Definite hope for the future

3 08 2011

Some days warm your  soul. Two weekends ago I had one of those days.

This day occurred in the middle of  a Supporters’ Direct fans’ weekend in Chester, at the match between Chester FC and FC United of Manchester. The reason this day was good for the soul is that it gives people like me hope for the future.

My attendance at the match was based on a fortuitous tweet from Ian (the creator of the never less than excellent twohundredpercent). It was very lucky that Ian  reminded me about Chester v FC United otherwise I’d have been off to watch the less than riveting (on the surface) Prestatyn v Tranmere match. After Ian reminded me the match was taking place there was no way I couldn’t go.

The quickness in my step on the way to the ground was caused by  two reasons; anticipation and getting there on time (a late train that causing me to miss the events before the match).  I resolved to stand with the FC United fans. When I arrived at the ground I was met by the expected large queue but I didn’t panic. Once I managed to get in I found a place for the flag and settled down for the match.

Just after the 30 minute mark FC United scored. I was very happy with this because I wanted FC United to do the bizzo over Blacon’s representatives. They nearly doubled their lead but the keeper did well to deny FC United on both occasion. FC United enjoyed a 1-0 half time lead. During half-tim I met Rob, and it was a pleasure to meet another name from the WSC message board.

In the second half Chester brought on their ex-WPL leg-ends Connolly and Michael Wilde. Unfortunately Wilde lived up to his name so the referee thought it prudent that he and his FC United target were both substituted. Due to the lack of clear chances in the second half Chester’s  equaliser seemed to come from nowhere. In fact the goal was the result of a very high quality shot from about 25 yards out. The once inert Chester fans fizzed with kinetic energy.  Unfortunately Chester scored what turned out to be a very late winner and so won the cup. The Chester fans were apoplectic in spasms of joy.  An FC United player almost scored after rounding the prone keeper but he put his shot wide.

Although a Chester victory was a little disheartening this wasn’t the kind of day to be moping around. This was the kind of day to be celebrating what positive actions people can actually accomplish.

As I said up there, the organisers of the Fans’ Weekend were Supporters Direct. The essence of Supporters Direct is to facilitate fan ownership of football clubs (or at least greater fan involvement). On the morning of the fans’ day (The match day) there were speakers including the esteemed journalist David Conn and the MP Tom Greatrex. It all seemed good. On Friday there were other good speakers; people from Supporters Direct, NGOs, FC United, Chester and even UEFA. The weekend was also sponsored by The Co-operative. After reading some literature I picked up after the match – sample title”The Social and Community Value of Football” –  it really brought home what is possible. It was just a shame I missed the conference part through work.

In general a fan-led / fan-centred model football club ownership  is very important for the future of football, in the present economic environment it’s an absolute necessity. The present financial model of football – the market –  is clearly unsustainable because it requires two things to prop it up. 1) Plutocrats with oodles of money 2) Fans willing to spend money on tickets and pay-television subscription.

The problems with this;  Plutocrats may have used markets to get amorally rich but market go up and down so what was once a fortune can be lost easily. Before long how  many fans will be able to continue propping up a system that requires them to spend 30-60 pounds on tickets and up to 62 pounds a month (a price that will continue to rise) when money is tight?

There is a third type of problem here and it’s a slight variation on 1). Ordinary plutocrats are fine and dandy, at least they use their own money. There are also plutocrats that had to borrow heavily to buy clubs and foisted this debt on to clubs. Fans then pay off this debt through merchandise, tv deals and ticket prices. 

Why is football organised like this? The maximisation of profit obviously.

The worst thing about the market model of football is its toleration by the people it’s ripping off. In the last 20 years the idea of the market in football have been spread in a really seditious way, burrowing into the consciousness of fans through the media. They now represent the false consciousness of the fans because they feel they have to go along with it all because they “love” their clubs, something I found out fairly recently. 

The trouble at the top also percolates down thanks to the vice-like grip of the Thatcherite/Pinochet market model upon public life. False levels of income and prices are created at the top (created by the sky-engineered bubble of demand) and become artificial benchmarks. Lower down the football food chain players are paid at a higher level than they should be and fans pay more for tickets than they should do.

How can an amoral system such as this be allowed to continue? Unfortunately those with power in football see nothing wrong with the system, they think it’s brilliant;

“Those of us lucky enough to have spent an hour in the company of Richard Scudamore, the likeable, reserved business professional who runs the Premier League, come away with the reality. The Premier League is, quite simply, a hugely successful, proficiently-run commercial enterprise, dedicated to the well-being of the game, spearheading an inclusiveness which encourages every one of its 21 shareholders – the 20 clubs plus the Football Association(FA) – to thrive, on the world stage, both on and off the pitch. Says Scudamore “We don’t get involved with the Barnum and Bailey side – ours is about the business, rather than the ‘roll-up-roll-up-for-the-show’ part.”

“The beauty of the Premier League is we can get all 20 press officers or commercial directors or finance directors to all sit around a table together” he goes on. “One of the joys is to see them share ideas. We have some really talented people – they are attractive jobs working for attractive brands and therefore they attract top talent.”

You may have noticed that he doesn’t tell us that the premier league is also a system requiring the GDP of several medium sized countries to  “function properly”. He just tells how succesful “the product” is. That’s the thing about believing in the market economy, it makes people act in funny ways and say funny things, here’s Scudamore again;

“I don’t want an overseas element for the hell of it,” he says. “I know that the only way to preserve the central model is if we are allowed to grow commercially, enabling the top English clubs to continue to compete with international rivals who don’t have the same obligations to share the wealth. (The benificiaries and amounts are unspecified) People laugh when I tell them that I am, politically speaking, a leftwinger. But I have always believed that you pile it high so that you can do something responsible with the money. (Yes like giving it to Ashley Cole and John Terry)

“People think that it is inevitable that the world will throw itself at the Premier League. We are competing in a fiercely competitive cultural marketplace. Half the world is still deciding if they are going to have a sporting ethos or not. And if they are, they have still to decide which sports they are going to be interested in. Even if they plump for football, there is no guarantee that they will give their loyalty to the Premier League.”

We need to do things to be done differently. For a start we need to drop the market-based model. This model not only perverts actual logic, it also conditions behaviour. It uses bullshit terms to humanise and reify obscene ideas. I mean what the fuck is the “competitive cultural marketplace”?  It is a term that conjures up ideas about stressed people unable to turn off work mode. a life featuring 8 hours of office based stress followed by decisions over which competing attraction to pursue. “How will I fit it in? How, how, how, how?????” It shows a world restricted by the market, a place where everything is competing to sell something, where everyone’s a consumer after something  (even if they didn’t know it yet).

 Think about the term, it’s a complete fallacy, especially in terms of football. Football doesn’t need to compete and it doesn’t need to be sold, it’s been around in an organised sense since the 1860s (roughly 130 years before sky invented football). It certainly doesn’t need to compete for attention around the world.

Think about Britain logically for a second. Football fans, like the rest of the population, do not exist in a vacuum. I have found that in the “competitive cultural marketplace” it is possible to partake in various “cultural practices” during a single day. Once I even went to a museum in the morning, a pub at lunchtime, a football match at 3 pm and a Manic Street Preachers gig in the evening. If I can’t go to the cinema or gallery one day I can go again, where’s the competition with football supposed to take place?

Fortunately more and more people are starting to feel there’s something wrong with this way of doing things. Although the list is small in terms of world football we can add Disenfranchised Blackburn fans to the list of people alienated by contemporary football and looking for a different way. Rhyl FC are looking at a more fan-friendly model of ownership, it’s even spreading to Finland as I found out from Egan.

Therefore the best thing about Chester v FC United is that proves the fan-owned model is sustainable for football.

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