Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
A butcher, a baker, a candlestick-maker: local businessmen out to make a bit of a name for themselves were traditionally the owners of league football clubs. Sure, they were sometimes a bit crooked in their intentions, but at least they were our crooks. With roots in their communities, they owed a degree of loyalty to the club, its fans and traditions – and failing that were vulnerable to popular pressure.
The game’s appeal is rooted in its easy accessibility and the passion of fandom. But the relentless drift of modern football could overwhelm both these factors. The top division once had an era of unpredictability – Manchester United and Chelsea could get relegated, for goodness sake – but since 1995 the league title has only been won by Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal. The ‘best league in the world’? A better description would be the most overpaid and predictable.
After the last minute shock as the early season transfer window slammed shut, Manchester City now find themselves taking the place of Chelsea as modern football’s whipping boys for all that’s wrong in the game. The morality behind the club’s former ownership by an ex-prime minister of Thailand, who was on trial for corruption and subject to well-founded charges of human rights abuses, was neatly summed up Manchester City chief executive Garry Crook: ‘Is he a nice guy? Yes. Is he a great guy to play golf with? Yes. Does he have plenty of money to run a football club? Yes. I really care only about those three things.’ Now there is another new owner, and the Thai millions available to the club to spend have suddenly multiplied into Abu Dhabi billions.
Is this what football has come to? A plaything of the global rich, hopping from one club, sport or continent to the next in their search for brand awareness and tax-deductible losses? Complete with a brief flurry of badge-kissing to bestow some authenticity on their investment, deep pockets for the manager to plunder, and, if they’re lucky, some silverware to add some glory and prestige to their otherwise low profile outside the closed world of the international mega-rich.
It began with the rebranding. No longer satisfied with a first division, we now have a ludicrous Premiership, Championship, Leagues One and Two. Presumably ‘Division Two’ doesn’t sound good enough to attract the necessary corporate sponsorship and advertising revenue. Then legendary Celtic manager Jock Stein’s maxim, ‘Football without fans is nothing’, was sacrificed by forcing kick-off times and days to match the needs of television programming – the channels were saturated with football every night of the week, with three or four matches on a Saturday and Sunday.
Clubs knocked down historic grounds, built magnificent new ones and promptly named them after brands of crisps and airlines. The core of our teams, once scouted from local schools and parks and happy enough to stick at the one club for the best part of their career, were replaced by players bought and sold with the flash of a £100,000-a-week salary cheque and a chance of a shot at greater glory.
That glory is increasingly defined by, and restricted to, the Champions League, which, with four guaranteed places from the English premiership, has not only delivered a near impregnable predictability but also destroyed the finest cup competition in the world, the European Cup. The unpredictability of the European Cup’s knockout format threatened the market share of advertising and sponsorship revenue of the biggest clubs, who in turn forced the change to the easier to qualify for – and survive in – Champions (and rich runners-up) League format.
Against modern football? What this version of money-driven change is creating is a breakdown in the loyalty and passion that underpins football. It won’t disappear overnight of course, and it might take new forms, but the sport that was once proud to call itself ‘the people’s game’ is in danger of becoming more concerned with us sitting down than with what football once stood for.
Mark Perryman is a research fellow in sport and leisure culture at the University of Brighton. The ‘Against Mod£rn Football’ t-shirt (pictured left) is available from www.philosophyfootball.com
The Spanish state is seizing ballot papers and raiding meetings, write Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte – but it is being met with united resistance
The crunch executive meeting ahead of Labour conference agreed some welcome changes, writes Michael Calderbank, but there is still much further to go
Dipesh Pandya speaks to documentary film-maker Sanjay Kak, who for 30 years has been working outside the mainstream to tell a story rooted in the struggles of those excluded by India’s militarism and its narrative of neoliberal growth
Jeremy Gilbert on how radical Labour politics can be inspired by the utopianism of the counterculture
Disasters have unequal impacts – it's the poor and marginalised who suffer most. David Harvey writes on Hurricane Harvey
Survivors of the fire are still relying on thousands of community volunteers, writes Dan Renwick - but the failed council is plotting a comeback
What if it's not us who are sick, asks Rod Tweedy, but a system at odds with who we are as social beings?
The people could reach a democratic and non-violent solution if they were freed from US meddling, argues Boaventura de Sousa Santos
A decade after the start of the crash, economic power is in our hands – we must take it, writes Ann Pettifor
Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power
What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains
The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme
Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it
The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going
A very social economist
Hilary Wainwright says the ideas of Robin Murray, who died in June, offer a practical alternative to neoliberalism
Art the Arms Fair: making art not war
Amy Corcoran on organising artistic resistance to the weapons dealers’ London showcase
Beware the automated landlord
Tenants of the automated landlord are effectively paying two rents: one in money, the other in information for data harvesting, writes Desiree Fields
Black Journalism Fund – Open Editorial Meeting
3-5pm Saturday 23rd September at The World Transformed in Brighton
Immigration detention: How the government is breaking its own rules
Detention is being used to punish ex-prisoners all over again, writes Annahita Moradi
A better way to regenerate a community
Gilbert Jassey describes a pioneering project that is bringing migrants and local people together to repopulate a village in rural Spain
Fast food workers stand up for themselves and #McStrike – we’re loving it!
McDonald's workers are striking for the first time ever in Britain, reports Michael Calderbank
Two years of broken promises: how the UK has failed refugees
Stefan Schmid investigates the ways Syrian refugees have been treated since the media spotlight faded
West Papua’s silent genocide
The brutal occupation of West Papua is under-reported - but UK and US corporations are profiting from the violence, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
Activate, the new ‘Tory Momentum’, is 100% astroturf
The Conservatives’ effort at a grassroots youth movement is embarrassingly inept, writes Samantha Stevens
Peer-to-peer production and the partner state
Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis argue that we need to move to a commons-centric society – with a state fit for the digital age
Imagining a future free of oppression
Writer, artist and organiser Ama Josephine Budge says holding on to our imagination of tomorrow helps create a different understanding today
The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics
Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.
Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making
Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show
The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services
With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas
Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world
A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle
Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune
Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali
To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi
Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun