So far, I am successfully avoiding the temptation to order from BT Sport Box Office today’s titanic Premier League relegation clash between Sheffield United and lowly Fulham. If I’m being honest, it’s not difficult to avoid the temptation to part with £15 because I have no interest in either of the teams representing Allah. United, owned by a friendly bunch of Saudi Arabian head-chopping billionaires and Fulham owned by a Pakistani billionaire who in 2017 donated $1million to Donald Trump. Two ‘clubs’ – how can you possibly refer to either of them as football clubs in the conventional sense? – who, like virtually everyone else in the Premier League, sold their souls many years ago for unlimited riches, playing out the lasting illusion that football is our national game. Not any more. It’s someone else’s.
I appreciate that I stand naked before the world – not literally, you will be relieved to hear – risking accusations of hypocrisy. My club of life, Bristol Rovers, is hardly a beacon of ideal ownership now that it belongs solely to a Jordanian investment banker. And my armchair viewing club of choice, Liverpool, is merely an offshoot company owned by the Boston based Fenway Sports Group. To the head-chopping, Trump-supporting, hedge-fund managing billionaires, football is little more than a cash cow. Already, we pay vast sums to watch their ‘product’ on TV. Now they are, as we say, taking the piss.
To my enduring shame, I pay a subscription to Richard Branson’s Virgin Media company to watch, among other things, sport in general and football in particular. I have little interest in the vast majority of football matches, unless Liverpool are playing and now the clubs want even more of it. To which I reply, fuck off.
Thanks to COVID-19, crowds are not allowed to attend professional football matches, but they continue to be played in empty, atmosphere-free stadiums for one reason and one reason only: revenue from the likes of Sky and BT. The commentators and pundits go to great lengths to pretend everything is carrying on as normal, but we know it isn’t. The fake crowd noises, piped through the television but not at the grounds, worked at first, but I’m sick of it now. Without the noise, it’s like a practice match where you can hear the players and coaches shouting, their voices echoing around the stands. A bit like a typical home game at the Library of Dreams at Old Trafford. It’s all worn painfully thin for me.
Sheffield United v Fulham would, at the very best of times, not be a game I would watch on Sky or BT unless I had literally nothing else to do. Even then, watching a game as a ‘neutral’ is a concept I have long struggled to understand. In the end, it would often come down to ‘supporting’ the team I hated the least, which today would be Fulham, on the grounds that no English football club should have anything to do with a country with a human rights record like Saudi Arabia. That, in itself, is hardly a good reason for watching a football match. It’s basically a version of schadenfreude, aiming to gloat when the islamic fascist owned team loses.
Oliver Dowden, the Culture Secretary, asked that given the COVID-19 pandemic games were not hidden away behind a paywall and instead be made available to a grateful nation. “Sod that,” replied the Premier League. “We want your money.” Sod that, I thought in reply. You’re not having any more of mine.
As ever, the Premier League does what it wants. Its clubs will trouser a large wedge of the money from today’s pay per view game whereas the EFL deal, which shows games via iFollow for a tenner a pop, means that clubs make a tiny proportion of the money, barely enough to cover the weekly wages of a single young reserve team player.
The Virgin subscription is now terrible value. With the possible exception of golf, sports are utterly soulless without crowds and, whatever the pundits say, the entire viewing experience is horribly diminished. I’m at the stage where, if I could come to an agreement with the management (my long-suffering partner), I’d get rid of my sports package at least until things were back to normal and football, in particular, might once again be the people’s game. Football now is anything but the people’s game.
The reality is that football is a cash cow for billionaire owners and multimillionaire players simply because the likes of me pay our subscriptions. It’s my fault that Mesut Ozil is paid £350,000 a week to not play for Arsenal and that Gareth Bale is paid £600,000 a week to play for Spurs. If I didn’t pay my subs, along with my fellow subscribers, we might reclaim our football, but don’t bet on it. I think I’ll just go and watch non league football instead. The filthy rich who have taken the clubs away from the people who own their spirit can take away all of our football. Not yet anyway.