It's hard for the hand not to tremble when typing out the statistics  thirteen titles in twenty seven years. A staggering forty-nine trophies in a blisteringly successful career. Simply staying in the job for that period in a sport so unforgivingly turbulent is glory enough. But to ratchet up the silverware year after year at national and international level while never losing sight of the need to build and rebuild puts Ferguson in a rarefied world of his own. From hard living, street fighting Govan to managing a highly successful global brand, while still retaining something of his working class, socialist credentials, despite the racehorses and real estate, is achievement indeed. Alex Ferguson surely deserves all the superlatives that have been heading his way this week and yet there are things that need to be said. Admittedly, it feels almost gratuitously blasphemous to raise negatives at a moment like this, but equally, to remain silent could itself be considered a betrayal of the Ferguson way.

Despite the temptation to pretend, Alex Ferguson did not operate in a vacuum. He was right there through the entire transition, where football went from a working class pursuit, played and enjoyed by a working class that had precious little else to cheer about, to a corporate commodity which measures its value on the world's stock exchanges in the billions. Players, managers and entire clubs are now routinely bought and sold like real estate, and fans are treated as pliable consumers, to be milked with contempt. Football clubs have become the playthings of oligarchs, sheiks, pornographers and shopping mall entrepreneurs. And like the world created by finance capital, the whole footballing edifice is built on a mountain of unsustainable debt. Football has not yet had its 2008 financial collapse moment, yet all the warning signs are there. A sizable minority of Manchester United fans made a sustained and principled objection to the corporate direction that their club was being taken in, but Alex Ferguson not only did not remain silent, he publically berated those insightful fans.

I'm not suggesting that Ferguson, as the pre-eminent employee of Manchester United Football Club could have realistically led a campaign against the corporatisation of football, though had he done so he might truly have become an historical figure of giant proportions. But, as a professed man of the people, he might have had the good sense to at least remain neutral in the Green and Gold campaign, and perhaps even offered a few encrypted words of encouragement. Was it that personal glory was now more of a motivator for Sir Alex than taking a principled stand in the political vanguard? None of this really detracts from the towering achievements of the man but these questions need to be put no matter how unpalatable because if the Glazer shopping Mall empire were to collapse it could well take Manchester United Football Club with it.

There is a lot more to all this than debt and financial insecurity. What exactly is it that we are meant to be cheering? That is precisely the question that those Man U fans asked themselves when they took themselves off to heroically form FC United of Manchester. AS a life-long armchair supporter of Chelsea Football Club, I know exactly how they felt. Sure the Abromovich era has bought three Premier League titles, four FA Cups and a Champions League Trophy to boot but what does it all really mean. Much talk is made of Premier League youth academies but very few local youngsters actually make first team football. Ferguson did more than most in this respect but still as the years passed he resorted more and more to overseas signings and less and less on local talent. In fact, all the big clubs spend huge resources scouring the planet for young talent to bring back to the premier league. A colonial arrangement if ever there was one. So when Manchester United, Arsenal, Man City or Chelsea wins the League it is more a case of their international poaching machine being more efficient than their opponents.

I work in and around Chelsea in some typically challenging inner London schools. Although some kids profess an allegiance to Chelsea Football Club, it soon becomes apparent that the club means very little to them and more to the point, they mean almost nothing to Chelsea Football Club. The kids can't afford the ticket prices and the club is no longer interested in developing local talent. The club may be just a stone's throw down the road but it may as well be in Brazil or Australia for all the community bonding that takes place. As for Chelsea, so I suspect the same is increasingly true for both Manchester clubs. If you don't feel you own it, how can you be expected to remain passionate about it? Of course tribal allegiances run deep so support seems to hold up, but over time the organic bonds between club and community will start to erode. Did Alex Ferguson ever ponder these questions or was he too blinded by the glitter of the silverware and the glowing accolades from the establishment? 

It is argued that the success of Barcelona and more recently of the Bayern Munich is down in part to the fan based ownership of these clubs. This may be true but they too are under intense pressure to succumb to corporate ownership. Two of the big clubs in Germany have already succumbed. Football generally and Manchester United particular, do not exist in a socio-political vacuum. The corporate world is now all consuming.

We live in an age of global corporate control and the accompanying alienation that it generates. The task that confronts us all, football supporters or not, is to wrest back control of our institutions; political, social and economic. Now that Sir Alex will have time to kill, he might just find time to deliberate on this epoch defining task. We may not be fully cognisance of just how perilous things have become. We might all living on borrowed time  on Fergie-time if you like. The financial collapse of 2008 was a warning. Portsmouth FC was a warning. Alex Ferguson could crown a truly amazing football career by speaking out against corporate ownership and in favour of community ownership, but I don't think he will.

End JPK Copyright 9/5/13

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Last Updated ( Thursday, 24 May 2018 07:07 )