These articles are published in the Slough Town FC programme. The Rebels play in the Southern Premier - just seven leagues below the Premier League. I’ve been supporting Slough since the beginning of time despite now living in Brighton. After nearly 14 nomadic years we finally have a brand spanking new home in Slough.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

IT’S A MONEY OLD GAME

Printed in the programme for the Slough Town v Taunton Town 18th August 2007 British Gas Business South and West Division. We lost 2-1 in front of 253 people.

It’s as if the demise of Leeds United never happened. Champions League semi finalists to Leyton Orient in just six seasons is pretty impressive. But owners and fans alike ignore the plight of Leeds as every crook in the world heads for the Premiership with big promises and dirty cash.

This deluge of money continues to make the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nothings’ in football ever wider. Just look at some of some of last seasons decisions. West Ham are saved from relegation despite admitting to breaking league rules while AFC Wimbledon initially get an 18 point deduction for a secretarial error. Bury get thrown out of the FA Cup for playing someone on loan without written permission while AC Milan win the Champions league, despite originally being thrown out of the competition for bribing refs and match fixing! So the cheats of Milan beat Liverpool, where the new owners of the Reds described buying the club as just the same as buying another ‘brand’ he owns – Weetabix!

While most clubs have frozen price rises (well they’ve only gone up 600% in the last 18 years!) as £2.7 billion is about to pour into the Premier League from TV. Manchester United however have raised ticket prices by 14% to help pay off the £660 million debt the Glazier’s have saddled them with. Whatever you think of Man United at least some of their fans, after years of protest, walked out and set up a new club. After back to back promotions FC United of Manchester are preparing for their first season in the Unibond and have so far flogged a thousand season tickets with the fans meaning the cost of a match £6! But where are the protests or break away supporter run clubs at Liverpool, Manchester City or Leeds? As the money pours in and the Premiership boasts that its wage bill for this season will be a billion pounds, it’s the see no evil, hear no evil strategy of fans hoping that the wads of extra cash will lead them to a season of glory and who gives a monkey where that money was made.

The Premiership is effectively being used as a vehicle to buy respectability by some highly suspect individuals. Manchester City had enough of Joey Barton’s behaviour but apparently the ex Thai Prime Minister’s CV is ok. Human Rights Watch describe Thaksin as "a human rights abuser of the worst kind" and have written to the Premiership to ask how he passed the fit and proper person test. As one ex Man City recounted “I lived under Thaksin's rule and saw first hand the kind of person he is and how he has made his money. I'm not sure what my favourite 'Thaksin moment' is, perhaps the death squads roaming the streets during his infamous 'war on drugs'? (2,500 people killed in a couple of weeks) Perhaps it was when he gave government aid to the Burmese military junta in order for them to buy satellitte acess from his personal company? Or was it him using the country as his own personal piggy bank in order to further the wealth of him and his family? Selling government land to his wife at a massively reduced price, subsidising his private television station with government money, buying a 50% stake in AirAsia in order to grant them a license to fly within the country. There are plenty more......”

Then there’s Gaydamak, the owner of Portsmouth. It is well known that Gaydamak's father, Arkady, a man wanted for drug smuggling and gun running and holed up in Israel, is the real money and power behind Portsmouth. Or Abromvitch, who raised the financial stakes of the Premiership. Abromvitch was one of the oligarchs who raided Russia's natural resources in the wild west capitalism that followed the collapse of communism.

Having spent millions to buy the clubs and many more millions on foreign players, these new owners are impatient about inadequate profits. They only care about the ‘brand’ or franchise they have bought and not English football – the England team, academies, youth set-ups, the fans, or the other 37,500 clubs affilitated to the FA. The problem is that with so many money men picking off clubs, they can’t all be winners and it will seriously end in tears for some. Just ask Leeds United. Of course dodgy characters have always been involved in football but the stakes are now so high will it take Man United or Chelsea or Liverpool to go to the wall for anyone to really start to take any notice?

Thankfully there is another football side to all this. Where the ‘have-nothings’ are not just business propositions or a bowl of Weetabix but community assets who have to rely on the goodwill of their supporters to function. During pre season Slough supporters gave up our weekends to help clean up our new ‘home’ at Beaconsfield. New people have been elected to our Trust board. Others keep the website ticking over, help with secretarial jobs and try to get the club run more professionally. Sort out booklets to attract new sponsorship. Produce programmes, sell raffle tickets and work the turnstiles on matchdays. (Oh and run the clubshop). All this for no monetary gain, just to help get our club run more smoothly. This is the sort of football community I want to be associated with. Where you won’t be mugged at the turnstile, treated like cattle, told to sit down and shut up by stewards; where you can enjoy a pint, a banter with opposition supporters and most importantly get involved with the running of YOUR club. It’s high time football fans took their heads out of the sand, ditched the Premiership and all it stands for and went and supported their local non league team.

1 Comments:

Anonymous Nigel Baldwin said...

I have just had time to sit down with Saturdays programme and read your article entitled “it’s a money old game”.

As usual, your article is well written and no doubt well researched. I have heard the accusations levelled at Abramovic many times since his arrival at Stamford Bridge but the situation is far too complex for my feeble brain to comprehend, or venture an opinion on. However I do know he is regularly re-elected to high office within his home province, and is reportedly well respected by the electorate there, so as with most things, there are always two sides to every story. However I am not so sure there is another side to the past “indiscretions” of Manchester City’s new owner

However putting aside the politics (after all I think we would both agree that we will never be in too much agreement on that topic!) I feel I have to defend the “product” which is the Premier League.

I use the word “product” deliberately because, when all is said and done, and despite the laudable wishes of many football fans, the bottom line is that football is now a product. Football clubs are no longer “clubs” they are primarily businesses. We may not like it, and we may all wish that we could return to the golden era of players going to games on the same buses as the fans, but it is a cold hard fact of life that those days are gone forever. Just as we can no longer leave our doors unlocked without any fear of being burgled (though that may have more to do with the fact that no-one had anything worth stealing in days gone by, rather than people being inherently more honest in the past than they are today) similarly we can no longer expect to see top flight football for the price of a pint and a packet of Woodbine. Subsequently, as with any product, if you want the best you have to pay for the best. One cannot get an Aston Martin for the price of a Ford Anglia for example, a fact born out only too clearly by the contents of my garage unfortunately!

The fact is that TV rules in todays world of top class football and, as with most things, he who pays the piper calls the tune. It is the revenue raised from the subscriptions of, and advertising to, the millions of armchair TV fans, not only in the sleepy villages of Cornwall, but also in places as divers as Seattle and Beijing that English clubs can pay for the privilege (and it is a privilege) of players of the caliber of Ronaldo, Essien, Fabregas, Torres etc etc etc to grace our football stadia week in and week out. It is certainly not the money the average punter pays at the turnstiles which finances it. The gate receipts nowadays just about cover the cost of administration of a top flight club. I have worked out that I would need to renew my season ticket at Stamford Bridge (which hasn’t increased for three seasons by the way) for the next 153 years to pay John Terry’s wages for one week! Does this bother me? Not in the slightest! Why not? Because each time I attend a game, I am treated to seeing some of the best footballers in the world play, including some who aren’t even in blue shirts! Over the years since the development of the Premier League I have seen players such as, Zola, Gullet, Henry, Bergkamp, Ginola, and Di Caneo play some exquisite football. Not to mention being absolutely mesmerized by the artistry of Ronaldhino (admittedly in the Champions League rather than the EPL, but the sentiment is the same) who even managed to gain a round of applause from the most partisan of Chelsea fans for one particularly sublime goal he scored against us.

I do understand your sentiment regarding the community spirit at non league clubs, as well as the camaraderie which clearly exists between opposing fans at that level. However, there is also a sense of “community” among fans of even the most biggest of League clubs, and despite the presence of various gangs of morons that affiliate themselves to these clubs (as I discovered only too painfully after the cup final..ouch!) there is also, believe it or not, a certain degree of camaraderie that exists between rival fans as well. I have had many an amiable chat with opposing fans in the pub before a game at the Bridge, not to mention convivial chats over cups of coffee with fans from all four corners of the England at service stations up and down the M6 during my regular commute to Scotland and back.

I accept that some dyed in the wool fans have been priced out of attending games, and I do genuinely feel sorry for them, but then again there are some dyed in the wool fans who couldn’t afford to go to Stamford Bridge if a ticket was only ten quid, but where does one draw the line between sentiment and business? The day may well come when I can no longer justify the cost of my season ticket, in particular to she who must be obeyed, and if (when?) it does I will have to accept that fact, but for me the Premier League is worth every penny!

Therefore I cannot agree with your plea for football fans to ditch the Premiership. What I would agree with however, is that true football fans, and I class myself as one, do need to support their local clubs more. But this does not mean they need to make a choice between non-league and Premier League football, they can do both! I maintain my season ticket at the Bridge even though I am 400 miles away two week-ends out of every four. However when I am away I get to watch my newly adopted “local” team of Kilmarnock as much as I can, and when back here I try and get to as many Slough games as I can. This is because, despite my “championing” the benefits derived from TV revenue I seldom watch live televised games, as I much prefer taking in a “live” game, complete with the smell of iffy burgers, not to mention the smell of iffy toilets. Whether it be at the Bridge, Rugby Park, or Holloways Park give me a rain sodden night, freezing my how’s your fathers off over a comfy armchair and a remote control any day! After all how many of us (especially those of us over forty) can deny falling asleep halfway through most televised games anyway!

Regards

Nigel “say aye to a Killie pie” Baldwin

6:00 am

 

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