It’s stupid to start writing something you don’t think you can finish, so I’m going to be stupid (again) and here goes.
The beautiful game is letting me down these days. I didn’t watch the Salford FA Cup win against Notts County on the BBC, but I celebrated the result, cheering the fairytale victory of the non league minnows owned by the Manchester United Class of 92. The only trouble is they are actually half-owned by them. Peter Lim, a Singapore billionaire, owns the other half. Uh oh. There is no evidence of impropriety that I know of, but it leaves a sour taste in the mouth.
“The only reason for Peter’s investment in Salford City”, says his spokesman, “is aligned with his personal philanthropic interest in youth development.” Of course it is. He’s just a kindly billionaire who wants to throw money at a non league football who merely wants to “develop young players”. No ulterior motives at all. Hmm. It didn’t stop a gushing, unquestioning media dining out on Salford’s success. This, we were told, was what the FA Cup was all about. Really?
I switch on my TV today and BT Sport are banging on about another “fairytale” story, this time about plucky Bournemouth who have, miraculously, reached the Premier League. Again, it’s no questions asked, nothing beyond this amazing achievement. BT Sport were so keen on creating a decent story, they sent former manager Harry Redknapp to blow smoke up the respective arses of the people who run the club, not least the “mystery club owner”, Maxim Demin. No one knows much about the Russian bloke who has bankrolled the club into the top flight, no one knows how he acquired his wealth, but it’s all right because his riches have propelled them into the Premier League. The pundits praise the Switzerland residing Denin, never so much as asking a single question about him. It’s the modern world of football, you see.
We’ve always had this. Remember “little” Wigan Athletic’s rise to the Premier League? How did they do it when compared to the might of Manchester United? Why, it’s because they are owned by a rich millionaire called Dave Whelan, who has even built the “club” a new stadium and modestly named after himself. I am not saying their success – all over now; they’re back in League One now – was all to Whelan but it is surely a matter of fact that Wigan would never have made it to the top without him.
It’s like it everywhere you look. The Premier League is packed with clubs owned by billionaires, most of whom are not English. Supporters are merely there as an afterthought, to help pay the wages of the foreign superstars who are brought over to entertain them. Do not ask questions, these are our clubs, not yours. Do as you are told.
The dream is dead for so many clubs and it will die for many more when Sky’s new Premier League deal comes in. The gulf from top to bottom is already unbridgeable, unless you manage to find some dodgy oligarch or Arab, you’d best get used to putting up with your lot.
In a week when football lost Brian Lomax, the father of the trust movement, we see football retreating still further from the working classes whose game it used to be. Some lower league clubs are moving towards fan ownership, something that will hopefully happen more and more as owners and fans accept their limited destiny and take back the game that was once theirs.
Today, BT Sport shows a game between Bournemouth, owned by a little known Russian billionaire, and Newcastle United, starting with 11 overseas players, and owned by the worst kind of exploitative businessman in Mike Ashley. Because they both have, for now, Premier League football, I don’t see a lot of anger among the fans, but these things have a habit of going very wrong one day and when they do go wrong, the apathetic fans will have only themselves to blame for allowing it all to happen.