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
What if it's not us who are sick, asks Rod Tweedy, but a system at odds with who we are as social beings?
Survivors of the fire are still relying on thousands of community volunteers, writes Dan Renwick - but the failed council is plotting a comeback
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
Nick Dowson looks at the new wave of co-ops and community groups where people are building their own truly affordable homes
Hsiao-Hung Pai meets people affected by the fire, and finds sadness and suffering mixed with a continuing wariness of the official investigations
Chris Williamson MP, winner of the election's tightest marginal, Derby North, and recently reappointed shadow minister for fire services, talks to Ashish Ghadiali about Jeremy Corbyn, the housing crisis and winning from the left
The Corbyn-supporting group is preparing for another election at any moment, writes Adam Peggs – and now has the potential to create powerful training initiatives, union links and party reform efforts
’We believe in you. We are with you. We will never forget.’ Grenfell solidarity sweeps East London in mass banner drops from housing estates
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
Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh
With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, by Shashi Tharoor, reviewed by Ian Sinclair
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour: Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder, by Grace A Musila, reviewed by Allen Oarbrook
‘We remembered that convictions can inspire and motivate people’: interview with Lisa Nandy MP
The general election changed the rules, but there are still tricky issues for Labour to face, Lisa Nandy tells Ashish Ghadiali
Everything you know about Ebola is wrong
Vicky Crowcroft reviews Ebola: How a People’s Science Helped End an Epidemic, by Paul Richards
Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for an online editor
Closing date for applications: 1 September.
Theresa May’s new porn law is ridiculous – but dangerous
The law is almost impossible to enforce, argues Lily Sheehan, but it could still set a bad precedent
Interview: Queer British Art
James O'Nions talks to author Alex Pilcher about the Tate’s Queer British Art exhibition and her book A Queer Little History of Art
Cable the enabler: new Lib Dem leader shows a party in crisis
Vince Cable's stale politics and collusion with the Conservatives belong in the dustbin of history, writes Adam Peggs
Anti-Corbyn groupthink and the media: how pundits called the election so wrong
Reporting based on the current consensus will always vastly underestimate the possibility of change, argues James Fox
Michael Cashman: Commander of the Blairite Empire
Lord Cashman, a candidate in Labour’s internal elections, claims to stand for Labour’s grassroots members. He is a phony, writes Cathy Cole
Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part
Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper
Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s
Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach
Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.
Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite
Power to the renters: Turning the tide on our broken housing system
Heather Kennedy, from the Renters Power Project, argues it’s time to reject Thatcher’s dream of a 'property-owning democracy' and build renters' power instead
Your vote can help Corbyn supporters win these vital Labour Party positions
Left candidate Seema Chandwani speaks to Red Pepper ahead of ballot papers going out to all members for a crucial Labour committee
Join the Rolling Resistance to the frackers
Al Wilson invites you to take part in a month of anti-fracking action in Lancashire with Reclaim the Power
The Grenfell public inquiry must listen to the residents who have been ignored for so long
Councils handed housing over to obscure, unaccountable organisations, writes Anna Minton – now we must hear the voices they silenced
India: Modi’s ‘development model’ is built on violence and theft from the poorest
Development in India is at the expense of minorities and the poor, writes Gargi Battacharya
North Korea is just the start of potentially deadly tensions between the US and China
US-China relations have taken on a disturbing new dimension under Donald Trump, writes Dorothy Guerrero