Alex Philips: Football has the 'blood of corporate greed pumping through its veins'
'The utterly obscene salaries now doled out see the highest paid footballers' annual salary equivalent to that of 2500 nurses'
If Peter Sarstedt’s 60s classic Where Do You Go To My Lovely came out today, rather than the Aga Khan buying Marie-Claire a race horse for Christmas, one would imagine it would be the Emirati Prince giving her a League One football team instead.
The beautiful game, born out of the public schools of England, however, has a rich history of grassroots heroism, a traditional working class weekend emancipation concretising the regional pride of many a town and city suburb, as shearling coated factory workers packed the terraces of their beloved United, clasping a thermos and dubious greasy burger in gloved hands, bellowing until not a breath is left in the lungs.
Football has also become a Midas-like miracle maker in every corner of the world, with raw talent needing only a care worn leather ball to elevate a child in rags from an African village to a million dollar global multinational mega hero.
And if the magic of football still wasn’t clear, it is arguably the only sport that every four years can bring the entire world together with baited breath to see who will bring home Jules Rimet.
Yet at the centre of this powerful sporting institution is a dark heart, the blood of corporate greed pumping through its veins via shady share-holders, blackmails and bungs, exploitative television rights, eye watering transfer fees lining the pockets of venal agents and vulturous owners, allegations of money laundering ill gotten gains, allegations of sexual assault and honey traps on hotels blighting the VIP lounges of many a star striker while molestation and grooming of innocent kids, chasing their big money dreams in the little leagues.
Hooliganism, still rife across Eastern Europe, organised by extreme far right gangs and woven into a criminal underbelly, met with rubber bullets and tear gas, while some of the sports greatest crimes take years to resolve, with too many interested parties with their noses in the trough.
The Hillsborough Disaster of 1989, claiming 97 lives and 766 injuries, took almost 30 years to see those responsible face justice.
Today, football’s biggest scandals are deeply interwoven with extreme geopolitics, with the weekend's biggest sports headline of Newcastle United’s buy-out by a Saudi led consortium for £320 billion pound making the Magpies one of the wealthiest clubs in the Premier League, leading to a backlash from fans over the grotesque commodification of the game by authoritarian states.
Fixers are creaming millions from fans’ pockets, bagging fees to hide the identities of controlling shareholders through secretive offshore trust funds, from the very top of the Premiership down to the lowest leagues, with oligarchs and sheiks battling it out to cream a profit from loyal supporters coughing up almost a grand a year to secure a seat at the stadium, on top of their stake of the £3.6billion broadcasting rights, paid through TV subscriptions and added to the sports day pint at the local pub.
The utterly obscene salaries now doled out see the highest paid footballers' annual salary equivalent to that of 2500 nurses.
Meanwhile the world is not enough for some club owners, as corporate dreams of a European Super League crashed following a caustic cacophony from disgusted fans, governing bodies and heads of state alike accusing top tier clubs of elitism, with uncapped costs turning international tournaments into one giant roulette table, the bigger the stake the grosser the potential returns, spinning the wheel with every match showering the sport with embezzled foreign cash while squeezing more and more out of the scarf wearing supporter at the bottom, the same supporter now unscrupulously targeted to blood let billions into an increasingly aggressive parasitic industry of online gambling.
Meanwhile as megastars take to their knees to combat the slew of unadulterated racism flooding the internet with bot-baked slurs, fans are left to question how the social activism on pitch juxtaposes with the world cup being hosted by a country with well documented human rights abuses, accused of using forced labour to construct multi-million dollar stadia for the spectacle.
Meanwhile ex FIFA boss Sepp Blatter was unceremoniously rumbled during his fifth pitch to be international football’s president having been accused of a range of dodgy dealings and criminal kickbacks relating to everything from sponsorship deals, match fixing, goal line technology and tournament hosting.
Meanwhile at the bottom, small clubs struggled to survive as lockdown locked fans out, and with them, matchday revenues.
The beautiful game is much more than a Saturday kick about. With such enormous global power, influence and wealth attracting every nefarious activity imaginable. Today, we really need to talk about football.