From issue 10 of Forward
It has been called soccer and footy; some call it the foreign game; others the garrison game more call it the beautiful game and the workingman’s game. But for most of us it’s just plain old football. And football has been at the centre of the cultural life of the working class throughout the world ever since the modern game first emerged from the grotty industrial cities of Victorian England. Indeed without the victory of the labour movement for the five-day week in Britain, workers would simply have had no time for football. And without workers we would no players and no fans.
Yet there lies the paradox. Like everything else in a capitalist society the bosses own football created by workers. As soon as capitalists realised that they could charge people into watch football matches they have placed themselves in the position of club owners, ‘chairmen’, ´board members’, ‘directors’ and ‘investors’. Turning a cultural item, which rightful belongs to the people into a ‘profitable industry’ for the bosses.
Today after well over a century of professional Football we can clearly see the price fans have paid for the role capitalism has played in the game. Corruption is wide spread and the very credulity of the game now hangs in the balance.
Football Clubs like Manchester United and Bayern Munich have become giant faceless corporate brand names with the ubiquity of McDonald and Coca-Cola. Increasingly alienating even toward their own traditional fan base. In Britain, the home of football or so we are told the problem has become almost unbearable. Although creepy capitalists have always been there in the background of the English game they are now it the process of ruining the game they pretend to manage.
In the aftermath of the Hillsborough disaster back in 1989, the “Taylor Report” on football supporter safety, which recommended all-seated facilities, club owners seized on the opportunity to justify jacking up prices. Prices went from under 10s to 25s and beyond. The top clubs of the English 1st Division rebelled because the some of the money they generated was being used to develop the game in the lower divisions. These clubs would go on to form the English Premiership. English fans would suffer further at the hand of the corporate vultures such as media mogul Rupert Murdock who’s Sky Sports Channel bought up the ‘rights’ to show weekday and Sunday matches. Today Sky Sports has almost a monopoly on the ‘rights’ to show English and Scottish Football. The ordinary fans have all but lost the chance to see their own game on terrestrial television.
To add insult to injury English Football fans have the gloomy prospect of having their beloved local club bought over by a Multi-millionaire. Some might think this is a good thing. In practice however the reality is a little different. Since the Russian Mafia Oligarch Roman Abramovich has taken over at Chelsea Football Club he has invested an estimated $440 million. Yet ticket prices have risen over 70%. It is also widely believed that Abramovich’s spending spree has over heated the players transfer market.
Fearing the worst, rebel Manchester United supporters have decided to go it alone as American billionaire Martin Glazer; the owner of the New York Yankees took over at the Club. The renegade fans fed up with years of being ripped off by their own club with ticket prices, needless replica jersey changes and general poor treatment of the fans have decided to form their own breakaway FC United of Manchester. The new club now plays in the semi-professional Northern Premiership and has won promotion for two consecutive years since the clubs foundation three years ago.
This is following a pattern of rebellion amongst fans. The owners of Wimbledon FC had threatened to move out of South London after years of having to rent Selhurst Park from rivals Crystal Palace. The clubs onetime millionaire chairman Sam Hammam had made plans to move Wimbledon FC to Dublin. This prompted fierce opposition from both Wimbledon FC fans and National League fans who fear if English Premiership games where played in Dublin this would undermine the domestic game. Sam Hammam left Wimbledon for Cardiff City and new club owners moved to Milton Keynes renaming the club MK Dons FC. Wimbledon fans have rejected the move and have formed their own AFC Wimbledon and are now playing Football in regional semi-professional Football.
Red Bull; the “energy drinks” firm bought out Austria Salzburg and changed the clubs name to Red Bull Salzburg along with the club colours from their traditional Violet and White to red. However a large section of rebel fans have joined their fellow renegades in Manchester and Wimbledon in forming their own club this time retaining the original name and colours.
Domestic football in Ireland may be far removed from the glamour and multi million Euro transfers but money talks here just the same. Two of Dublin’s largest football clubs Shamrock Rovers and Shelbourne FC have faced major financial troubles in the last few years. Despite a massive protest by KRAM (Keep Rovers at Milltown) Shamrock Rover have been without a permanent home since 1989 when the clubs owners, the Kilcoyne family sold their ground at Glenmalure Park, Milltown. The club was intended to move to Tolka Park but so far away from the traditional home on the south side of the city the move proved to be a disaster. The club have been moving from stadium to stadium ever since.
But as the game has suffered at the hand of capitalist it has created vibrant fighting fans. Bray Wanderers Supporters Club alongside the people of Bray fought and won the battle to keep their stadium, the Carlisle Ground in the town centre. Bray Urban District Council wanted to sell off the property to developers who wanted to build a Supermarket and car park on the site. However after a lengthy battle with the fans and the towns people the Wanderers where granted a 100 year lease on the site.
Donegal club, Finn Harps FC, has for many years now been run as a Co-operative by the fans and local business people and the club remains hugely popular in the Northwest.
Supporters clubs seeing the danger of corporate interests in game have become far more than just organising bus and rail travel for away games. In Germany and Italy fan clubs have kept ticket prices low and defended the right to have standing room terraces despite pressure from both the European Union and the club owners to enforce all-seated stadiums.
Capitalism has given Football fans a number of stark choices for the future. Will Football be something, which distracts people from their own conditions and cements division and sectarianism? Will football be just another way for advertisers to reach consumers? Will football be simply another product to be bought and sold? Will football be something only the wealthy few can afford to enjoy? Or will fans fight so football can be something which will unite people, build community spirit, celebrate sportsmanship, athleticism and will enrich the lives of working people? The future is in our own hands it seems.