BY ALAN HUGHES
I love football. I’ve played it most of my life and I’ve supported my team, Aston Villa, most of it too. Pele once, famously, described football as ‘the beautiful game’. And played at its best – witness Lionel Messi at Barcelona – it’s difficult to disagree with the sentiment.
But something has happened to the beautiful game and turned it ugly. That something is money. The filthy lucre has penetrated the heart of the game and is all but destroying it.
And the latest abomination is the news that Wayne Rooney has been offered a new contract at Manchester United that will take his weekly wage to US$500,000 (£300,000). Yes, you read that right… $500,000 A WEEK!
When the English Premier League started back in 1992, no-one could have predicted the impact it would have on English football. The commercialization of the Premier League has seen it secure around $5.8 billion from its most recent round of television deals (much of it from Rupert Murdoch’s Sky Sports). Add to this the clubs that are owned by multi-billionaires (Roman Abramovich at Chelsea; Sheikh Mansour at Manchester City…) and the millions they have ‘invested’ in these clubs make your head swim.
And footballers’ salaries are now out of control. Gail Sheridan, wife of Scottish socialist politician Tommy Sheridan, described Rooney’s wage deal as ‘obscene’. Her argument is simple. No footballer is worth a six-figure weekly wage. ‘Brain surgeons, skilled nurses, firefighters and other emergency service personnel all deserve high wages and good pensions,’ wrote Sheridan. ‘But do footballers, bankers, politicians? If they were paid according to what they contribute to society, I reckon most of them would be claiming working families tax credits to supplement their meagre incomes.’
To former Newcastle striker Micky Quinn, Rooney’s new wage deal illustrates the widening gulf between millionaire footballers and working-class fans. ‘How can a bloke who works nine-to-five, never mind someone on the dole, identify with a guy who has signed a £75-million [$125 million] contract?’ wrote Quinn in a newspaper column.
For me it has an all-too-familiar ring. It’s the same old story, over and over again. Inequality. The rich get richer and the poor can go to hell. Rooney, and his equally dim-witted colleagues, can ‘earn’ millions for kicking a ball around while nurses have to threaten industrial action because the government refuses to pay a promised salary increase. Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt claims it would be ‘unaffordable’.
Capitalism is an insane way to conduct affairs. It’s unfair, brutal and unsustainable. But people are duped into believing it works, that there is no other way. Tempt them with a piece of the money ‘pie’ and they’ll fall for anything. Good luck to Rooney, they say, just wish it was me; it’s supply and demand etc etc…
The other day, I heard someone say that no-one is forced to watch Rooney and his mates. I concur. And as such I am voting with my feet.
I have decided to stop going to Premier League football matches (there’s always the local park where REAL football is still being played). My beloved Aston Villa will have to do without me. I refuse to put my money into the pockets of these thieves. There’s no way I’d ever subscribe to Sky Sports. I refuse to watch their stupid adverts. All I hope is that others will join me. Because, if it’s one thing Big Business fears, it’s anything that affects their profits. People power is all we have left – perhaps it’s all we ever had?
I yearn for the old days, when football was a working-class game. When a football club was an integral part of the community. When players were proud to play for their club and loyalty was a common occurrence.
A friend of mine recently said that we need to start all over again. He meant rebuilding the welfare state, the National Health Service, the railways… everything that has been sold off to the highest bidder. It’s a depressing thought but, sadly, he’s right.
I’ll leave the last word to Bill Shankly, one of the greatest football managers who ever lived:
‘The socialism I believe in is everybody working for the same goal and everybody having a share in the rewards. That’s how I see football, that’s how I see life.’
Old Bill must be turning in his grave.
-by arrangement with the New Internationalist magazine