Has football now lost touch with reality?


James Olley, Evening Standard, 12/06/09

Three cheers for the London Evening Standard. I never thought I’d find myself writing that, but finally a mainstream newspaper has dared to say what most sane people already surely think. £80 million for one footballer when vast sectors of the world’s population are hovering on the edge of subsistence is surely a football obscenity too far.  James Olley explains,

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Will the Bubble Burst?


Four interrelated stories concerning the financial state of English football suggest that English professional football may be heading the same way as the British banking sector. Are we talking millions? No, we are talking billions. David Conn of the Guardian estimates the English Premier League has accumulated over �3 billion worth of debts. Chelsea, Manchester United are in the worst shape but Liverpool are on the ropes as well. Every single club is carrying debt and with the wages bill set to escalate even further the debt can only get worse. The irony is that Man United and Liverpool are making a profit but are ending up as loss making concerns because of the interest they must pay on their debt. ( The Guardian, 3/06/09 )

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KEANE The Autobiography, Penguin, 2003

Keane�s Autobiography is a great read. Whether that is down to the journalistic skill of the ghost writer, Eamon Dunphy, or simply that Keane has a great story to tell, is not clear. Either way I felt somewhat mesmerised by his footballing life and I can only hope there is a volume two to come. Keane�s story oozes with painful contradictory pulses; between the desire for fame and the desire for privacy, between the cravings to play beautiful football and the need quite often to deliver brute force, between the temptation to play the playboy and the desire for a quiet family life, and of course, between the demands of team discipline and the urges of individual spontaneity.

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Barcelona FC


A very useful piece by David Conn, explores the structural differences, real and imagined, between Manchester United Football Club and Barcelona. As the two giants of world football strut out onto the world stage to slug out the UEFA Champions League Final, the apparent difference will be plain for the whole world to see. The Catalan club will be proudly wearing the Unicef name emblazed on the front of its shirts, a symbol of moral standing, while United will have the AIG logo, ‘the ultimate symbol of reckless financial speculation’, a company now existing only thanks to a massive US Government bailout.

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If ever there was a sporting intractable, a conundrum outside of the realm of rational thinking, it is the question of football terrace chanting. The chants are sometimes warm and amusing but more often, outright insulting. By definition they have to be. That much is clear. Who could imagine terrace chanting without that nasty sting in the tail?

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Blair starts the race to find grass roots sporting hero


Another Legacy Gimmick Once again they have got us jumping through hoops. This time it is to find, �the most imaginative (grassroots sports) projects across London and show them to the world�. Tony Blair, we learn, �called for the community heroes behind London�s amazing grassroots sports projects to come forward to be celebrated�. Olympic Legacy awards are, we are told, to be doled out in order to highlight the, �vital role of community sport�. Now would this be the same community sport that has been chronically under-funded by the Blair/Brown government for the past 12 years? Would he be referring to the community sports projects that often survive only through the paternalistic goodwill of some local charity? Might he be thinking of those thousands of sports projects that received a one off payment from the Awards-For-All Lottery funded scheme and then left to flounder for the rest of their days in financial penury?�Once again we are back to one off gimmicks that flatter only to deceive. What London and indeed the entire United Kingdom desperately needs is a coordinated, long term, comprehensive grassroots funding scheme that provides financial stability so that the army of grassroots volunteers can get on with what they do best; coaching youngsters into sport rather than getting bogged down endlessly juggling the accounts.

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More Than Just A Game: Football v Apartheid, Chuck Korr and Marvin Close, Collins, 2008


The promotion on the front cover boasts, �The most important football story ever told�. Not only was I mesmerised by this story from the very start, but by the story�s end I seriously began to wonder if this book was a genuine contender for the title. The story is amazing enough in itself. The South African prisoners on Robben Island, a place made famous by Nelson Mandela�s thirty year imprisonment, organise firstly a football league and later an entire prison Olympics in the face of the most severe brutality meted out by the Apartheid prison authorities.

 

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The Chelsea Syndrome


I can recall clear enough, even though I was just ten at the time, the day my sister and her boyfriend returned home from a football match armed with a gigantic glossy poster of Chelsea Football Club. You know the type. The whole squad including the coaches, the reserves, the backroom staff and the management neatly arranged in three rows with the front row kneeling, the middle row somehow rising above them and the back row standing tall and proud. I�m sure that football clubs still produce those standard set piece posters, no doubt at ridiculously inflated prices for their globally marketed fan base.� Anyway, it was a present for me, though I never thought to enquire on whose initiative the present materialised, the boyfriend or the sister. I don�t ever recall my sister engaging in anything remotely resembling sisterly love so I guess it was down to the boyfriend. Either way, I loved that poster and even now, some forty four years later, I can name at least a half dozen of its star studded cast. Peter Bonnetti, Peter Osgood, Chopper Harris and his brother, Alan Hudson and the bloke with the amazing throw, Ian Hutchinson. There was a Dempsey and a Bobby Tambling I recall, but it all starts to fade after that. As for the manager, it was probably Tommy Docherty, though he may well of come on the Chelsea scene some years later.

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Foul play


It was like a gift from the gods. The thorny question of giving unquestioning allegiance to a corporate monster called Chelsea FC was weighing increasingly heavy on the mind. As each season passed the whole corrupting football affair was becoming less and less tenable. So when I stumbled on the book that put it all in some kind of perspective you can imagine my heartfelt joy. I was no longer alone in my torment.� At least one other human soul had come to the conclusion that something was seriously rotten at the heart of our new global religion. If there were two of us, perhaps there were more.

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What sport tells us about life


Some two years after Barnes� barnstorming epic, former top notch cricketer and fellow Oxbridge graduate, decides to tread pretty much the same territory and for me he does a rather solid job. He presses many of the same buttons as Barnes exploring the contradictory nature of sport and the conflicting motives of both athlete and spectator.

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The Meaning of Sport, Simon Barnes, Short Books, 2006


I didn�t want to like this book from the very start. The fact that Simon Barnes is chief sports writer for the Times was an inauspicious marker. Anything that falls under the umbrella of the Murdoch media empire is sure to be tainted. Then there was the distinct whiff of Oxbridge about the opening few chapters complete as they were with clever literary references and a liberal sprinkling of Latin, French and German phrases. To make matters worse, Barnes is one of those �horsey� people with a total preoccupation with all things equestrian. Not exactly the sport of the proles. And when he wasn�t waxing lyrical on the symbiotic relationship between man and horse he switched to his other obsession, Steve Redgrave and his five Olympic Gold medals. Rowing; another working class sport practised by millions across Asia, Africa and the inner city ghettos of the metropolises.

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Your Charity Makes Me Sick


Over the past years I have had dealings with a number of sporting charities and each one in their own way has done an excellent job in helping to develop grassroots sporting opportunities. My most recent contact has been with the Greenhouse Schools Charity, a charity that has been particularly proactive in the sport of table tennis and has been largely responsible for a mini renaissance of table tennis in London, particularly at school level. In fact, the club that I helped develop and manage over the past twenty years, London Progress, has now come under the Greenhouse umbrella and is now commonly known as Greenhouse Progress.

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You don't know me!


The very fact that you've probably never heard of me or thousands like me, who toil away building our respective sporting clubs to varying degrees of success, says a great deal about our national sporting media and by extension, the nature of our commodity driven society. Small local sports clubs with their loyal, dedicated administrators simply do not bring in the mega bucks. Premier League Football is the only real show in town; the gladiatorial contests of our times, and virtually everything else plays second fiddle. Tennis, cricket, golf and rugby have their annual jamborees. F1 and horse racing are always there by virtue of big money backing.Boxing gets a look in if a British boxer is involved. All other sports must content themselves with a four year outing at the Olympics if indeed they are lucky enough to be even considered an Olympic sport. Even those few sports that do capture the brief attention of the national media are only showcased at their elite level. Community football is no more successful than the pack of so called minority sport in grabbing the media lime light. The soap opera that is the English Premier League has become as much a national obsession as the other TV soap operas. It's not surprising but it's damn frustrating. Even my paper of choice, The Guardian, is totally dismissive of community sports and you would think that they might have a slightly better perspective on these things. Ironically, The Times and The Telegraph are marginally better at reporting the grassroots stuff. It's a funny old world.

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Olympic Legacy: What a Joke!


I started day-dreaming about the legacy idea way back in the year 1999 when the then Blair Government was pontificating about a Millennium legacy. I dreamed of a National walking and cycling track that linked all the major population centres with all our wonderful national parks and our delightful seaside towns. Capital outlay would be minimal. Local job creation would be considerable and it would send all the right messages for the twenty first century; environmentally friendly, individually healthy, community orientated and spiritually uplifting.Instead we got the vacuous Corporate Dome, corporately sponsored, individually mind numbing, community dumbing and spiritually alienating. It closed early to universal derision. To be fair, it told us exactly where the government's priorities lay for the new century and they did not disappoint on that count: a national economy in hock to the City of London with all its speculative greed and avarice.

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The Dialectics of Sport

The central contradiction at the heart of sport is obvious enough. It is the human dialectic; ruthlessly individualistic, tribal and competitive on the one hand, sublimely humanistic and socially co-operative on the other. Sport relentlessly reflects both poles. Today sport is nothing but a dirty commodity where clubs and athletes are bought and sold like prize cattle. Cheating, match fixing, drug taking, ruthless commercialism and of course the ugly local tribalism and national triumphalism are all the daily fare of the sporting world. Yet almost bizarrely, sport simultaneously offers the opportunity of individual personal growth, local community cohesion and on the international stage, improved global harmony. At least we like to tell ourselves it is capable of pursuing such noble goals. Mixed amongst the blind human urge to conquer, comes strange pulses of altruism and genuine internationalism. And in true dialectical fashion, even when the basest of human motives are in full flow, the end result can still somehow serve to produce something quite different: to actually enhance human welfare and, if you will forgive the lapse into metaphysics, the human spirit.

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