Monday, November 17, 2008

Is English Football Doomed?

As one of my favourite bands once said, 'let's get this straight from the start': I'm not a sports commentator, I'm just a fan. I actually tried commentating once, for clubcall, I was useless. All you had to do (at the time) was update every 15 minutes and whenever a goal was scored. I think I was covering Shrewsbury vs Scunthorpe and it didn't help that one of the teams scored three goals in close succession - I couldn't update the phoneline quick enough, as I was concentrating on reporting the last goal another one would go in. I haven't tried to do it since - to be fair they haven't asked me.

Now there's almost too much coverage; too many media owners and sponsors pitching for the same slice of the same pie. Consequently the clubs get greedier and the price of admission gets harder to afford. We've seen this process escalating for a number of years now; just when you think it can't get any more ridiculous it does just that.

One of the ongoing debates has been whether the cost of football will eventually become beyond the man-in-the-street. To an extent this has already happened, my last football-related blog mentioned that the average fan had become both older and richer, the football spectator has gone from working to middle-class. With the credit crunch now starting to bite the cost of being a fan will soon be beyond most of us. If I hadn't already bought my season ticket there's no way I'd be stumping up £40 for a category A game at the Hawthorns. Cup matches have been the first to suffer, at all grounds these fixtures have been sparsely attended and they will become ever more so.

Currently I'm choosing to actively spectate rather than passively support, my money goes on the physical participation of attending the game and not the sedentary satellite subscription. One can see that the top clubs are thinking only in terms of the latter, with an increasing number of foreign owners flooding into the sport it's one of the only ways that they'll get to see what they own. In sport as in life, as the rich get richer the poor will eventually get shafted.

It is usually the job of the football fan to hate their club's owners of course and Mike Ashley at Newcastle has become this season's pantomime villain, with Dennis Wise as his evil-dwarf and an Icelandic ugly-sister from West Ham thrown in to keep a tight rein on the purse-strings.


Should we really be vilifying these people for trying to balance budgets? This is what normal businesses do. None of us can afford to employ bungling comedic managers, even if they are folk-heroes, and not many of us can sustain over-spending if the raw materials we buy don't make the end-product any more successful. I'm aware that I'm over-stretching this comparative analogy to manufacturing businesses but I think it's worthy of consideration, because without it we all invite our clubs to be the playthings of disinterested playboys.

We may consider that Manchester City have caught a lucky break, exchanging one potentially dubious owner for a considerably richer version, but the knock-on effect could destroy all clubs as we currently know them. Rich men competing with each other to prove the size of their wallets will be an ego-fest to fill the back pages, and may give us all some amusing 'david and goliath' moments, but we will all feel the knock-on as normal clubs struggle to compete.

It's been a long time since football clubs made their living from hard-working, locally-raised players - even the smaller premiership squads are overflowing with foreign talent. This is in no way a xenophobic thought, but it seems very odd that we may be supporting a process by which our national game will be played out by American/Saudi-owned teams managed by Spaniards composed of non-English-players sponsored by global corporations for the benefit of worldwide TV audiences on channels owned by Australians and Irishmen........oops, I think we already are.

Things change and progress is not always obviously beneficial to all, this may be considered as the survival of the fittest. Our club-sides already succeed on an international stage where the national side has ceased to do so. When the European Super League is eventually ushered in, as it inevitably will be, we may be forced to wonder where it all went wrong. Will all Man City fans really then be seeing it as the time when it all went right?

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