I’m sure that anyone reading this shares my disgust at the introduction of pay per view football this weekend, for the truly sickening price of £14.95 for a single match. Yet, in reality, this is just the latest chapter of ordinary football fans being extorted away from our own game. To add insult to injury, this outrageous price has been introduced during a pandemic, as at least 4.5% of the nation are unemployed as thousands of jobs continue to be axed by companies trying to save cash.
During this pandemic, mental health, already a growing issue globally, has also become an even more significant concern. For example, one study claims that the number of children who could be clinically diagnosed has risen by at least 35% since Covid 19, a truly horrifying statistic. It is in these truly testing times, that the escapism of football has been more important than ever, albeit from the sofa and not in the cathedrals we built for the beautiful game.
Fans wishing to watch football have already had to swap the annual season ticket for BT sport and Sky subscriptions, which do not come cheap. The Premier League’s chief executive and the man in charge of killing our game, Richard Masters, described the price as “defensible” before passing the buck to BT and Sky for the price. We also know that Premier League clubs voted 19-1 in favor of this plan, a disgraceful act of betrayal, with only Leicester City coming out with any credit. Yet none of this surprises me, and it is all too symptomatic of our society, which is the point I wish to make in this article.
You cannot keep politics out of football; it never has been separate and it never will be. This fallacy of football being apolitical has risen and is the bush that many hide behind to excuse their anger at seeing players take a knee in defense of equality. Football is a microcosm of our society, and it is no surprise that both have gone in the same direction. Profit is sought above all else, with the richest becoming increasingly powerful and smaller entities left behind. This is capitalism, and it is killing football. The irony of this all is that it is precisely because football is an escape, that many like to pretend it exists in its own bubble, separate from both politics and society. Yet it is exactly the political and societal environment that has slapped a £14.95 price tag on our escape during a pandemic, and continues to rip the heart out of it.
In a capitalist society, we are customers not fans. Customers do not have control of the products they buy, and that is what football is being turned into, a product. Why would Richard Master, Sky or BT not charge a price that they know fans have paid for years to watch their teams play? If that is how much we are willing to pay to watch football in a stadium, then they have clearly decided it is the amount of money that millions of fans have available for football, whatever its form. Nothing could expose this commodification of football more than ‘project big picture’, a plan drawn up chiefly American owners of our nations two wealthiest clubs, in order to benefit themselves. These billionaires use football for their own financial and political purposes, whilst fans fail to take hold of their game, because they have been tricked into inaction by the myth of an apolotical sport.
I urge fans to ask themselves, was football apolitical when the Saudi state attempted to buy an 80% share in Newcastle United? Was it apolitical when the main uproar to this sale came from Manchester City, a club owned by Sheik Mansour, a member of Abu Dhabi’s royal family and the Deputy Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates? His anger was not to do with football, it was entirely political, as Saudi Arabia and the UAE continue to fight for global influence, with the humanitarian crisis in Yemen being a particularly chilling and revolting an example. Football has fallen into the hands of states and incredibly rich capitalists, who only use the game to fight their own geopolitical struggles. They do not love it, they do not understand it, and if/when profits die, they will not protect it.
Was football apolitical when the season was suspended due to Covid 19? Was it apolitical in June, when in Britain we resumed football on June 17th, with no fans in stadiums, whilst New Zealand packed a 43,000 seater stadium because their politicians had made better decisions? Was football apolitical just this week, when fans were allowed distance in the London Palladium for an evening with Arsene Wenger, whilst football fans are not allowed to distance in open air venues?
As fans, football has already paid for our ignorance and collective inertia, and now we have to pay to view it. We desperately need to start treating the game like our property, not our product, before it is too late. This needs to happen at every level of the game, as our sport belongs to Bury, as much as it belongs to Manchester United. Covid 19 is going to threaten so many smaller clubs, whose debts have mounted as governments have banned supporters from the stadiums they rely on for their incomes.
This, once again is incredibly political. Governments chose to provide financial support to restaurants, pushing consumers back into stifling indoor venues and even paying half of their bill to save this sector. Meanwhile, the rule of six was exempt for those wishing to pursue the posh and deeply unethical sport of hunting innocent animals. Ask yourself, if football was a sport associated with the upper classes/powerful, would it have been left to fend for itself with doors to stadiums slammed shut? Darren from Dudley is frothing with rage, screaming ‘keep politics out of football’, whilst the government chooses which clubs live and die and other geopolitical forces have an iron grip on our game.
So, how do we treat the game like our property? Admittedly, this is the hard part, as we have already handed control of it to powerful entities, yet a core truth remains. Without the money of football fans, there can be no profit from football. If we act together, like many have this weekend by refusing to Pay the £14.95, then we do have real power. This, in all honesty, is Unionization, and although it is a sentiment likely to make some fans go red in the face, it is precisely what we need. You may well fall into this category, the Thatcher type who believes that Unions should be crushed, but tell me who this benefits? Taking power away from Unions gives more power to the powerful by definition, as it divides those who they exploit and make no mistake, as both football fans and British citizens, we are being exploited.
We must act as a collective and slowly take control back of our game, this starts with forcing the scrapping of Pay Per View and should continue until our game is at least partially democratic. Who remembers which way they voted when VAR was introduced to the Premier League, or for Richard Masters to be chief executive? We simply do not have a say in the direction of our beautiful game, and this must change.
All our lives, we have been told that capitalism is a natural ally to democracy, yet as football has become increasingly capitalist, us fans have lost our voice. The more money that poison’s our beautiful game, the more we are reduced from owners to consumers, and gambling is the quintessential example of this. Denise Coates, the owner of Bet365, went home with a £323 million salary last year, and this was paid for by ordinary sporting fans. We know that gambling addictions are common and how damaging they are, yet our heroes run around in shirts with their logos on the front, making recovery from gambling addictions incredibly difficult. Even a decade ago, my club (Aston Villa) were sponsored by Acorns, a children’s hospice – an act of beautiful humanity from the club I love. Was football apolitical when our players became billboards for crushing addictions? For more on gambling and football, please follow this link and see the inspiring work that former writer, Ryan Pitcher is doing in this field: https://twitter.com/allbetsareoff_?lang=en
This article has not been fun to write, and I doubt it is an enjoyable read given the content. But, we cannot keep proudly calling football our game whilst being too cowardly to claim it and make it so. Football is not apolitical and I would like to end this rant with an impactful message:
If you are neutral in the face of injustice then you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If you claim that football is apolitical and pay the £14.95, then you have chosen geopolitics and commodification. Do not be a customer, be a fan.
Stand up to this, stand together and reclaim our game.
By Callum Richardson.