Hooliganism provided the media with plenty of headlines at the time of the England versus Germany match (in the Belgian town of Charleroi) on the 17th June. But more discreet coverage was given to the £2bn deal tied up just a week before between the British TV channels and the top English football clubs over the rights to screen matches. Then, as Euro 2000 was drawing to a close, the imminent decision of the World football body, Fifa, on who was to host the lucrative World Cup 2006 (worth an estimated £5bn to the host country) overshadowed even the outcome of the tournament, at least in Britain. In this context, the "bad behaviour" of the English fans before the match in Charleroi, which led to the threat of England's banning from the European tournament, evoked the wrath of Blair, Straw and Tony Banks, the Sports Minister. But certainly much less because of what this violence implied for society in general and English football in particular, than because of the pretext it gave to Fifa to deny the English bid and deprive British companies of the coveted £5bn.
Indeed, while the hooliganism that football generates is condemned, certain aspects of its commercialism criticised and the huge sums paid by clubs for players marvelled at, there are hardly any voices raised which question the monopoly of a cabal of very rich shareholders over the game. Football has been privatised, commercialised and marketed as a "leisure commodity", which is forced on the whole population, like it or not, to consume, at a price. The sports pages of newspapers have multiplied and grown into daily colour supplements. This is advertising, pure and simple, the promotion of the big business that sport has become. And every interested participant, from government minister to tabloid journalist just plays along.
Indeed, it is not the fans, nor even the small core of hooligans within their ranks, who spoil football, though this is what we are led to believe by the media. Long ago already, fans were turned into fodder by the clubs, maltreated by both them and the police. Today they are considered as nothing more nor less than a "captive market", there to consume the lousy but expensive merchandise on sale in club shops and save their week's wages for match tickets. Premiership football is big bucks and is run by the City. And now even live TV coverage is either pay by subscription on Sky satellite or "pay per view" on cable.
As for the possibility of actually playing football, rather than just wearing your favourite team's colours on the stands, the opportunities for this too, have been narrowed down due to the policies of the successive governments and the competitive greed of the clubs.
A product of its time
Football has been for decades probably the most popular sport in the world. But footy's big business is nowhere bigger than in England, where the Premier League is the richest in the world. Its most famous club - and the wealthiest of all, is Manchester United, with a market value today of £987m. In 1996, of Manchester United's £60m turnover, £23m came from the merchandising of "football-related" goods. United's magazine at that time, was the biggest selling sports monthly in Britain at 140,000 copies. Even in countries as far away as Thailand it sold 40,000 copies - in Thai. In Norway it sold 9,000 copies. It is sold in Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong, where there are established United shops and fan clubs.
Of course, as we are all supposed to know, it was the English who "invented" modern football - back in the 19th century in public schools, of all places. According to their schoolmasters, rich kids had to have a "safe" way of getting rid of their excess energy. So the game of kicking around an inflated round bladder - the original "football" which had evolved over centuries, as a riotous, violent, and often banned, medieval pastime, usually confined to the so-called "rabble" - became an organised upper class sport. The schools and universities evolved rules for it by 1863 - which remain largely unchanged to this day.
However football soon spread to a layer of skilled workers in the North of England (in Sheffield first of all) who by then had won a little leisure time off work to enjoy it. At the same time, the Church marched onto the field seeing this as a healthy and character-building sport and promoted it amongst the poor in the inner cities. This was the origin of clubs such as Wolverhampton Wanderers (then called St Luke's), formed in 1877, and Southampton (the "Saints") originally called St Mary's. Works teams, old school teams and pub teams formed up. Football rapidly spread as the main leisure pastime of the working class. It offered a sense of freedom and collective endeavour to workers and a way to forget about exploitation. The clubs developed their own local characters and support for a team was handed down as a family and local tradition, bringing a sense of belonging to something special, outside of oneself - which one's job certainly did not! Spectators increased to the point where local clubs grabbed the opportunity to enclose grounds with fences, erect turnstiles and charge a fee for entry.
The Football Association (FA), founded in 1863, came out of the body formed to register amateur teams for competitions. The FA included delegates from 43 amateur County Football Associations and set itself the task of regulating the game.
However, professionalism - the paying of players - began to spread as early as the 1870s. Though the FA passed a rule in 1882 to throw out any club found paying a player, this was almost impossible to stop. It was an inevitable result of fierce competition between the new football clubs based in the Northern working class areas and the old amateur clubs which were based on the wealth and luxury of their public school past, mainly in the South. In an unequal society, football reflected inequalities. For teams like Blackburn Rovers, professionalism was a practical question. Working men would suffer hardship if they had to give up working time - and therefore their pay - to play and practice. After all, the wealthy could afford to turn their noses up at the idea of "professional" footballers, in the name of sportsmanship, but the working class could not. When the Northern teams which were paying players threatened to break away and form their own league, the FA caved in and in 1885, professionalism was "legalised". However payments to players were limited to a maximum, which in 1961 was still only £20/w for top players (compared to an average wage of around £12/w). That said, transfer fees paid between clubs for players began to represent hefty sums very early on - in 1905, for instance, Middlesborough paid £1,000 for a player to his home club. An attempt to put a ceiling on transfer fees failed in 1908, and 1928 saw the first £10,000 transfer fee paid.
Money starts rolling
The professional Football League was formed in 1888 when 11 clubs joined Aston Villa (Birmingham) in a play-off series. By 1892, the League was extended to two divisions comprising 28 clubs in all. But both these divisions consisted almost exclusively of "Northern" clubs. In 1919, the League's First Division was expanded to 22 clubs. The following year the Southern League was absorbed as a Third Division, and the Football League became national. As a result, although the FA Cup competition, which included non-League clubs, retained its prestige, it was the League with its weekly matches which became the focus of English football. By this time the crowds attending the most important football matches were huge - an estimated 200,000 attended the first Wembley FA Cup Final in 1923!
The early League however ensured some equality at least between the clubs that belonged to it. Gate receipts, the clubs' main income and means to pay players, were shared equally between home and away teams. There was also a 4% levy on all gate receipts which was distributed equally to all clubs in the League. This compensated somewhat for the unfair advantage of the big city clubs who had more people coming to watch their matches.
Some clubs had become "limited companies" as early as the 1880s. But this was mainly to protect the founders of these clubs from liability for debts, rather than for them to make money out of the game. Limited share issues were made if clubs needed to raise funds, but these shares paid only nominal dividends if they paid any at all. The idea was to "help" the club and shares were bought by supporters. Indeed nobody else would have been interested. But to prevent any potential profiteering, the FA passed "Rule 34" - which is still theoretically in force today, even though the FA allows it to be totally ignored. This Rule 34 stated that games proceeds had to be reinvested in the clubs, share dividends could not exceed 5% and club directors could not receive any payment. This meant that club shares - which for most of the post-war period, up until the 1980s, usually had a nominal value of no more than £1 - yielded 5 pence per year at most! Besides if a club was wound up, its property was meant to go to other local sports institutions. As a result there was little space for profiteering in football. And the financial "perks" for the clubs' chairmen and directors were mostly meals and tickets in the cushioned director's box.
This did not mean, however, that a club could not become very rich, even within these limitations. Arsenal is a case in point. It began its life as a works team from Woolwich Armaments factory as early as 1886, playing its games on Plumstead Common. Once the club got into the Second Division, its main problem was low attendance at games, due to Plumstead's location, which mean that the club could not pay for better players. In 1915 the club therefore moved at the behest of its chairman to North London and dropped the tag "Woolwich" from its name. In 1919, when the League's First Division expanded to 22 clubs, Arsenal won election to it. Its new Chairman, Herbert Chapman, built Arsenal into one of the best and richest teams in the country, but he did it by ensuring that the club had state-of-the-art facilities, pumping most of its receipts back into it. In the thirties, he built a new stadium, with the famous marble halls, a new all- weather pitch with undersoil heating, bought in the best medical facilities for players and launched youth schemes to train youngsters. But it was only in the 1980s, when one of football's first "fatcat chairman", David Dein, bought his first stake in the club, that it turned into a money-spinner - which is now being prepared for flotation in the City.
After WW2 the FA, which had stood above the League and had the "right" to control the "professionals" began to lose its character as a custodian of football as a "sport". League clubs started to make much more money and tensions grew between the FA proponents of amateur sport and the League (which had representatives on the FA). A proposal to merge the FA and the League ruling bodies into one was never carried out. But given the balance of forces, the representatives who sat on the FA de facto became the guardians of professional football, which more or less eliminated the tension. Today the FA Council includes 93 members and their perceived backward attitudes have led commentators to joke that 93 must be not just the total number of seats on the Council but also the average age of the councillors.
The League of sporting profit
By the 1980s the professional League was in crisis. Predictably, the problem was money. Attendance at matches had been falling - from a peak of 41m in 1949 to 16m in 1986. This was not too surprising, because very little attention had been paid to the condition of the grounds, and only a hard core of fans were prepared to put up with the combination of rising ticket prices, being treated like cattle by the police and the routine brawling between rival fans and police which had become a normal feature of football matches. A reorganisation of the Divisions (now four of them) and new commercially sponsored competitions were introduced in an attempt to revive the game. On the other hand football was still attracting big audiences on TV. And while less gate money was coming in, TV and commercial sponsorship and advertising were becoming more and more lucrative sources of finance. However, only the "big" First Division matches and of course the international cups, attracted big sponsorship.
But up until the eighties, the money from sponsorship and TV rights had been shared between all 92 clubs involved across the Divisions. Besides, a two-thirds majority vote in the FA was required to change any decision as to the distribution of this money. It was this which laid the basis for a TV-led breakaway league.
The Big Five Clubs (Spurs, Arsenal, Manchester United, Everton and Liverpool) first suggested a breakaway to form a "superleague" of the First Division clubs in 1981, but they were bought off by a compromise which scrapped the sharing of gate receipts between home and away clubs. In 1985, however, another breakaway was mooted, again settled by a compromise which this time favoured the First Division with 50% of all TV and sponsorship money, greater voting rights and a reduction of the end-of-season gate levy from 4% to 3%. Then in 1988, the First Division did their own television deal with none other than Greg Dyke, then working for ITV (the same "Blairite" Dykes who was recently appointed to revamp the BBC and has just lost "Match of the Day" to ITV!), who beat the emerging satellite channel, BSB by paying £44m in order to show the First Division's live matches.
By then the big clubs were getting used to the idea of big money to keep for themselves. Tottenham Hotspurs had now floated itself on the share market, and the chairman and shareholders were rich and getting richer (to bypass Rule 34 all that was required was to create a new company and denote the club as a "subsidiary"). The new layer of businessmen owners of these clubs no longer gave a damn about the "good of the game" despite the fact that the smaller clubs relied on the sharing principle to maintain themselves.
Then it came. In 1990, the Big Five had a discussion with Greg Dyke, now with London Weekend Television, about a breakaway of the First Division clubs - which would be financed by a new television contract, due for re-negotiation in 1992. Dyke told the club chairmen that he would be interested in covering such a breakaway "Premier League". Football was, after all, "the key television product in England".
The privatisation of footy
The FA actually agreed to the breakaway, despite its implications for the lesser clubs. It had just come up with a new document (the "Blueprint for the Future of Football") outlining a reassessment of the game. And true to the business-oriented spirit of the time, it said nothing at all about the game itself. Its first pages showed graphs of "slowed but sustained earnings growth" and "variation in service demand with household income". It was preparing for a complete takeover of football by business and "market forces". As it said: "the response of most sectors has been to move upmarket so as to follow the affluent middle-class consumer".
Everyone was out to bring a new layer into football fanship - and they succeeded. Thus the Financial Times brand new sports section, for instance. Football had become the "respectable" pastime of the middle classes...
Of course, the rest of the Football League was outraged by the proposed breakaway, and they fought a court case which brought them a promise of £2m per season from the FA and £1m per season from the new Premier League for the former Second and Third and Fourth Divisions (which now became First, Second and Third).
Finally, in 1992, the Premiers League was formed on the strength of a £304m deal with BSkyB, over four years. This doubled, to £670m by 1996. And this year, the right to screen Premiership games on BSkyB went for £1.6bn, for three years this time - a 600% increase in a matter of 8 years!
One of the new generation of football chairmen, ushered in during Thatcher's heyday, was Alan Sugar, the Amstrad millionaire. Sugar was, indeed, presented in this period as a hero. He had taken on the contract of making satellite dishes for Sky television. But by 1988, both Sky and Amstrad started to do badly together. Then came the TV rights to football. It is certainly no coincidence that in 1991, just one year before the BSkyB television deal which covered British towns with satellite dishes in order to receive live football screening, Sugar suddenly discovered an interest in Tottenham Hotspurs and with Venables, bought 36% of it for £2.73m.
Within two years Sugar had built up his own share of Spurs to 47% having spent £8m for it. His stake today is worth over £50m - a capital gain of 500% in six years. Since the exclusive rights for live Premiership matches on "pay television" were sold, after an initial slow take-up, every year Sky has seen its subscriptions increase as well as its profits. By 1997, Sky had 6m subscribers, with a £1.3bn turnover and £374m profits, and Sugar still making the dishes...
Manchester United, which is the richest club in the Premiership, took a slightly different course. In 1958, just after an air crash which killed 23 people among the team and their entourage, one Louis Edwards, who had made a fortune in the meat business, took over as a club board director. For the next few years he was content with this, owning just 17 shares in the limited company. But after he floated his butcher's business on the stock market, he had enough cash to buy up Man United shares. No doubt he saw his chance to cash in on the huge "sympathy following" that United had attracted after the untimely death of its team. Edwards tracked down small shareholders all over the country, buying handfuls of shares at a time - which had sometimes been kept in the same family since the beginning of the century - for an average £5 per share. By January 1964, the Edwards family's stake reached 54% of the club and 74% by the end of the 1970s. At this point they decided to take a big gamble by issuing over one-million shares (over 200 times more than previously). And it paid. By now, thanks to the FA's decision to allow dividends up to 15% (which was immediately implemented by United), the Edwards' have already cashed in £64m from the club and still own a stake worth £33m - all this out of a £600,000 investment in 1978, or an average 27% profit per year, which is a lot more than the FTSE share index over the same period!
Most of today's Premier League clubs have similar tales to tell. Now that football is one of the fastest growing leisure businesses, the flotation of clubs as "holding leisure companies" is an easy way for owners to cash in their money. Manchester United, Newcastle, Aston Villa, Chelsea, Tottenham and others, all have as their main objective to make money for their shareholders. According to the City, football is just an "entertainment product", the clubs are "brands" and a report by City analysts, UBS, entitled "UK Football plc: the winners take it all" predicts widening inequality between clubs, more money for the richest and bankruptcy for the poorest.
And this is already blatantly illustrated by the astronomical salaries paid to top players such as Man United's Roy Keane who, with £52,000 a week, earns in three days more than most working people in a year. Likewise for transfer fees between clubs, which are now reaching levels comparable to the funds necessary to build a new hospital - £15m for Alan Shearer's transfer to United, for instance. How many clubs today can afford that sort of money, except the largest?
As for fans, they are "captive customers". So no need to worry there. In fact ticket prices probably say it all. Prices have been put up mercilessly for this "captive market". In 1988 a ticket to Old Trafford Scoreboard Paddock in a United vs Coventry City match cost £3.20. In 1995, the same position, against the same opponent, now in "L Stand" and seated, cost £15. However for the top matches today, £25-40 is more the standard.
The clubs advertise their stands as banqueting suites and conference centres, and of course business entertainers can bring clients to watch a bit of football at Arsenal for £152 a head - even when these stands have been built with public money (from the Football Trust), like that at Liverpool's Anfield grounds, which contains 30 executive boxes and two executive suites.
Of course, clubs still ask their supporters for finance as did Arsenal by issuing bonds for £1,000 - £1,500 each. However the only "return" the fans were offered was the guaranteed right to buy a season ticket in the future - for a couple of thousand quid! A massive stand was built by Arsenal this way. But when Arsenal's three owners decide to float their holdings, each of them should make over £30m and the fans not a penny!
Hooligans and Hillsborough
Right from the 1880s the comfort of fans was never considered important by the professional football clubs. When the game became popular, the loyalty of supporters meant that over the years they were happy to watch their teams regardless of the conditions they were subjected to.
Police have been supervising large crowds going to football matches for almost 100 years. Clashes between rival supporters are not new either. As early as 1909, the Scottish Cup was not awarded due to a riot at the final match. In 1924 an official police instruction was to monitor crowds "some distance" from the grounds' entrance. When, in the 1960s and 1970s, small groups of youngsters began to make a habit of bashing in the heads of rival supporters, it was not really acknowledged as a particular problem, and it grew until in the eighties, there was organised violence on the pitches and outside. Football clubs argued that they were becoming the focus for social problems beyond their control. They were. The secretary of the Football League, Alan Hardaker told Margaret Thatcher, the Tory Prime Minister, "Get your hooligans out of my game"!
In the early eighties, though, football was still seen as a sport with mainly working class support. Thatcher insisted the clubs deal with hooligans. Nobody in the establishment was interested in the decaying and crumbling grounds nor in the idea that football violence might be a symptom of wider social ills, and in particular the increasing social dereliction of the Thatcher years. An aggressive response was implemented, by clubs, police and government aimed at the symptom, rather than the cause, predictably.
The so-called mindless yobs of football crowds were to be crushed and punished. Away supporters were met off trains and herded straight to grounds by police with dogs or on horseback. There they would stand on litter-strewn, badly maintained terraces, with barely a toilet nor any decent food or drink available. The heavy policing was provocative rather than preventive. The increasing violence just led to even more punitive controls however. In 1985, after a fire at Bradford City was caused by a cigarette butt and the whole wooden-floored stand went up in flames killing 56 people, a report criticised the conditions of the grounds and the lack of true custodianship shown by the clubs. It also put "hooliganism" down to a core of organised criminals.
But it was Heysel which made the issue of hooliganism unavoidable. An old stadium in Brussels, Heysel was not equipped for the violence of British fans against their rivals and 39 people were killed when part of a stand collapsed after Liverpool fans rushed Juventis fans.
As a token gesture, the sale of alcohol was banned "within sight of the pitch" (but is allowed behind the blinds in the corporate boxes), which of course encouraged fans to get well tanked up before matches, increasing rather than decreasing drunkenness. But Thatcher dismissed the suggestion that increasing unemployment, poor education or inequalities might contribute to young men fighting at football. Nor were the clubs told to improve their facilities or to treat people decently. It was not argued that roofs, seats and toilets might help "civilise" football grounds. The truth was that fans who were being treated like animals obliged by behaving like animals. But no-one bothered to go into such considerations.
Lack of safety on football grounds was one consequence of their dereliction. It was an old issue. Already there was a Home Office "Green Guide" to safety at sports grounds, amended many times after the first major disaster at Ibrox, Glasgow, in 1902, when 66 fans had been killed in a crush. Since 1973, clubs were all meant to have safety certificates which itemised their capacities, layouts, entrances, exits, etc., and their methods of counting fans at turnstiles to monitor when various parts of the grounds were full.
But it took the Hillsborough disaster, on 15 April 1989, to force the government to do something, at least with respect to the grounds and their facilities. Hillsborough exposed in the most terrible way, the contempt that the clubs and the police had for the fans. On the fatal day, the stadium had been rather controversially chosen as the venue for the Liverpool versus Nottingham Forest semi-final. The policing for the game was standard for the time. In other words, supporters were treated as if they were dangerous hordes liable to invade the pitch at any moment, which had to be controlled. Their own safety did not come into it.
In fact Sheffield Wednesday - Hillsborough's home club - had paid little attention to safety rules. And yet, already in 1981, 38 people had been injured in a crush due to fans arriving late at the Leppings Lane entrance. Now the Leppings Lane Terrace was divided into seven "pens" at the insistence of the police, so as to control supporters. This actually made the capacity of the terrace even smaller than 10,000 - when the number of tickets sold to Liverpool fans, who were meant to be accommodated on this terrace, was known to be far greater. As a result almost all the fans found themselves being pushed from behind into the central pens which had been constructed. The entrance to these rigid, fenced pens was a dark tunnel with a one in six downhill slope.
The police refused to acknowledge the crush that was resulting despite CCTV, nor take immediate measures to relieve the crush by opening gates which led onto the pitch. A blockage developed at the front of the terrace near the narrow opened gates. But more people surged down the tunnel causing the fatal crushing of those in front. People desperately climbed over the pile of tangled bodies gasping for air. 95 people, including many children, died either immediately or later in hospital. To this day the police have not accepted responsibility - but neither has the club. Nor has the reopening of the case by Jack Straw after Labour's election, led to any change in the verdict of "accidental death". The terms of reference Straw had set were so tight as to make sure that no action could be taken to reverse the verdict nor prosecute the police. Of course.
The Taylor Report
The day after the Hillsborough tragedy the Sun newspaper produced a front page which lost it the readership of a significant number of Liverpool supporters for good. "THE TRUTH" it said, alleging that the disaster had been caused by hooliganism and that drunken Liverpool fans had been responsible, but certainly not the police.
It took the report by a judge, Peter Taylor, commissioned by the then Home Secretary, Douglas Hurd, to find that the police and the club had been negligent. The report's second part came out in January 1990 and covered the issue of football grounds in general. It recommended that football should treat supporters as human beings. It laid to rest the idea that Thatcher had come up with for identity cards for supporters as a "sledgehammer to crack a nut". Taylor blamed the clubs and police for their treatment of supporters and said this helped create the conditions for bad behaviour. He listed the squalid conditions: the absence of toilets, the prevalence of rubbish because of the lack of dustbins, people getting wet on uncovered terraces, the lack of seating, the awful food, all resulting in a dismal scene out of which bad behaviour did not seem as unacceptable as it should have been.
The Taylor report called for all-seater stadiums. A new strengthened Green Guide on safety was produced and this specifically asked that the additional costs were not passed on to the supporters in the form of increased ticket prices. He recommended that the clubs be given public money by taking the funds out of the tax on football pools to help pay for the rebuilding of grounds.
As a result the stadiums were rebuilt. The clubs took full advantage of the fact that this was subsidised. Most clubs got at least £2m each of this public money. But even when they cleared profits of over £100m per year, they were not required to pay back a single penny.
On the other hand, by creating all-seater stadiums, they made the game marketable to the middle classes who would come to the refurbished grounds and be willing to pay a lot more, and to the corporate sector, who would be entertained in the new plush corporate boxes... As a result, the former fans, the "slum people", as they were called by Murdoch's Sunday Times in the eighties, who watched a "slum sport", were to be priced out of attending football matches. In fact the spirit of Taylor's report was turned upside down. It is worth noting, in passing, that this year a group of Newcastle United season-ticket holders lost an appeal against the decision of "their" club to remove them from their seats in St James' Park to make way for corporate hospitality. They now face legal costs of £198,000...
British football is a microcosm of British society. What has happened to footballing over the last few decades reflects almost exactly what has happened in the country at large. Market forces have come to rule. Clubs have become companies bent on making profit. And the gap between rich and poor clubs has widened to the point where the spin-off of Premier League Clubs has left all the rest so far behind that many are likely to disappear completely into insolvency.
A nationalist farce
Professional clubs can afford to buy themselves the best players from all around the world - 49% of all players in the English league are players "bought" from abroad, compared to 18% in the French league and 32% in the Italian. Yet this does not prevent the clubs from selling thousands of football shirts celebrating the virtues of their own "local team" in displays of farcical micro-nationalism, even though the players who actually earn them their audience are from Italy, France, Germany or from Africa or Jamaica! Not even when, as in the case of Chelsea, these clubs had only one "British" in their team for most of the season and not one at all in their final fixture!
However when it comes to the national team it is a different matter. Because as things stand the matches of country against country exclude the buying up of the best players and countries have to fall back on their own resources of home-grown players. Of course the concept of "national" competition is even then somewhat outdated given today's world, where many of the best-known "national" players were born abroad anyway. This does not prevent the flag-waving, however.
And since money is to be made by getting the crowds in - in front of the TV screens, in specially organised package tours or on the grounds - this is where the media, especially the newspapers, come into their own, by whipping up nationalist fervour to generate more interest. So whenever Germany plays England it is a replay of WW2 in the tabloid newspapers and TV presenters start sounding like Churchill. As to the merchandise sellers, especially the manufacturers of face paints and red crosses (those for St George flags), they have really been pushing it over the last decade.
Has nationalist sentiment increased, though? Probably not in and of itself. But certainly the attempts by the media to generate football nationalism have increased. And in the context of this frenzied and overheated atmosphere, in which fans are expecting provocations from the "enemy" anyway, because that is what the media keep talking about, it is an easy job for small minorities - including far-right groups which have always been active among football fans - to bring to the surface racist and xenophobic undercurrents, which are present everywhere in society, even if they are not usually expressed openly.
That these undercurrents are able to re-emerge in such a brutal form on these occasions, is the consequence of many factors - some which have been discussed above. Among them is the all- powerful dictatorship of money over football, which is corrupting the game more than ever before. But another is the pandering of politicians to xenophobic prejudices, like these government ministers who, after the Euro 2000 England team's failure, have attempted to put public opinion on their side by condemning the buying up of foreign players by Premiership clubs and even proposing a limit or quota on this! Of course, it is so much easier to play this demagogic game than to throw the ball at the Murdoch's and the Sugar's of this world, for whom football fans and players are just fodder in the profit game.
3rd July 2000