It’s time for a General Strike

13 03 2016

At some point in the last couple of weeks Relevent Sports’ chairman, Charlie Stillitano, found himself in London making a public pronouncement about the International Champions Cup (ICC), an pre-season shindig organised by his company. Part of it went like this.

“This is going to sound arrogant and it’s the furthest thing from it … but suddenly when you see the teams we have this summer in the ICC you are going to shake your head and say, ‘Isn’t that the Champions League?…………No, the Champions League is PSV and Ghent.”

“What would Manchester United argue: did we create soccer or did Leicester create [it]?…………Let’s call it the money pot created by soccer and the fandom around the world. Who has had more of an integral role, Manchester United or Leicester? It’s a wonderful, wonderful story – but you could see it from Manchester United’s point of view, too.”

Oooh imagine living in a world where pre season tournaments are organised by visionaries that permanently exude blue sky thinking of the deepest azure!

Even though the brouhaha appears to be about a pre-season tournament a lot of people thought that the big 5 English clubs were actually talking about a European Super League, especially as Karl-Heinz Rumenigge mentioned something similar recently.

Some charitable people said the super league talk was an opening gambit in TV deal renegotiations, others suggest that it was merely about a lovely pre-season tournament, well at least at the moment. I wouldn’t dismiss the intoxicating power of blue sky thinking of the deepest azure too quickly.

The powerful clubs will do what they’ll do. In the mid 1980s the so-called football league big five were unhappy with TV money they were getting and a few years later an independent premier league came along. Recently a Real Madrid official used an advert for the Microsoft Cloud to proudly tell us that the millions of virtual Real Madrid fans are just as important as the match going fans. I know to my cost UEFA have already restricted access to the Champions League in mid 1990s. It’s time we all said “Bollocks to the powered by stardust pantomime“.

If ordinary fans want to watch their clubs in action they’re told to pay pay pay the inexorably rising costs or do without. Nearly every area, or “revenue stream”, is monetised; matchday parking, pre-match refreshments, merchandise, pay TV subscriptions, tickets, authorised resale of tickets.

We can see this logic in Liverpool’s recent decision to unleash a new ticket plan that contained tickets costing £77. Although we’ve seen premier league tickets that cost more than this, it was a ground breaking move for Liverpool, and £77 represents a significant hike on the most expensive tickets they currently offer.

It’s incredibly easy to find other evidence of the monetised experience. This season Thomas Cook have offered official trips to Liverpool  v Manchester City and  Liverpool v Newcastle United that cost from £199.00 and £279.00 respectively. If you’re an impressionable young premier league fan that wants to be a mascot your parents will have to fork out several hundred pounds. When football willingly places itself in situation where it can justify the monetisation of childhood enthusiasm we can’t have any confidence that things will change easily.

It’s obvious that things need to change; why should a father spend between £200-£300 just so he can spend some time with his son at a normal match? Why should people spend £60 a month to watch football at home? Why can’t English football return to a more sensible pricing structure?

Like all of the great changes in British society the pressure for change will come from us, from the people. We need to do something about this and I say we because we can try to do something about this. A recent example should give us all heart.

The £77 tickets shocked Liverpool fans so much they formulated an online campaign that fans encouraged fans to show their disapproval by leaving Liverpool’s next league home match (Sunderland on 6th February) in the 77th minute. While people rubbished the idea on social media – “Grow up!“, “What do you expect, it’s a market economy!“, “The premier league is the most popular league in the world.“, “So what, others are still going!” – and commentators parroted the premier league’s own line from last October – “Why Premier League tickets offer value for money.” – the protest went ahead and appeared to gain success; within days Liverpool’s owners had backtracked on their new ticket plan. The development cam a days after Liverpool breezily claimed their new ticket plan had a little bit in there for everyone.

Liverpool fans have shown us the way, as has the FSF’s successful campaign to restrict the price of away tickets, therefore we can also apply the same principles of non-violent direct action to force changes. We should declare a football general strike.

When I say “general strike” I mean no interaction with football except making the choice to withdraw our support for a period. We should avoid handing over money to hype-led and market-driven model of football. We should cancel our pay-TV subscriptions and refuse to buy tickets or merchandise. This may sound a little radical but something a little radical is needed.

A general strike could progress through a couple of stages. We could try a single match day as a starter to acclimatise, we could then follow that up with a month, then we could try six months. Empty terraces in the world’s best league would be an eloquent statement to those in charge, I picture a serious panic in the corridors of power. Hopefully they would take the opportunity to change.

I said earlier that football has willingly placed itself in this situation but that’s not strictly true, it’s not solely football’s fault, we must also share the blame because we didn’t resist enough. If we resist now changes could be forced. Solidarity is key, all fans must act as one. In theory we should be able to put aside petty differences, we all do the same sort of jobs, we all live in the same sort of houses, we should be one.  Before we go on I must say that this is just a call for action, The finer details will be planned more meticulously.

Some Thatcherite card will undoubtedly say that if we want to watch “the best players” in the world play in the best league in the world then we have to pay for the privilege. Well as with the bankers and CEOs that would bugger off if we had an ethical tax regime, let the superstars bugger off to other leagues.

If we’re not able see “the best players” so what? Most clubs hobbled along with mostly local players and mostly localised fans for the 100 years before the premier league. Celtic even managed to win the European Cup with local players and a lot of Manchester United’s 1999 squad were locally produced. We managed then so we’ll manage in the future. World superstars don’t bestow meaning upon football, local clubs are usually enough to do that.

If you think about it a general strike isn’t that much of a radical step. Being asked not to go to a few matches is hardly an infringement of basic human right and the effort required to miss a few matches isn’t a even a medium sized display of willpower, it’s only making a choice not to go to a football ground a few times. People can easily choose to do something else on a Saturday afternoon, for example people with families often have to foresake matches. This season I’ve missed a few matches this season and I’m still a reasonably happy human being.

What will people miss if they don’t go to a few matches? People will claim that they’ll potentially miss great moments like overhead kicks, mazy dribbles and last minute winners after being 2-0 down on 85 minutes, but will they. How often do those moments occur? In all probability the most people will probably miss is two opposing banks of four passing the ball around a bit.

Besides it’s not what we’ll miss that’s important it’s what we stand to gain.

People could become worried about the missing the company of like minded individuals but it would be simple enough to overcome that. The same pre-match pubs will be open whilst the matches are on. Having a laugh with the people that matter to you, whilst supporting a local-owned business, would still be possible.

You don’t need to watch The Battle of Algiers every six months to think that a general strike is a good idea, the logic behind our ultimate success is simple. If we all disengage from football we will win because football needs us. Football will not last if the only people turning up are tourists and daytripping gawkers, there are simply not enough of them. The numbers are in our favour we just have to visualise out collective strength.

To reinforce the case even further, you don’t need to look too far to see that Murdoch’s premier league does not offer the only way. I went to watch Sampdoria about six weeks ago. I paid about £22 for a ticket in a seat with a decent view in a beautifully designed ground, I could have paid about £12 to go behind the goal with the Ultras but my fellow visitors weren’t keen. The match was nowhere near selling out but the atmosphere didn’t suffer. It was the first time I’d felt fireworks and I mean felt. Football in Genoa didn’t seem to be the preserve of the banter bus’ well-heeled passengers either as there were old people, young people and parents around us.

It’s unwise to generalise from one example but why does this situation seem to exist in Italy and not in England? Aren’t both countries historic football powers with well-matured and vibrant football cultures? Could it be that Italian fans are more organised? While Italian football is hardly perfect it does show that premier league way isn’t the only way.

The general strike would be a prelude to a more ethical version of football because it’s based around communal organisation and action. There would be no compulsion or duress as the case is self-evident, who wouldn’t want to end the process that turns them in to a cash cow? The more people that become involved the greater the effect

In the end the non-violent direct action of the people, the group that matters most in football, will have forced football to act on the people’s concerns. Our sport will not only return to “normal” it will remain there.

Liverpool fans have partly shown the power of protest, imagine this on a national scale for a sustained period. it could even be a pointer to greater collective action in wider society. In the end the case for the general strike is obvious; we have nothing to lose but our chains.

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