Mud, Sweat and Tears

A satellite photograph this week showed the British coastline surrounded by seas that have turned a muddy brown. All that rain you see. With a vote on Scottish independence looming it seems that a dissolving UK is not only a political reality, it’s a literal one too. We’re being washed out to sea. Slowly and inexorably the pounding the nation has taken during the winter storms is eroding us away.


But it doesn’t end there. This ebbing away of essential Britishness is something that’s happening wherever you look. Our football clubs have been afflicted by it for years. Foreign ownership of our top clubs is now taken as read. The Americans pull the strings of our two traditional giants Liverpool and Manchester United. Arsenal’s chief shareholder is also American. Manchester City are the plaything of Arabian sheiks, Chelsea the tacky bauble of a Russian oligarch. Fulham, Southampton, Hull, Cardiff, Sunderland and Aston Villa are similarly controlled by overseas interests. It’s a repeating tale lower down the leagues. Throw in the pathetically low number of British born players plying their trade in the Premier League and it’s tempting to ask where the hell everyone has gone.

The answer is that we’ve all been elbowed aside in the great dash for cash. The days of fat, local bigwigs with a few million in the bank supporting their local club are over. Millions don’t cut it any more. You need billions to play the game these days. And why fill teams with overpriced British players when you can recruit genuine talent from overseas for a comparative pittance?

Inevitably there are concerns. The Premier League’s fit and proper persons test, allegedly applied to weed out potentially problematic owners, appears laughably easy to pass. My own club has changed hands twice in recent times, the first change almost rendering it bankrupt such was the ineptitude of the ‘fit and proper’ owners.

Fans of course, are never consulted over ownership issues. Why would they be? At Hull City, owner Assem Allam was moved recently to tell a section of fans to “go and die then”. The ‘City Till We Die’ group had vociferously objected to Allam’s intention to change the club’s name to Hull Tigers. I mean, how dare they?

Vincent TanAt Cardiff City, boss Vincent Tan, partial to sitting up in the stands dressed like a ludicrously naff Bond villain, complete with swept back hair, black gloves, and gurning henchmen either side, switched the team’s shirts from blue to red, citing the fact that in his part of east Asia red is considered a lucky colour. No matter that the club’s nickname (the Bluebirds) now sits at odds with the new colour scheme. He is also reported to have refused to sanction a signing during the summer because he wasn’t happy with the player’s horoscope and birth chart. I kid you not. Easy to imagine him in his office, white cat on his lap, pressing a button to get shut of his incompetent chief scout.

Earlier this season Tan inexplicably told manager Malky Mackay to carry on with his duties immediately after telling him he would to be sacked a few weeks later. Mackay carried on, then was duly sacked. And the fans just have to suck this stuff up. As far as these owners are concerned they’re simply making sensible business decisions. Tradition, culture or whatever you want to call it can simply go hang itself.

Is it all bad then, this eating away of our footballing culture? A lot of it certainly, but there’s no doubt that the pumping in of billions of pounds to our clubs is providing some kind of shot-in-the-arm at a time of general economic strife. English football, and the Premier League in particular, is riding a popular global wave. Predictions of doom and gloom have been defied for years and the micro-economic bubble has outlasted multiple predictions of its imminent popping. So maybe it’ll just continue?

No. All economic bubbles pop don’t they, and this one will too. The billionaires will slink away to go and play somewhere else, leaving the wreckage behind them. We’ll be left with bankrupt clubs, teams bereft of local talent and disenchanted fans (goodness knows how they continue to put up with so much as it is).

A look at Scotland where teams and their long suffering supporters have long since had to adapt to severe austerity, shows that survival is possible. The bottom line is that fans won’t allow their clubs to die. It’s simply the way football is. It is not, nor has it ever been something that can be run along traditional business lines. This is what the new breed of foreign owner doesn’t get.

Thus I remain optimistic that ultimately the game will be reclaimed by its grass roots followers. Sadly I suspect we’ll have to wade through a lot of muddy water before we get there.

The Puma

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