchise-for-sale. It could become a hollowed-out, worthless shell. Maybe it has always been so.
My position is clear (see archived opinions, general and detailed) on club ownership: as a socialist, I am in favour of community ownership. Nevertheless I have no illusions of its likelihood or its limitations if achieved. It is no magic wand and it guarantees nothing, including solvency, except more (but necessarily still limited) democracy. Costs must still be met, egos accommodated, contracts negotiated, players and other employees paid, books balanced, eras of playing success and failure expected. Whatever the system, a club must still be managed in accordance with common sense. If the overall system is inefficient and with little social value - as it is now - so will be its management no matter how well and honestly applied. In other words, there is a crucial difference between managing a system and changing it.
In and out of any club there will always be fractious or opinionated individuals seeking nothing more than notoriety or a small-time illusion of power. There will still be greed. There will still be hate-filled loonies. There will still be people whose life consists of one long sado-masochistic belch. There will still be those who take pleasure in making others as unhappy as they. But also there will still be honest dispute from honest fans. There will still be idealism. There will still be good people with selfless good intentions. Nobody will have a corner on the truth. Going further, mutualism still provides an opportunity for a more accurate consensus but does not ensure better day-to-day administration or playing success, both of which depend on successfully organised individual talents. Consensual agreement is usually imperfect. No human organisation of any kind is immune. The old saw will still apply that a camel is a horse designed by committee.
It follows, then, I am in favour of all fans groups of every opinion, even the most absurd, on the basis that the most ridiculous soon wither through lack of credibility and support. Depending on your view of the world, those who endure may or may not be worth listening to. Individuals with good motives will only surface if they can resist the current wave of hysterical personality cultists who blame everything on one reason or one person. Such people have no understanding of the true nature of competitive team sport, or even of human competition itself, let alone the true nature of mutualism, which is why you will often find them attacking en masse people who don't agree with them. Such mentalities are unlikely ever to understand sports "glory" and "success" is as temporary and as brief as a single human life or event. Thus:
"For over a thousand years Roman conquerors returning from the wars enjoyed the honour of a triumph, a tumultuous parade. In the procession came trumpeters and musicians and strange animals from the conquered territories, together with carts laden with treasure and captured armaments. The conqueror rode in a triumphal chariot, dazed prisoners walking in chains before him. Sometimes his children robed in white stood with him in the chariot or rode the trace horses. A slave stood behind the conqueror holding a golden crown and whispering in his ear a warning: that all glory is fleeting."
But opportunism is not found only in the armoury of capitalism. It is a double edged sword available to all. Problem is, opportunities are usually fleeting too and, once missed, may not return for many years. Timing is everything, which is why creation of the Premier League "succeeded" in 1992. First the opportunity was created and then it was forced through by a tiny number of like-minded powerful individuals; really it became inevitable after admission of commercial sponsorship in the Football League in 1983. Had they delayed much longer it is likely they would have lost the chance to exploit then-rampant disillusion with the game, its criminal hooliganism and awful stadia.
So, are new revolutionaries about to seize the day and force the issue? This time on a wave of much broader and popular support for genuine community ownership, not the mirage of minority private shares ownership? Is it advantageous to reorganise a club in a new form? How to organise and help direct a generation apparently notorious for its sedentary cynicism? How to reignite active idealism with minimal damage? After all, it is perfectly obvious that long term loss of revenues for any club would inevitably result in serious decline and even liquidation, as it would in any organisation or corner shop. Do we really need to list the football examples?
The 1989 film Dead Poets Society is the most recent popular source for the Latin term carpe diem (seize the day) and its attendant warning. Actually the phrase exists in various languages and guises and has since the dawn of recorded thought. Even in the heroic film the heroic teacher advises his potentially heroic students not to choke heroically on the bone while heroically sucking out the marrow of life. Then one heroically sensitive student gives up the geist, shoots himself, and other young hero students are expelled. Eventually the doomed heroic teacher is dismissed as a heroic, martyred scapegoat. We never hear what happens later to him or his other students despite the film closing on a heroically defiant note. The conclusion is as ambiguous as any other human activity. But all the erstwhile heroes are still "losers." Damn good schlock closing scene, though, rather like a penalty shoot-out.
So......ah, yes.....whither compromise, or even understanding? Modern football can be a paranoid whirlpool where often there are only two lifebelts available - one from Beelzebub and one from a sainted philanthropist or "investor." Which is which depends on how desperate or bitter you are, or even how you concentrate on a hate figure.
Perhaps the most obvious example of the latter was Doug Ellis, chairman of Aston Villa for two periods, 1968-1975 and 1982-2006. During his tenure Villa won one European Cup, one European Super Cup, one UEFA Intertoto Cup, three Football League Cups, twice finalists Football League Cup, once finalist FA Cup, twice runners up Premier League, promoted twice from the old Football League Second Division and one championship of the old Football League Third Division. In later years organised hysterical hatred - the only words - against Ellis reached a truly disturbing pitch. He became a scapegoat, a focus for irrationality because Villa wasn't more successful. After a while it began feeding off its own feverish ugliness and became an end in itself. Minority Villa fans became notorious because of it.
In 2006 age and poor health took its toll and he sold controlling interest in the club to American billionaire Randy Lerner and apparently made £10 millions on the sale. In the six seasons since, Villa have had five managers, won nothing and finished no higher than sixth in the Premier League. Last season they even appointed Alex McLeish as manager from city rivals Birmingham City. Gates immediately dropped by nine percent and Villa finished sixteenth in the Premier League. Lerner's billions had made less than a scrap of difference. Ellis decidedly was no saint but comparison thus far with Lerner's ownership speaks for itself, as does all that futile hatred. Those who campaigned against him lived their dream when he sold up. Now they have to live with the nightmare. All it proved is that hate in the abstract is the most poisonous and worst of all.
None of this is to defend Ellis or his motives, whatever they may have been. Of course he was an egotist. So what? How can you lead or own a controlling interest in anything and not be an egotist? All leaders of any kind are egotists and flawed into the bargain, including community leaders. At the other extreme, even sainted Mohandas Gandhi once threw his wife out of their home because she disagreed with him. Ego drives us all, even the best of us. To deny that is to deny human nature. It only becomes an unacceptable flaw when it turns pathological, as it did with the Ellis hate campaign. The trick, as always, is to get the balance right. Leaders of a community-owned football club would face exactly the same problem. But I have yet to meet anybody in or out of football who got it right to everyone's satisfaction. There just is no such animal.
This is why it is important to have a basic understanding of private ownership of the economy. At present three main legal organisations for this are the private corporation, private company and public company. These are different abstract entities with different rules of governance, but for all practical purposes they are of the same type: their single objective is maximum profit for a tiny concentration of shareholders. Such entities have no personality, no humanity, no morality, no feelings, no interest in public good, no consent of "third parties," no consideration of "externalities" (affects on anything except profit). Yet in the USA their control of government has even led, incredibly, to corporations allocated the same rights as individuals! Nor does such an organisation need to produce anything. Profits can be made from a mere process, hence the expansion of private firms contracted to government "agencies." (In Britain, right wing politicians introduced this term from the USA to replace "ministries." The choice was not as trivial as it may seem. "Ministry" in its original quasi-religious sense meant administration on behalf of the public good. "Agency" has come to mean contracting-out to private profit firms, to whom "public good" has little or no relevance. Profits must come first or the firm ceases to deliver any services.)
This disconnection from social value means owners can deny responsibility and place it elsewhere, often on the weakest and most vulnerable in the chain, more usually on "market conditions." It is a necessary privatised bureaucracy of evasion. There are many examples, one of the worst being the Union Carbide disaster in Bhopal, India, where thousands were killed and over half a million injured, directors responsibility not conceded. Victim families still await justice after twenty eight years. At a relatively less lethal level there are notorious sweat shops and cheap slave labour in developing countries or even in "free trade" enclaves in the Northern Hemisphere. Profits are expatriated to tax free havens and protected by elimination of exchange controls. The system is rigged with legislation to suit, responsibility eventually swamped in lawyer-speak and legal sophistry. The method is at least as old as the tale of Pontius Pilate.
Therefore, in football a one-dimensional reaction of "won't pay" just won't wash if a club is to survive. In the present system it is plain economic suicide. It clashes too with the notion of human loyalty. It is too simplified, too pat. The triviality of supporting a football club means just that - support - and that means showing up for matches and paying. Always has, always will. If your reason for not supporting is because you hate someone it says more about your narcissistic obsession than the hate target, whatever system is used. If your reason for not supporting is because it is too expensive, fair enough. But nobody will take you seriously if you stamp your foot, say you hate someone, not pay, and then say you still support a club. You might as well say you fuck for virginity.
Take this to its logical conclusion and you might as well not pay for music concerts or any like event or any useless consumer goods or work for any profit-making firm (i.e. all of them), which means you won't be able to make your way in a capitalist society. In which case you might as well stay indoors, pick fluff from your navel, stare at your computer/TV, never engage with the world, and adopt the mentality of a scared, paranoid hermit. Yes, the act of choice is easy. But so is pulling the trigger on a gun. It is the consequences that matter, and whether you can face them.
So the fact is, like it or not, most of (but crucially not all) our present society functions around the profit motive. According to capitalism, football is, like the performing arts, an inessential consumer item we decide we want or don't want. "The price mechanism" will take care of everything. Now, of course, this notion is too coldly systemic for words. For whatever reason, human beings just don't work that way. We are all of us thinking and feeling creatures who act accordingly. Like you I haven't the faintest idea why this is so, but I know it to be true from experience. And I also know when human feelings come into play they can be anything but mechanical. However, loyalty is also a feeling that has practical application: it enables us to band together for greater effect. In other words, if markets can be rigged for individual profit they can be rigged for social control.
The fact is of course that football's problems require multiple responses. There is no single answer. What we don't need is a half-cocked, cack-brained revolution that makes things worse. Therefore, community ownership is one objective, not a detailed solution. Football is merely a mirror of the kind of society we have created, or allowed the establishment to create during the last generation. The very nature of "community" and "competition" and "sport" is again in question. German football long ago provided answers that seem to this fan to be superior to ours. There is no reason why we should not develop their ideas further and improve on them. A sensible response is needed. Knee-jerking is not sensible.
Leon Trotsky knew a bit about revolutionary change. He fought for it long enough. He claimed, "The revolution only happens when there is no other way out." But he should have said the revolution only happens when there seems to be no other way out. Perception matters. Revolutionary change has many textures, velvet and peaceful, coarse and brutal; it can be from the Left or from the Right. It depends which you prefer or tolerate and what rôle is played by fear. Trotsky's experience was based properly on a matter of life and death, whereas football simply isn't that important. For the last twenty years we have badly needed understanding, not the dogmatic spivvery that overwhelmed the game and got us to our present unhappy state. We have tried peaceful revolution from the Right and it has failed. What we don't need is equivalent outdated dogmatic words and actions from the Left. How it will manifest is anyone's guess.
Meanwhile, let's get meanings clear. The true meaning of "socialism" lies not in old Soviet Union totalitarianism or the hysterical Yankee/Anglo Saxon pejorative. In the former case its moral appeal was stolen and corrupted by a dictator, and in the latter case deliberately distorted by similar organised thieves frightened of losing their profits. Its basic meaning, long before Karl Marx, is a community in free control of its actions for mutual benefit: it guarantees nothing else. Dialectic provides open discussion, not foolproof cast-iron solutions. In fact openness was the goal of the first English Revolution until it was hijacked by Oliver Cromwell and his allies. Now this creates obvious difficulties in community owned sports clubs, for they are in athletic competition - competing communities, so the line has to be drawn somewhere. Competition means sooner or later there are winners and losers. What then?
Traditional Marxists (the philosopher himself loathed the term and warned against it, as he did against "utopias") claim one pre-condition for revolution is a ruined shareholding middle class, those regarded as a buffer for the ruling class. However, late capitalism, terrified by violent revolution, learned how to accommodate and delay by bribing enough people with credit and consumer goods. Its only alternative is outright suppression; but that can scarcely be done while claiming, as at present, that you have a democratic society. Furthermore, the term "middle class" became useful propaganda as leading Western economies deindustrialised and impoverished large swathes of population. Nowhere was this more evident than in football, where fans were often told they were now "middle class" not "working class." Nobody wanted to sink into "the underclass." Meanwhile, crucially, deindustrialisation gutted mass union membership. In a historical sense capitalism adjusted quicker and more effectively. The Left was outflanked, a battle lost - though not the war - with words as weapons. In its new version capitalism even got away with old lies that trade is capitalism, that it created the Industrial Revolution, and it was/is responsible for human ingenuity and invention. Small wonder, then, lowly football was submerged by larger events.
In any event, the great mass of football club "ordinary" shareholders isn't in it for profit: they have shares to be a loyal part of the club (though nobody wants to sell at a loss), perhaps to maintain the illusion they "own" the club and have material affect. The reality is of course that majority ownership of shares decides policy. Very few "ordinary" fans have the ability to buy shares in significant numbers. Thus a clear illustration of the main problem facing the concept of community ownership.
So is there a middle way in football? Can community ownership and capitalism live together? On the face of it, no. As shown above, the last thirty-odd years have revealed the establishment will make no compromise. Having destroyed the post war settlement they won't want to see a twenty first century equivalent. Having profited from (and destroyed) the economies of entire countries they are unlikely to baulk at the same action in organised trivia. This implies they would never easily concede community ownership in something as culturally important as football: if it could be done successfully in that, the reaction might go, why not in the much more important field of economic production, and thus a transformation of society? The precedent might be as important as formation of the first mass unions and strike action. Having dismantled working class solidarity the establishment won't be in any hurry to help it re-form. That kind of New Right dogmatic mentality wouldn't be able even to conceive how, at a pinch, it might help their system survive longer - which was, after all, the real reason for creation of the welfare state.
And yet......who knows........
The non-football establishment has been forced to at least consider the issue. There are enough members of parliament as football fans to have forced formation of a parliamentary select committee to consider the subject. See
Perhaps this will add to a critical mass developing via social media. Maybe its recommendations will be useless, or, if truly radical and "socialist," quietly filed away and ignored. Maybe a philosopher-genius will appear to help point the way. Maybe there will be a seemingly unimportant event that will trigger decisive revulsion, maybe even England's tenth football revolution. Maybe not. Maybe there will be as much apathy as there is for much more important socio-political issues.
That there is still life in the reactionary old dog can be seen by FIFA/UEFA proposals to deregulate agents on the grounds they can't be controlled(!). And that is in spite of recent exposure of massive bribery of João Havelange and others during their tenure at FIFA. More likely for the foreseeable future the "war" will sway back and forth, "battles" won and lost, "leaders" come and go. Disraeli would be as much in his element today as he was in the nineteenth century. And he would find a nation still divided between rich and poor, but this time encrusted with information technology and consumer goods. In fact the issues haven't changed since Plutarch. Was it really fifty years ago that John Kennedy said, "If we cannot help the many who are poor we cannot save the few who are rich"?
Without empirical evidence, I believe the consensus among football fans is that, at the very least, genuine reform is necessary if the game is to avoid terminal decay. Radical systemic improvement and change is required, not building castles in the air or the utter nonsense of "constructive destruction" and "free markets." In previous opinions I have said I think the way forward is via publicly owned trusts. But this is not the shining city on the hill some might think. Trusts can be as rigged as companies, for which see appointed BBC trustees and too many NHS trustees. Therefore, democratic constitutions and elections are necessary.....at least as a start. After that, constant vigilance is necessary to ensure money profiteering and demagogues are kept at bay. First a quarantine, then a cure.
The fact is, for each of us today is all we have. We have to survive before we can adapt and change. Fortunately we are not yet at the stage in football where we are forced to choose melodramatically between living on our knees and dying on our feet. But we are surely faced with a free choice, perhaps mixed, between carpe diem (seize the day) and primum non nocere (first, do no harm). As history shows, such choice is not easily made or speedily enacted. Once made, you have to be human enough to stand by the results and concede when further change is required. Nobody has all the answers. What we don't need is hate and haters and tenth rate spivs and power mongers. For all its faults, for all the money filtering through it, for all the greed, for all its attached two-bit hoodlums, it is still just a game.
Assuming our species doesn't destroy itself, doubtless there will be a distant future moment when our heirs look at past history and wonder at our present infatuation with spectator sports, much as we do with ancient lethal gladiatorial games. By then maybe we will have evolved beyond irrationality. Maybe then revolutions will be unrequired. Until then......
Such is the human condition, football-wise.
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