Playing for profit: time to kick them out

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21 April 2021

By Wednesday morning, just 48 hours after the announcement of a new 12-club European Super League, the 6 English football clubs that had signed up to it had pulled out.  The rest soon followed suit.  So we saw the ESL collapse, before it had even kicked off!

    It’s the fans’ reaction which is being given the credit for this.  On Monday they gathered outside home pitches with hastily made banners saying: “Supergreed”, “Fans before Finance”, ”Buck off Super League!”.

    But was this ESL just a ploy, as many suggest, by top clubs to get a bit more out of the UEFA’s new Champions League format?  Did they cynically predict that fans - and even Boris Johnson, who knows all about capitalist greed (it gave us a vaccine, apparently) - would pipe up, on cue?

    Quite possibly.  But what’s certain, is that these super-greedy clubs do not give a damn about the fans.  As for the ever more expensive - but sadly, indispensable players - they’re just raw material to be traded on the football market.  The top club owners are corporate super-profiteers and the fact that football is their business is almost incidental.

    Indeed, before the ESL scheme fell apart this week, the rights for showing their matches had already been discussed with Amazon, Facebook, Disney, and Sky.  At £3.5bn a year, this was twice the amount currently generated by the Champions League.  Big US bank JPMorgan Chase was offering a "welcome bonus" of up to £250 million to each club involved!

    One banner outside Manchester United's stadium read "Created by the poor, stolen by the rich".  But the beautiful game was “stolen by the rich” long ago.  The Premier League itself was created via a breakaway from the rest of the English League, spurred on by a few clubs chasing ever more profits.

    Up until the 1980s, TV and sponsorship money was shared out equally among the 92 teams in the English League.  This ended in 1985 after the first threat of a breakaway: the old 1st Division demanded 50% of TV revenues.  Then in 1992, the Premier League finally broke away, after striking a lucrative TV deal with Sky.

    Thanks precisely to the beauty of the game itself, even the corruption of corporate greed can’t turn it ugly. But it would be far more beautiful if the football profiteers were booted out.

Minneapolis today and Derry yesterday: not breathing yet

Junior defence minister Johnny Mercer resigned from Boris Johnson’s cabinet on Tuesday.  A former army captain, he is furious that the “Overseas Operations Bill” to protect army veterans from prosecution won’t apply to soldiers who served in Northern Ireland during the Troubles.

    The big looming issue is the trial of Soldier F - the only living paratrooper being held responsible for the shooting dead of 13 Catholic civil rights protesters in Derry on 30 January 1972, by the 1st battalion of the Parachute Regiment.  Their live rounds wounded 26 others, one of whom died later.

    Was this clever timing on Mercer’s part?  Or quite the opposite?  Because just the night before, while everyone was talking about football thanks to the Superleague scandal, BBC2 broadcast a documentary about Derry City Football Club.

    And there it was, in full colour, to give context to the history of this unique club: the brutal footage of what the British army did that day.  You saw the blood of young, unarmed civilians staining the street red.

    The film recalled the real cause of the so-called “Troubles”.  The denial of the right to vote in local elections to 80% of the Catholic poor, rooted in discrimination against them in all walks of life, in a rigged unionist state.

    And “unionist”, as the recent riots this Easter reminded everyone, means keeping Northern Ireland’s union with Britain, against reunion with the rest of Ireland.  This film showed, however, that in 1985, Derry City Football Club, as part of the Irish League, de facto rubbed out the border with the South - at least as far as football was concerned!

    That said, it’s not for nothing that the Catholic citizens of Britain’s oldest colony sought common cause with black civil rights protesters in the USA in the 1960s and 1970s.  Or that these two “common causes” remain unresolved up until today.

    Just as the reasons for George Floyd’s murder are not sorted by the trial of a single white cop, so the legacy of Ireland’s sectarian divisions will not be sorted by trying single British soldiers 50 years after the event.  Mercer, who is a reactionary and has dubious motives, is right, but for the wrong reasons.  Who gave the orders?  Who sent the troops into Ireland?  Who maintains this divided state?

    Holding to account those who are responsible will not be achieved through the same system whose laws gave the perpetrators permission to kill in the first place.  That system has to be overthrown.  There is no other way to achieve permanent change.  And that will only be possible through the action of a united working class, across today’s borders and across all racial, ethnic, and religious divisions.