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Exposing The Mob Rule In Football

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The globalisation of football is a fact – once that genie got out of the bottle, there is no way on earth, heaven or hell that you could put it back in. Football is now a universal game, and it will continue to grow as the #1 sport around the world.

The commodification of football is also a fact (for the more discerning amongst you, “commodification of football” is used in both Marxist and capitalist terms – read more about ‘commodification‘) – once money became a significant factor in determining the performances of a football club, there was no going back and now, we have a sport that walks, talks and breathes capitalism.

The combined effects of globalisation and the adoption of capitalism have transformed football – from a local, non-business sport it has turned into a worldwide money-spinning phenomenon. The sheer surge of emotions attached to football brings with it an opportunity to make money – a LOT of money – and today we’re seeing the after-effects, as power and money is consolidated at the top of the pile and everyone else who doesn’t have the resources (a majority, obviously) is against this influx of money.

Of course, it has a lot more to do with not having as much money as someone else as opposed to a reaction against money in football (although it is rationalised as the latter)…

This is not about whether money in football is good or not (ditto for football’s globalisation). One, that is a different debate and two, it is quite impossible to take money (or the global factor) out of the game without crashing the current system. It’s a bit like yanking the technology out of our societies because we don’t want to pollute the environment – it’s not going to happen. The challenge is to go forward and forge a system that respects football’s most importance asset (the passion from fans and players for their teams) and still allows the people involved to make money. Don’t tell me that it can’t happen – it can happen as long as we, as fans, have a positive attitude work towards solutions instead of shooting each other’s ideas down.

So…in this environment where money has an increasing larger say in shaping football’s future, the people without money (or rather, people with less money) overwhelmingly outnumber those that have a lot of it.

How Mobs Are Manipulated

And before anyone talks about how rising ticket prices are a symptom of how money is damaging football, allow me to draw your attention to amount of money Chelsea (with a 42k capacity ground) and Arsenal (with a 60k capacity ground) are making through their home games as compared to Manchester United (with a 76k capacity ground).

Matchday Earnings (2006/2007)

per Match
per Seat**
Man Utd

* estimate, please correct if wrong
** EACH matchday

And yet, all we hear is how Manchester United’s ticket prices are hurting the fans. It’s an easy story to sell because the fans are already worried about the debt, whereas Chelsea and Arsenal fans are happier with their owners and thus it’s not so easy to sell them on the idea that the owners of their clubs are out to screw them over for their money.

Even when you factor in the rise in costs because of being in London as opposed to Manchester, at the very least, the three clubs are equal in terms of what they charge for their seats. And here we are, hearing about United’s extortion and not about Arsenal’s or Chelsea’s.

We expect the media to keep us informed of what’s going on in the world and in football. Unfortunately, the media is looking right back at us, trying to figure what will generate the strongest emotions (and thus get more sales / more hits on their websites / higher tv audience) and thus we are hardly ever told the truth – instead, we hear news designed to get a reaction out of us, narratives in black and white that are far away from the truth.

Hence the largely positive reaction for the Liverpool and Newcastle takeovers, even though in recent times owners from both sides have come under serious criticism – because once the initial euphoria died and results failed to materialise on the pitch, fans were more open to reacting to the truth. Hicks and Gillett borrowed heavily and don’t trust Rafa as much as the fans. Mike Ashley’s past business dealings got a lot more air recently with the attempt to paint him as a reckless, unreliable businessman – right after he brought Keegan onboard as manager.

In politics and advertising (and any other public-dealing sector), this is known as having the pulse of the masses. When this knowledge is used to misinform and manipulate, it can have serious consequences for the future.

In recent elections in Pakistan, we have experienced first-hand how the masses – the mob – can be manipulated to further harm the country. Regardless of what you might think about Musharraf and indeed about democracy, there is no doubt that the masses in Pakistan were against him, whipped into a frenzy by his political opposition. Now, after the elections, the two political parties everyone was happy to see the back of in 1999 are presumably back in power and more, are forming a coalition. The very corrupt politicians that we wanted out as a nation are back in power 9 years later, and they have the mob’s mandate.

Things will get a lot worse in Pakistan – in the blind rush to oust Musharraf completely from power, the people have been conned into electing worse individuals in his place. So much for democracy, so much for respecting public opinion.

The mob rule in football is akin to the picture at the start of this article (rss readers please clickthrough) – emotional, angry and misguided. I remember back in 2005 / 2006, when the move to get President Bush impeached gained momentum in the aftermath of Katrina, many young bloggers banded together to sign petitions and raise awareness. They were eloquent, driven and inspirational.

But when I asked them (several times) about what they had in mind post-impeachment – where they saw the US going after Bush was forced out – they had no answers. They hadn’t thought that far ahead, it was a case of Anyone But Bush, and reason and forward-thinking be damned.

Game 39 and the Mob

We’ve had a similar reaction to the Game 39 proposal in football. I’m not for it, nor am I against it. However, I think it’s an idea worth exploring further and if Richard Scudamore, an extremely successful businessman, thinks that it is workable keeping Fifa and national FAs happy, then it’s worth discussing.

Apparently, fans don’t think so. You want to know why?

The Guardian, the Daily Mail, the Telegraph, the Sun, the Independent – heck, even the BBC had their correspondents go full-throttle against the proposal, ridiculing it, bashing Scudamore for being greedy.

So let’s put things a bit in perspective:

Is Scudamore being greedy?

No more than a consultant is being greedy when he accepts a speaking gig outside the country once a year. No more than a local musician who goes on a tour abroad to cash in on his growing global appeal. No more than athletes who participate in events globally in sports that leverage their own global popularity.

You might argue that the above examples do not apply to football – I beg to differ. Football has a global audience and is a global commodity. Fans around the world are going to want to watch their favourite teams, they want to buy products and get a chance to see the players they support and idolise.

Wherever you have talent, you have the opportunity to export that talent. What the Premier League is doing makes perfect business sense, drives money back into English football and also helps improve local infrastructure. There are problems, yes, but none of them are insurmountable and have been discussed, in detail, here and here.

Money, as I said at the start, is now an integral part of football. We’re not going to be able to take it out.

The challenge is not to reduce the size of the pie, but to increase it AND ensure that it is more evenly distributed.

If the Premier League can be convinced to give a greater share to the Football League, would this make the venture more palatable?

If the Premier League apportioned a percentage of their earnings from Game 39 to local charities and football development, would that make the venture more palatable?

Are we against the Premier League (and therefore, others, NOT us) making more money or are we against inequality in football? There’s a difference there, ladies and gentlemen – one is a selfish, knee-jerk reaction to cover one’s own inadequacies and the other is a principled stance to proactively improve football. Which side are you on?

In the rush to discredit the Game 39 proposal, the press went out and branded Roy Keane, one of the early supporters of the scheme, as a ‘rent-a-quote’ manager. Easy to manipulate public opinion against someone who was hated by most opposition fans just a couple of years ago. Not so easy to manipulate public opinion against Arsene Wenger, a man well-respected all around the footballing world.

Sepp Blatter The Bully

The most amusing outcome of this whole situation was how people used Sepp Blatter’s opposition (and schoolyard bullying techniques) as proof that Game 39 was a bad idea. Without going into details, here’s a search on Google for ‘Sepp Blatter idiot‘ – go ahead, knock yourself out and read all the top 10 entries. Blatter more or less called Italy cheats in order to get a favorable reaction in Australia. He advocates that women’s football should be more feminine – and that’s the most politically correct way to convey his words. He is the classic blundering fool that football fans dislike with a vengeance, and yet you believe his words only when he disagrees with what you disagree. Relying on Blatter’s judgment in this case makes you a moron, unless you too, agree with everything else he says.

Blatter’s bullying of the English FA – threatening to sideline the bid for the 2018 World Cup – is what SHOULD worry English football fans. How are the two things – Game 39 and 2018 World Cup – even related? We have a situation where the local game (outside the Premier League) could get a mind-bogglingly huge boost in terms of investment and exposure, where the local economy will flourish before and after the event (see Germany 2006), and yet when that is threatened, what do England-based fans – the people standing to benefit the most from the event – do in response?

They applaud.

English fans should be taking a stand against this brand of bullying (and the sickening way the FA have folded because of it) – it is quite possible that if Blatter can use this strategy to get his way on one issue, he can use the same stick to beat upon on England on other issues. How many concessions – to a man whose judgment is questionable at best – would these knowledgeable and in-the-right football fans be willing to give?

A different Perspective on Game 39

The reaction from elsewhere in the world has stemmed from two things – the media coverage of the proposal (which has been actively biased against it) and the words of one Sepp Blatter.

Several associations around the world have opposed Game 39 – based on the common assumption that this would undermine the local leagues. That is half the story. If you were to export the whole Premier League season, then yes, it would seriously undermine the local leagues. However, one weekend per year would amount to a financial bonanza and would do nothing to draw people away from the local game. The global attention that the area will receive will in return boost the investment and exposure given to the local game.

In other words, Game 39 CAN be used to benefit local football development – if you play it that way.

Not surprisingly, the more enterprising and forwarding thinking football associations have realised the potential and the MLS, the UAE, the Hong Kong FA and Australia are more open to having the Premier League visit and play, as long as Fifa accepts it (if you are wondering then yes, Blatter has effectively bullied all federations to oppose the proposal).

While Scudamore puts on a confident face (he must have known that the reaction would be this vicious, so he seems to have a gameplan) and knows that the FA is only worried about Fifa and the 2018 World Cup, not about the proposal itself, one wonders if the Game 39 proposal is dead in the water (do you expect Blatter to go back on his word and allow the proposal, considering that he has openly said that it won’t go ahead as long as he is Fifa president?) – and that saddens me, because as football fans, we’ve blown the first real opportunity in a long time to bring a positive change to football.

In our haste to deny the people at the top a chance to make money, we have effectively denied the chance for all of football to make more money and therefore denied football a chance to grow and prosper in areas where it desperately needs help.

Game 39 could have been used to improve matters – extract a greater share from the Premier League (as the FA wanted) and investing in football development around the world (as some FAs around the world anticipated). Instead, we’re creating false obstacles – how the fans are being shortchanged being the most common one.

Broadcasting / Commercial Revenue (2006/2007)

Man Utd:

I’m going to hazard a guess that if you took out the non-England-based fans for these three clubs, the revenues here would be slashed by half (as always, comment if you think the assumption is incorrect). Therefore, considering that global fans have a significant financial contribution to make to their clubs, would you agree that domestic fans SHOULD share an EXTRA game with these global fans? Surely, it’s just one weekend guys, the league isn’t getting up and moving abroad.

Or are we so blind that we fail to see our own greed, this time for perceived ownership of a club that is partially funded by its global audience?

Game 39’s Future

I strongly hope that the Game 39 proposal gets a chance to be discussed properly and all the details – how the fixtures will be handled, how local football will benefit, how the Premier League will funnel that money back into the grassroots of football – are made public and put up for debate. Let’s look at the facts and the real issues, and not at our own greed and insecurities.

Further Reading:

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