Tuesday 14 February 2023

What is going wrong with Football?


How was your weekend? On Saturday I went to watch Hadley FC in a wonderful game against Biggleswade in the Southern Central League Division one. I'm a season ticket holder at Hadley FC and have recently become a shareholder. On Sunday I watched Manchester City, the love of my football life, demolish Aston Villa. This was the first game since City were charged with breaking the rules of financial misconduct. 

As you can imagine, I've had quite a few conversations about football over the last week. My view on the situation with City? If they have broken the rules, then they should be punished proportionately. Whatever this turns out to be will mean little to me. I remember when City were in the third tier and the fans would wave inflatable banana's at the players to help ease the pain of the dire football being served up. I can't lie, it's more fun when your team is winning trophies, but like most long suffering City fans, it wouldn't suprise me to find us in the Conference next year, stripped of every vestige of success of the last few years. A similar thing happened to Rangers in Scotland and the club and it's supporters came through it. I am sure most committed City fans would simply say "We start again" and a lot of Non League clubs would have their best season ever. There is even the slim possibility that City may play Hadley in the FA trophy. Of course, whilst that wouldn't surprise me, I would be absolutely gutted. As a City fan, and yes I am biased, I've long felt that the club have had a raw deal from the football authorities. The owners of City have invested huge amounts in City, making it in many ways a model club. They've invested hugely in the academy, with some amazing young players emerging. They've invested in the Stadium and in Manchester. They have been key players in much of the regeneration of Manchester. I'm not blind to the problems with the ownership, in many ways I'd love to see foreign ownership banned, but if that came to pass, would football in the UK be better for it? 

The likes of City and Chelsea have brought some of the best footballers in the world to England. The Premier League is the place to be. If you had the choice between watching the very best players or watching less able players, what would you really prefer? As someone who watches Hadley, I do enjoy watching football at all levels, but having seen Kevin DeBruyne, David Silva and Sergio Aguero at their best, I've seen some stunning performances that at times took your breath away. Before the current era of rich foreign investors, we had a long period where the League was only won by Arsenal or Manchester City. Since City were taken over, we've had City, Man Utd, Chelsea, Leicester and Liverpool winning. The last four seasons have seen monumental battles between City and Liverpool, going down to the last match. Is this really bad for football?

As a passionate fan, there are plenty of things that I hate about football. What we saw with the last two wordl cups and the dodgy processs of awarding world cups, to my mind, makes any shenanigans by clubs wishing to improve their squads, pale into insignificance. The FA is a part of that process and is tainted by it. I wonder "who are they to judge". People who criticise the human rights record of the owners of City turn a blind eye to the exploitation and child labour deployed in making their own replica kits.These are produced for a pittance and sold for a fortune, often to parents struggling to make ends meet. Clubs produce several kits a year, to squeeze every penny out of their fanbase.

 If you look at the sponsors of clubs, you have gambling companies, Oil Companies, drinks companies, etc. There are almost no ethics in who clubs sign up as sponsors. The Russian energy company Gazprom were Champions League sponsors until the invasion of Ukraine last year. Football is run for TV companies and I can't recall the last time I saw a game without bookies ads in the break. I even wrote a song about the subject - CLICK HERE FOR A LISTEN. Bookies don't run the adverts out of the goodness of their hearts to help make football a better sport. They run ads during matches to get you to part with your hard earned cash. I can only wonder how many kids won't be getting their Man Utd top for Xmas because Daddy spent all his money with on line bets.  As far as the bookies are concerned, they fund football purely to ensure we part with as much cash as possible, in their direction. I must add that TV advertising of bookies is a relatively new phenominum. The British government used to recognise that gambling is a danger to society and so banned it. To me, this is the real scandal in British football. I wouldn't stop gambling,  I occasionally have a punt, but I would ban TV advertising, especially during sporting events. 

My son used to play for Watling Boys Football club. Whilst there was all this money sloshing around at the top level, some boys in my sons team couldn't afford boots. Parents had to have a whip around. Probably half of the football pitches I used to play on as  a kid have been built on. At Hadley on Saturday, their was a crowd of over 150 and a great atmosphere, which reassures me that there is a market for grassroots football, but I don't see too many 'trickle down' benefits in football, from the Premier League. 

We now have more football on TV than ever, we have better players than ever, we have more money sloshing around than ever, but at the top level, it has become so expensive, that a whole layer of the social strata of society is excluded. How many times do you hear rich, right wing commenators taking pot shots at 'single mothers on benefits who can still afford Sky TV", clearly begrudging kids with little in their lives access to watching footie. When it comes down to it, ultimately all I can really conclude is that it's not football that has the problem. It is wider. Personally, I have less problems with foreign owners of football clubs than I do with foreign owners of railways and energy companies. I have far less problem with bookies names on team shirts, than I do with bookies advertising on TV, aggressively trying to making us think that gambling is a cool thing to do. I have far less problem with dodgy owners of football clubs, than I have with us being reliant on those same owners for our enegry supplies. 

The biggest hypocisy of it all are then fans who call out clubs like City as cheats, whilst wishing deep in their hearts that they had such owners. In some ways, the stand off between City and the football authorities is as much a game as what happens on the pitch. Just as they have with Premiership titles, City have been here before. They know the game.They will have the best lawyers and they have already won a monumental battle with UEFA. If I was putting a bet on, I'd put my money on City's team. It strikes me as unlikely that City would have been so stupid as to have broken 115 regulations, especially as they were under investigation for much of that period. My prediction is that they will win, but every fan of every other club will think they 'got away with it'. People forget that Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules were not brought in to stop rich people buying success. They were brought in to stop clubs from living above their means, which resulted in some spectacular collapses. If the FA and Premier League were serious about levelling up the playing field, they could do this very simply, with salary caps for players, splitting the home ground take as was done prior to the inception of the Premier League and limits on squad sizes. The only problem would be that the best players would move abroad to La Liga etc. Given that football is one industry that we actually lead the world in, would that really be the best thing to do?

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