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Why I will never give up on football Not even rapacious capitalism can break that lifelong bond with your team

Spurs till I die? Credit: Adrian DENNIS/AFP/ Getty


April 28, 2021   7 mins

Spurs were founded by Jack Ripsher, the Bible studies teacher at All Hallows Church. Arthur Connell, the rector of St Mark’s Church in Gorton established Manchester City. Liverpool were a cosmic spin off from Everton who were founded in St Domingo’s Methodist Church. Manchester United emerged from the Lancashire and Yorkshire Carriage and Wagon dept in Newton Heath. Arsenal were founded from the Woolwich munitions factory. Among the sullied six, Chelsea were alone in emerging from a pub. Football was a working-class game and its association of clubs were formed by the combination of industrialisation and the Church.

Through it the nameless suburbs found form and attachment, the beautiful game rooted in every working-class community. Much has been made of its religious form; the real physical presence, the holy grail, the communal singing but for the churches in slum areas their interests were more prosaic. It was a form for resisting the demonic temptations of the new order; drink, avarice and sloth, praising instead fitness, teamwork and skill. It was a form of virtue to take on vice.

In Glasgow, Birmingham, Bristol, Manchester and Liverpool, football was also an expression of the sectarian divisions that characterised those cities, expressing, in England at least, an almost forgotten part of our Christian heritage. In Newcastle, Sunderland and Leeds the cities found an expression of civic loyalty and pride through a club that expressed their character. It was a distinctive addition to the civic ecology, an institution rooted in place and carrying its name.

Football allowed all that was denied by the routinisation of life and work. It allowed for love and hate, for a wordless beauty, the longing for glory, the shared witness of a momentary miracle, communal celebration and shared grief. When I was growing up, the contempt for people who left early, when we were losing was striking. And through that, my grasp of the English language expanded. A single shot could slay Goliath. Swindon could beat Arsenal. Don Rodgers, frozen in eternity. Once established, the football club became a permanent part of the urban firmament. Its status was always threatened by competition but supported by association. Love and hate.

In a deindustrialised and desecrated society, football clubs recognised that the bonds of affection and attachment that lurked around in the lives of their supporters could be easily financialised. For those exiled from their homes, with loyalty passed down through families, the sense of attachment became even more intense.

And this is a capitalist story of commodification: the transformation of something that wasn’t produced for sale — human beings, nature, or, it turned out a football club — into something available for sale on the open market. The European Super League was a logical development of that. The clubs who signed up to it are no longer owned by their members but by hedge funds, oligarchs and despots, the relationship with community and place replaced by television rights and branded shirt sales. And the move was logical because the logic of capital is that of both commodification and of oligarchy, towards the elimination of competition and the securing of permanent revenue streams in order to reduce risk. Towards concentration not competition, which explains the oligarchs.

The maximisation of returns and the minimisation of risk is the core strategy of any established corporation. By freezing a hierarchy at a particular moment, by banning relegation, the Super League took the classic form of cartelisation.

In many ways, it is a consolidation of a long-term trend towards a disembedded and disembodied spectacle, mediated by television. The terrible reality of lockdown is that it dispelled the idea that the presence of fans was required in order to secure viewers. The script has been developed for a while. The Champions League need not be won by champions, but those who finish in the top four. Blowing the group phase need not eliminate the cash flow of European competition, just entry into the Europa League.

The thrill of games between European teams with their own traditions and styles was homogenised into clashes between large corporations drawing from the same managerial and player pool. Commodification is the process from virtue to the virtual. VAR was part of this trend, as the power was no longer in the ground, but removed to somewhere else. The crowd was silenced in two ways. The joy of scoring was tempered by the arbitrary judgement of Stockley Park, a secluded judgement from afar decides your fate. From within the ground came the verdict, “It’s not football any more”. And then the fans were gone.

I’ve been Spurs since before I can remember, it is a covenantal commitment. It links me to the dead, players and fans, Danny Blanchflower, my Uncle Sid and Peter Cook, as well as to those yet to be born in a community of fate, bound by shared memory and the eternal desire for glory. Like all clubs, we have our saints, Steve Perryman and Bill Nicholson, and our sinners, Sol Campbell and Terry Neil.

By signing up to a cartel, we did not even deserve to be part of, Spurs broke a covenantal promise. Our objection to Arsenal is not only that they are from Woolwich but that they cheated us of a deserved promotion by rigging the composition of the new First Division in 1918.  And now Spurs wanted to be part of a rigged system that abolished relegation.  “we’re not Tottenham any more”.

I was born in the year that Spurs reached its perfect platonic form, the double winning team of 1960-61. A team born of the epiphany that Bill Nicholson experienced when watching the Hungarian national team beat England 6-3 in 1953. It was a full religious experience, he couldn’t sleep for three days and nights while he pondered over what he had seen and over the next eight years he worked on building that at Spurs. I never saw that team, but its memory permeated my childhood. The sacking of Jose Mourinho does not diminish his hostility to that tradition, his desecration of it. For all its history, Spurs were a distinctive member of the football family. Vulnerable, flaky, yet capable of glory. Blanchflower, Hoddle, Ardiles, Gascoigne, Dembele, Ndombele. Whatever the number they wore, the number 8 was the distinction, the midfield maestro. And Harry Winks can’t carry that cross. We have betrayed others, but also ourselves.

Love is a sublime faithful relationship with another person. It is a strange emotion to feel towards an institution that is committed to securitised income. I have tried to subject my love for Spurs to some kind of critical scrutiny; when we floated on the stock exchange, when the Premier League was founded. But I could not break the bond, and still it remains. What does astonish me is that I am not alone in this, that despite Marx’s teaching that under capitalism “all that is solid melts into air and everything holy is profaned”, the sense of association, of tradition, of belonging still endures.

Ten years ago, I worked with Jon Cruddas and Clive Efford in developing a Labour policy for supporter representation on the boards of clubs. There was a strong sense of dispossession felt by football fans, particularly intense in the Premier League among supporters of Manchester United, Liverpool and Newcastle. From shirt and ticket prices, to the selling off of training grounds, to the emergence of foreign oligarchs who skewed the market. In the lower leagues, the feeling was more intense, that their civic inheritance was being plundered by a very dirty capitalism. The story of Wigan Athletic is a case study in the pathologies of globalisation and the Pharaonic nature of the pyramid. We developed this along with supporters groups and adopted the German model so that they would have a veto on pricing in terms of merchandising and kit, as well as the first option to buy if the club was sold. It was an attempt to re-embed the clubs in their place and with their support. It was also an attempt to limit the domination of money in the decisions of an institution that was not simply a commodity.

If globalisation is understood as the process through which finance capital escapes the bonds of domestic constraints in order to maximise returns, then the establishment of the Premier League created globalisation in one country. The response of the Premier League to our proposals was hostile and aggressive. They were proud of the model they had developed in which minimal regulation led to increasing global market share. By attracting foreign investment, the brand and the revenue grew. To have fans on the board was seen as nostalgic and an impediment to growth. We were accused of killing the goose that laid the golden egg, and they were offended by the suggestion that they were fouling their own nest.

Andrea Agnelli who, along with Florentino Perez, was the chief instigator of the Super League, was sure it was compliant with EU Law — but hadn’t noticed that the political era had changed from the heady days of uncontested globalisation. The Premier League had grown its market share with a new kind of owner in Abramovich and Sheikh Mansour, who had secured their income streams through oil or gas, and were more interested in their reputation and power. PSG are also in that mode.

Agnelli and Perez knew that unless they securitised their income stream, the domination of their national leagues and European competition would be jeopardised by investors who were not concerned with money, but with power. One of the most widely quoted sayings in Italy is from Lampedusa’s novel The Leopard in which Tancredi says that “for things to stay the same everything must change”. Without the eternal backing that only states can bring, and with lockdown strangling match day revenue and sales, they made their move. But it relied on the English clubs to buy into it, and it is significant that Manchester City and Chelsea, the clubs least dependent on market share, were the first to withdraw. They recognised that the political consensus had shifted.

Boris Johnson hadn’t led a referendum on the basis of take back control and transformed the class basis of the Conservative Party in order to bow to the inevitable logic of globalisation. The new consensus is based on a greater economic role for the nation state, an increased importance of working-class voters and the places where they live. He immediately threatened to drop a “legislative bomb”, the call went through to the UAE to back off the proposal.

The threat of expulsion from the Premiership, withdrawal of police support on match days and the refusal to approve work permits were brought into play. By last Tuesday night all six English clubs had withdrawn their support leaving Agnelli and Perez stranded in the breach with nothing but their debts for company. It’s no wonder they blame Brexit.

There was no political response from the governments of Italy and Spain, no sustained opposition from their fans. But here it was different. It seems that the owners of the clubs only spoke to each other and shared nothing of their plans with the management or players, let alone the fans. There is now a consensus that this was a travesty that could repeat again unless changes are made.

The European Super League expressed the ultimate consequence of the domination of the financial interest alone, towards oligarchy and commodification and the elimination of competition and association. It is only through the transformation of governance through the equal representation on fans on boards that the broken covenant can be salvaged. Central to that is the notion that a football club is not simply a commodity, but an inheritance that cannot be trusted to the owners. They have acted in bad faith and are in breach of trust.

Without constraints, capitalism will eat itself, it will steal what it did not create and then destroy it. It is the fans who carry the tradition and must be trusted to save football from its owners by being given a golden share on strategic issues. In order to stay the same everything must change. La lotta continua.


Maurice Glasman is the founder of Blue Labour and director of the Common Good Foundation. He is a Labour life peer.


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George Bruce
GB
George Bruce
2 years ago

Sorry, Baron, I think you are taking it all a bit too seriously. Yes, for many, including me, it is fun to watch, I agree, but it is only kicking a ball about, in the end.
It seems to me to be more important in the lives of people than it was say twenty or thirty years ago.
Is that because people have been robbed of so many other things and they cling to football? It is not on to love your country any more if it is a European one, you cannot admire the great men of the past due to their racism, the communities have been devastated by deindustrialisation or immigration or both, house prices and uncertainty means young people struggle to even form families.
But we still have our football!
I was hoping the billionaires` superleague would take off, just because it might have wakened people up to how thoroughly their noses are being rubbed in the ground.

Last edited 2 years ago by George Bruce
Simon Baseley
SB
Simon Baseley
2 years ago
Reply to  George Bruce

What many commentators and pundits don’t get is that most supporters are as appalled and revolted by the greed, the stupid haircuts, the endless virtue signalling and cheating which now characterises much of what takes place both on and off the pitch. It is a myth that fans are helpless dopes unaware that they exploited by the owners. They are fully aware of the fact that they are ripped off at every opportunity and contemptuously regarded as an irritating income stream*. I am one of the souls who is currently doing the round of each of the 92 football league grounds and in my experience what binds most supporters to their club is the company of their fellow fans, because as you say they have been robbed of so many things outside the ground, inside it is the one place they can feel they are still have ownership.
*This latter is underlined by the knowledge that a term used by some club officials to describe matchday crowds is ‘scenery’

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
2 years ago
Reply to  Simon Baseley

A very interesting post. I have no doubt that you are correct.

Matthew Powell
Matthew Powell
2 years ago

For a Marxist, he seems to be conveniently forgetting how the local based clubs and player loyalty, were enforced by a draconian transfer system, which treated players as the property of their clubs and wage caps, ostensibly in place to foster competition, ment that players worked second jobs, whilst owners creamed off the profits of their labour. How’s that for commodification?

Bertie B
Bertie B
2 years ago
Reply to  Matthew Powell

He seems to have missed the point that Pub owned and Workers clubs were owned by the Pubs and the Businesses – not the fans.

Ted Ditchburn
TD
Ted Ditchburn
2 years ago
Reply to  Bertie B

Or that the players he eulogises as representing some gentler golden age came in the main from other clubs and we’re bought with TV money… there is a lot of rubbish talked about football, but the best way to get a clearer view of the reality is to have business or commercial dealings with any club.

The ESL was, ultimately, about the increasing power of the Premier League..as in 2019 we could see 4 English clubs in the two finals which illustrates that.
The biggest continental giants fear the massive debts they have to maintain to compete with the increasingly global cash generation of the Premier League.

This is why the English clubs were so numerous, why they were invited into a primarily Spanish and Italian initiative … and why although they fear missing out the English Clubs can abandon it so quickly..they, unlike the rest can better afford to wait.

And the fans owned German duo with PSG would be in like a shot as well, had it taken off.

William Murphy
William Murphy
2 years ago
Reply to  Matthew Powell

Ah, yes, wage caps…. 1960 is still within living memory. Yet there was a wage cap of £20 per week for top division players, when a typical working bloke was on £15 a week.

https://spartacus-educational.com/Fwages.htm#:~:text=It%20decided%20that%20the%20maximum,and%20%C2%A320%20(1958).

The real money was made elsewhere within the club and the factory. A Martian invasion looks less bizarre than the prospect of David Beckham on £20 a week or its 2021 equivalent.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
2 years ago
Reply to  William Murphy

To put that in context, in 1960 a single from Paddington to Bristol cost 33 shillings & 6 pence, or £1, 13/6.
A G&T 5/- a Fillet steak 12/6, a bottle of Medco 13/-.and to finish a 1/4 bottle of ‘Old Monk’ Port 6/-.

Then at Temple Meads to jump into the MG-T and drive like a lunatic the thirteen miles to Arcadia, with Petrol costing about 4/6 a gallon…….Paradise itself.

Last edited 2 years ago by CHARLES STANHOPE
Judy Johnson
Judy Johnson
2 years ago
Reply to  Matthew Powell

I think he is left wing rather than Marxist (or do you see them as synonyms?)

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
2 years ago

I still play*, but I will not pay, having vowed as long ago as 1996 that I would not put any more of my money into English football. The rapacious greed was bad enough then, and it’s immeasurably worse now.
*You should have seen the perfect cross I delivered for the winning goal in the park a few days ago. Delivered right on to Paddy’s head with just the right amount of back spin!

Last edited 2 years ago by Fraser Bailey
William Gladstone
WG
William Gladstone
2 years ago

I can’t be bothered to read this but its obviously going to be some rubbish about how football means belonging and heart and stuff. despite, billionaires, millionaire journeymen, corruption at all levels, hatred and exploitation of fans and enforced kneeling to Marxists and that’s before the very convenient and quickly withdrawn super league thing that allows politicians to show they are on the side of the common man.
Look there is an election in a week and a bit (weirdly enough), you want football to truly have a chance of improving then don’t vote for any of the major parties, scare the hell out of them by voting for reform/reclaim.

Bertie B
BB
Bertie B
2 years ago

I also most stopped reading but managed to push on right to the end. It was a very lengthy article that essentially said nothing…
Apparently for everything to stay the same in football everything must change…. but the auther seemed to think it all needed to change so therefore not stay the same… its nonsense.

Last edited 2 years ago by Bertie B
Jim Jones
Jim Jones
2 years ago

Imagine the great William Gladstone advocating the reform or reclaim parties.

Saul D
Saul D
2 years ago

Identity, attachment, emotional involvement, shared history, rivalry, struggle and glory, symbolism, flags and colours, all being thrown to globalist wolves for money.
If your football team was a country today, media and institutions would be decrying the fans as popularists and reactionaries for not being ‘progressive’ and internationally minded. Local vs Global in microcosm…

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
2 years ago
Reply to  Saul D

Well said – it’s a real struggle for non-fans to understand the reality of your first paragraph, and consequently very difficult for them to empathise.

hugh bennett
HB
hugh bennett
2 years ago

The top flight is a greed fest we know but at least some sort of marker has been laid down by recent events. Perhaps I am going a bit off piste here but I am foxed by several comments to this, and similar articles, where people have felt the need to comment when they admit to not giving a damn about football, as if we who love the game are somehow intellectually challenged.
I was brought up in a Rugby Union town, that was the game I learnt. It gave me so much when I played and I developed many of the wider life skills during those years. When my grandsons became interested in football I took the opportunity to develop their interest , we became season ticketholders at Cardiff City, it gave them a focus/release outside family and school etc. And boy you learn life lessons as a Bluebird, ups and downs , reward for effort, the good days and the bad, good behaviour and the darker side ( learning to recognise idiots), and probably most important lesson of all – accepting disappointment and defeat but getting back up and going again.
Getting more serious , the amount of learnt knowledge, skills and abilities increases in the course of intellectual development, along with improving interpersonal relationships, which is important in all kinds of activity. Sport is an effective way of developing and improving intelligence. Intelligence has specific functions in sports activity; its development relates to a number of inter related factors such as problem-solving, formation of cognitive skills, interpersonal relationships. Whether you play or watch or do both these are the wider benefits …. But that`s enough analysis and over thinking, – having beer and a good old shout, jumping up from your seat as a goal is scored in the 93 rd minute, hugging your grandson in joy is priceless, and as “rugby man”, I now accept that nothing gives that feeling quite like football does. 

Last edited 2 years ago by hugh bennett
Ian Barton
Ian Barton
2 years ago

Good article – and I’ll never give up on my team because they are more than something the current owner owns.
However, I currently refuse to watch the start of games – as I do not wish to witness the most recent attempted political takeover of football – this time by the BLM movement.

Last edited 2 years ago by Ian Barton
hugh bennett
hugh bennett
2 years ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

agree, i tune in a few mins after kickoff. indeed i got rid of skysports because of those subliminal messages about blm and commentators apologising in case i was offended by a swear word from the bench, and female ex-footballers trying to analyse a different game to what they played…. gee whizz Sky is so woke you either laugh or cry or ditch the monthly subscription.

Last edited 2 years ago by hugh bennett
John Nutkins
John Nutkins
2 years ago
Reply to  hugh bennett

Hugh, I admire your sacrifice in giving up Skysports. Alas I am a hypocrite – I continue with the Sky football channels but despise the PL players and commentators/pundits. That these multi-millionaire players ‘take the knee’ before every kick-off is a profound insult to the country, and when I see black players like Arsenal’s Aubamayang adding further insult by raising his clenched fist, my loathing and contempt increase. And the oleaginous commentator Martin Tyler rabbits on about ‘social equality and justice’! When Fulham recently fielded 9 black players, I wonder why the creep didn’t bang on about ‘equality’.
And yes, the utter absurdity of the obligatory woman on the pundits’ panel is indeed risible when we know that women’s international football teams have been beaten by schoolboy teams. Ah, but we must have our ‘diversity’, eh?
I laughed out loud when, in the fiasco aka the European Super League, one pundit said that the Premier League ‘wasn’t about money’! Of course not – when, say, Rashford is raking in 200,000 pounds a week (it would take a worker on 25,000 a year 8 years to make that amount – what obscenity! – and I omit from the calculation his 200,000 a week from sponsorship deals) even when he wasn’t playing during earlier lockdowns – you have to wonder if the players have any scruples or morals (you don’t have to wonder too long).And didn’t some of the PL clubs have the sheer effrontery to seek financial support (furlough) for their pleb workers while the ponces continued their rake-ins?
The FA has, in politicising the game by blind obeisance to the vile and racist BLM, has polluted the game further and made it a cesspool with a stench a mile high.

William Murphy
WM
William Murphy
2 years ago

There were relatively minor earlier concessions to the Great God Tel Lee. In black and white days, you had to make sure the opposing teams had outfits which clearly contrasted in monochrome. So the much larger audience at home would not be confused.

But the more media money poured in, the less local supporters mattered. This reached its insane peak this month (April 2021) when a guy from the Manchester United Dubai Supporters was interviewed and declared that he was all in favour of this monster League.

Paul Goodman
PG
Paul Goodman
2 years ago

It is less frowned upon to change your wife than your football team so it occurs to me that it is the clubs that own the supporters.
None of the teams have the same players or managers from one season to another. At Spurs it is Levy and Lewis who have committed their time and resources to maintaining a club in the top half of the Prem which despite fan’s yearning for glory constitutes success.
This round of Hoo Ha is like Kerry Packer and you can be sure that football’s IPL is on it way.
I feel for grass roots football but that has the same role as youth centres, parks and swimming pools. Professional tennis doesn’t fund local tennis clubs.
It is interesting to note the similarity of background between Glassman and Lewis although a generation apart. Lewis left school at 15 though, whilst Glassman went to Cambridge.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
2 years ago
Reply to  Paul Goodman

It is less frowned upon to change your wife than your football team”
So true, and only those who realise this can grasp the deep roots that football has laid down in the community psychie.
Like it or not, it is the nearest thing to patriotism at a local level

Tony Taylor
Tony Taylor
2 years ago

Oh, I don’t know. I’m an Australian who loves our own football but I think Aguerooooo is the most exciting moment I have ever seen in sport.

Stanley Beardshall
Stanley Beardshall
2 years ago
Reply to  Tony Taylor

Nice one! City fan for 70 years and the best moments have usually involved Sergio…

David Wrathall
David Wrathall
2 years ago
Reply to  Tony Taylor

I was there. I’ve the club video of that season. Putting it on from the 1-0 defeat of Utd (also there), to that moment, is better than Prozac.

Dickov’s equaliser against Gillingham in the league 1 play off final at Wembley, in 99, was a similarly sublime moment. I have a Rosario Centrales shirt that I drunkenly swapped with a Brazilian tourist in trafalgar square about midnight.

Last edited 2 years ago by David Wrathall
Ian Barton
IB
Ian Barton
2 years ago
Reply to  Tony Taylor

As a lifelong disliker of City’s opponents that day, that moment is way up there.

Jonny Wiles
JW
Jonny Wiles
2 years ago
Reply to  Tony Taylor

It was exciting but nothing comes close to Michael Thomas in 1989.

Gerald gwarcuri
GA
Gerald gwarcuri
2 years ago

As an American, whose family members have played and spectated at both types of “football”, I can sympathize with a great deal of this. There is much to be enjoyed in team sports, the communal aspects being most notable. But, they are no longer what they appear to be, and used to be: proxies for real physical and moral conflicts.
What finally turned me off completely to professional sports was when they morphed from good-natured “Us Against Them” contests between talented athletes to pure idolatry. Perhaps this is more evident in American culture, with the ugliness of the pagan orgies at Super Bowl halftimes. But all through modern professional ( and even collegiate ) sports is now this core of idolatry. “Hey, it’s just a game folks!”, say I. “NO! It’s temple worship! On your knees, slave!”, say the acolytes.
The rank capitalistic attributes of professional sports don’t really bother me that much. After all, if you’re stupid enough to spend $400 to take your family to a mind-numbingly boring Los Angeles Dodgers baseball game, I figure it’s your money and your family. And if you think professional athletes should be paid ten times what a neurosurgeon is paid, well, there are worse examples of people being rewarded all out of proportion to their talent or contributions to human well-being. Let’s talk rock stars. Or rappers.

Last edited 2 years ago by Gerald gwarcuri
Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago

“despite Marx’s teaching that under capitalism “all that is solid melts into air and everything holy is profaned”,”

!

George Bruce
GB
George Bruce
2 years ago

He mentions Jon Cruddas whom I seem to remember disliking when he wrote for the Guardian. (Not a very promising first half of his surname.)
I found out an interesting fact about him on wiki just now.
He has one son called Emmett.
If anyone does not know who that is referring to, you are clearly not looking at establishment American media enough!

Jim Jones
MJ
Jim Jones
2 years ago
Reply to  George Bruce

And would that be a problem for you.

Sean MacSweeney
SM
Sean MacSweeney
2 years ago

yet another commie journalist bashing capitalism, which has taken more people out of poverty than any other system, whereas the evil socialist dogma has destroyed itself and the country’s it infects every single time