Football, Capitalism And The Fight Back By Fans


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.

8 Comments

Filed under Culture, Sport, Uncategorized

8 responses to “Football, Capitalism And The Fight Back By Fans

  1. Dixie Dean

    This is a good piece which captures many of the problems. It would be good to say that things are better than described but they definitely are not. Great Clubs like Shelbourne have slipped down from the Premier Division after their brave but failed experiment of going full-time a few seasons ago. A great European run and great crowds from across the League of Ireland turned up to support them in Lansdowne but they are now relegated. Other great clubs that are a real part of their communities are down there two: Dundalk, Longford Town and Waterford. Dublin City, after two seasons, is dead and buried.

    In the Premiership, Cork City, Galway United, Sligo Rovers and Cobh Ramblers (I remember seeing Roy Keane play for them!) are struggling. The days when British Clubs would come over to scout for talent from the League of Ireland are long gone because they sign youngsters up as school kids often letting them go after a couple of years when they are too disillusioned to play in LoI. It’s also expensive to watch (€15) what is usually pretty poor stuff for those weaned on Match of the Day and the European Leagues. As a result, the crowds are shrinking and even local derby matches that used to fill grounds only now get a loyal (and sometimes crazy) few! Probably the most worrying news is the withdrawal of Eircom sponsorship for next season. Unless another sponsor with real backing is found, then who knows.

    But all is not gloom. After years of struggle, Shamrock Rovers are coming in from the wilderness and with the support of South Dublin County Council and the fans (who own the Club too), the building work really is going to be completed on the new stadium. No thanks to Thomas Davis GAA that objected from their beautiful Club buildings to Rovers coming to Tallaght. Drogheda United is going great guns. New Clubs have formed in Wexford and Fingal. But what I don’t understand is why we don’t support our local clubs anymore instead of filling the pockets of Michael O’Leary and the Premiership Clubs in Scotland and England each weekend? Why don’t we ground share and provide decent facilities for the fans to come? Why don’t we lay of the cursing and filthy language and encourage kids and female supporters to come? What about and all-Ireland League because the Setanta Cup has gone well? And for goodness sake, let’s go back to Winter games and leave the summer to the GAA and trips to the seaside with the kids!

    Too often we moan when things are struggling and regret when things are gone. This should not happen to our League of Ireland Clubs where the football is not always great but who cares, they are our clubs and the craic is usually mighty.

  2. Interesting piece and excellent blog.

    On a minor point, I have to disagree with you about the reasons behind Shelbourne’s demise. The reason they are where they are now is because of a ‘speculate to accumulate’ strategy launched by Ollie Byrne from the late nineties on which resulted in massive costs and little income. It wasn’t merely the fact that they went full-time – while some clubs have suffered severely in this environment, other clubs have done so with varying degrees of success and stability.

    An All-Ireland League is the way forward. When it comes to administrative matters, Irish football fans have learned not to expect much given the history of FAI calamity in our sport.

    Politically, your analysis is spot on. The kind of economic structures between clubs in place in England are not sustainable, hence the difficulties in lower leagues and even with smaller clubs from the Championship. Club football, it has to be remembered, has a much wider base and a much more complete historical role in working-class communities in England than here, so Sky-branded football hits Irish football even harder.

    Dermot (St. Pat’s fan)

  3. Nice posts. I for one would love to see more football on terrestrial television. Many working class people can’t afford Sky Sports.

  4. Hey, I just wanted to say what a fantastic website. I thoroughly enjoyed it and found it entertaining reading. Excited to read your next post!

  5. Thanks for a great article!

    I’m writing an article about football and capitalism myself for a danish socialist newspaper and I’m very inspired by this article.

    In Denmark we have many of the same problems. One of the biggest clubs, FC Copenhagen, is extremely capitalised and is pushing the other clubs to do the same if they are to keep up. My own club, Brøndby, is a traditional workersclub and one of the biggest in Denmark and Scandinavia. It have been in a big crisis the last couple of years and this is being used by some to try to push a complete capitalisation through and remove the last remains of members democracy, this right turn have been lead by famous danish goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel. But there have been a counterpush from the fans that have formed a group called “The New Brøndby” that are collecting signatures from fans and members and the small stockholdings they have, in an attempt to topple the leadership of the board and make the club more democratic. It would be very interesting if they were to win and it could be a signal to the rest off the European football environment, that there is another way to go.

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  8. Thanks for the auspicious writeup. It in fact was a enjoyment account it. Glance complex to more added agreeable from you! By the way, how could we be in contact?

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