The Passion of the Working Class

So who’s looking forward to the start of the footy season?

Me? You? Rupert Murdoch?

All about Football

By Pam

There’s nothing wrong with playing football. These days it’s a treat to see youngsters kicking a football around the park, exercising their cardio-vascular systems, and moving away from the unhealthy isolation of all day electronic interaction. There’s a lot to cherish, the fresh air, social contacts, the wisdom of learning to accept defeat, but to know that the game was worthwhile, and that you had a good time. None of that you would say was a bad thing. These days, girls are joining in more, refusing to accept the idea of, “It’s a man’s game!” So all is pretty good really. Now, I enjoy watching football. My “own team”, Aston Villa, ironically also reputedly followed by David Cameron and Prince William, was founded in 1874, one cold winter evening in Villa Cross, where the gas lights flickered outside a Wesleyan Chapel while a few huddled around a table.

Founded in Aston in 1874, the club is now one of the most successful in the current English league with 20 titles to their credit, including seven league titles and seven FA Cups. Aston Villa are noted to be the the ones who came up with the idea for the Football League, William McGregor, a director of the club was the person who pionered the format that became the corner stone of the modern game. Football became a professional sport in the summer of 1885 with the very first league being contested in 1888 by just 12 clubs.

The Founders of The Football League

*Accrington(folded 1896), Aston Villa, Blackburn, Bolton, Burnley, Derby, Everton, Notts. County, Preston North End, Stoke, West Bromwich Albion, Wolverhampton Wanderers.

* Accrington FC: (not to be confused with Accrington Stanley)

“Alongside the twelve teams of the Football League, stood the twelve clubs of the rival football association—the Football Alliance. It was created a year later and run along side the Football league for three seasons before it was decided that the two separate associations would merge to create two divisions contended by the clubs.”

The Founders of The Football Alliance

Ardwick (Man City), Birmingham St. George (Disbanded 1892), Bootle (Dropped out), Burton Swifts (Folded 1910), Crewe Alexandra, Darwen, Grimsby Town, Lincoln City, Long Eaton Rangers, Newton Heath (Man United), Nottingham Forest, The Wednesday (Sheffield Wednesday), Small Heath (Birmingham City), Stoke, Sunderland Albion (Disbanded), Walsall Town Swifts (Walsall FC.)” (1)

from 2008

 

For Villa fans, at least, this is now a famous story as the history of football was written. The truth was, that football offered an opportunity for young working class men to enjoy camaraderie and for some, to escape from awful living conditions, the back-to-backs which prevailed in Victorian inner city Birmingham. There’s nothing wrong with football. For the fans following the fortunes of their club be it Aston Villa, or any other club such as Manchester United or Torquay United, and cheering them along – there’s nothing wrong with that, at all. For many it has been something to look forward to on a Saturday afternoon, a relief from the monotony, the toil and filth of the factory. A working man’s game. This is why football always used to be regarding as a working class game, in comparison to tennis, or cricket. This is the passion of the working class. The excitement of anticipation of a possible good cup run is the highlight of so many lives, even now. There might be a cup of Bovril needed to warm the hands on a January third round match, before the caterers moved in and prices started to go up.

Some may say that those days of deprivation are long gone. But these inner city areas still have the highest levels of child poverty in the country. The chances are slim for these children ever being able to afford a ticket to go to see a match, to afford the cost of purchasing any of the astronomically priced football shirts with some company’s name blazoned across the front. It seems to wear such a shirt is now essential, where a hand-knitted scarf or bobble hat, lovingly knitted by family members and proudly worn used to be enough to show you belonged. There is no chance for many parents of children living these inner city areas being able to afford a subscription for satellite television. The Manchester Evening News reports here that in February 2011 in Manchester, child poverty is higher than anywhere else in the country. (4) The Birmingham Post (5) reported in March 2011 that Birmingham Ladywood remains in the top ten areas for Child Poverty adding areas in London, Manchester and Liverpool. The Birmingham Mail (6)shows that in Aston 52% of children are living in poverty.

“Child poverty is defined as households living on £11 or less per day per family member” after housing costs are taken into account.”

Research was carried out by Barrow Cadbury about “Why Neighbourhood’s Stay Poor” .,WDNSP_Final_report (7)

“The fact that different regeneration initiatives have not produced major adjustments in the relative position and hierarchy of neighbourhoods is striking. It is, however, not surprising when the findings on housing and mobility are considered: differentiation of neighbourhoods is to be expected where income determines where one can live. An unequal society is likely to produce spatial polarisation, as the better-off pay more to live in more ‘desirable’ areas. This is not to suggest that area regeneration, involving both social and economic investment, and, where necessary, physical improvements to housing and infrastructure, should be abandoned. However, it does suggest that we should not rely on regeneration to ‘transform’ areas, but also look at how core public resources are allocated to ensure that they are commensurate with varying levels of need and deprivation in different neighbourhoods. Even though inequalities might persist, people of all backgrounds, in Birmingham and beyond, might be assured of the quality of life and range of opportunities to which they might reasonably aspire.”

8. ONS April 2011

It is the ultimate irony that the four football clubs who have had the greatest success in footballing terms, the four winners of the European Cup, are based in areas which still have high levels of inner city poverty, where young people are leaving school with no qualifications and poor job prospects. There is a clear correlation between lack of qualifications in school leavers and economic inactivity.

The Obscenity of Profits from Football

The football teams, which emerged from these working class areas, have now been bought up by rich people around the world as businesses. These companies make massive profits. Many of these will not be paying taxes to provide for affordable housing, a quality education or for a health service to benefit the lives of these children so that they can have better lives. In the article on July 20th from Daily Finance by Martin Cloake, it is reported that Bryan Robson was filmed giving advice on how to buy a football club.”(2)

“Robson says: “I disagree with people when they say football is a sport. Football lost its sporting thing when the money started coming in and Sky and all that. Football’s a business.” Last year a report by Christian Aid, backed by the Football Supporters Federation and Supporters Direct, found 25, English clubs registered in tax havens including 15 in the Premier League, were based offshore.This report, ‘Blowing the whistle” by Christian Aid, (3.) (read here: blowing-the-whistle-caweek-report ) asks, “Who really owns our clubs?” “Finding out who owns a football club should be straightforward”. But by registering in secrecy jurisdictions many clubs ensure that it is anything but simple. Calls for greater corporate transparency in the wider world are growing, and in football it should be no different.” (2)

There is little chance therefore that taxes from football return to support those in inner cities where the matches are played.

Those profits will be hoarded away for the very rich in their off shore financial centres. They say tax avoidance is legal. Well no-one knows the laws of these city states, which vary so much, the mega-rich get away with it amongst all the confusion. Legal maybe, moral? Not at all.

Many of the owners know nothing of the cities from which they make their money. They know nothing of the passion that supporters have had for their clubs. Let’s consider Manchester United. Shares in this club were “bought” by the Glazer family in 2003 and in 2005, finally getting control of the club. To the ordinary fans, this was very unpopular. Some were so angered by the capitalization of their club they even set up their own alternative football club. The money derived from the sales of the shirts and the TV rights goes to serve to pay the debts of more than a million pounds thanks to the American owners. The global profile of a club like Manchester United made it rich pickings for such profiteering.

Manchester United is the most valuable sports franchise in the world and has a large following across Asia, meaning that listing in Hong Kong could make a rather large increase in the valuation. The Glazer family paid just £790 million for the club in 2005 and have loaded their own personal debt onto the club ever since. The English Premier League generates more money in TV revenue and merchandise across the globe than any other top division. TV revenue in the Premier League is much higher than their competitors’ with the 20th-placed (last place) team earning more money a season through TV rights than third place in Spain’s La Liga. Manchester United are the highest operating profit makers in the Premier League with 300 million fans worldwide. The club, therefore, makes around £300 million a year in revenue, but due to interest payments taken out by the American owners, they still make a yearly loss. Last season, the club made a ridiculous loss of around £80 million despite incredible success both on and off the field. Recent Hong Kong stock exchange floats, Samsonite and Prada, have reportedly made the Florida-based owners extremely interested after discussions with investment banks. An initial public offering for the club is set to be made in Asia, but the owners should be considering listing in London in order to allow fans to share in the ownership of the club, an argument supported by the Manchester United Supporter’s Trust (MUST). (9)

But the club apparently was happy to pursue the capitalization of the football game prior to this as: (10) “In the 1990s, Manchester United was the first to promote its jersey sales beyond Manchester and England. It started offering supporters various insurance products, home mortgages, credit cards and consumer loans, along with scarves, tea cups, bed sheets and other branded retail knick-knacks. It was one of the first soccer clubs to be listed on the public stock exchange in 1990. It also pioneered pre-season world tours to Asia and eventually to America in an effort to enhance its brand and worldwide appeal. The business model followed the success of the team on the pitch. Ferguson took over a listless club in 1986 at a time when Liverpool dominated English soccer. But by the early ’90s, Ferguson had turned the teams and was winning nearly countless trophies. He insisted his teams play attractive, attacking soccer.” This was the beginning of the change to football to commercialisation. Better quality stadiums needed to be built following the awful events of Hillsborough, on April 15th 1989, when 96 people tragically died. This tragedy was avoidable, and unforgiveable. It was clear then, and is now that some things needed to change. (Hillsborough) None of us will forget the front pages of the tabloids, and the disgusting behaviour of the press. In Bradford on 11 May 1985, 56 people lost their lives when fire engulfed the antiquitated stand. It is clear that there should be investment made in public buildings to ensure crowd safety, and laws and fire checks should have been made accordingly. No one can deny watching football is safer and more comfortable today but that is no justification for ticket prices. Prior to the Hillsborough tragedy, football crowds were backed tightly in crowds, herded and treated like animals. Football fans will all remember times while a goal being scored would cause a surge forward. I can remember being pushed along by a crowd, sandwiched as my feet were not even touching the ground, but no one thought it unusual. They were only football fans, after all. And who cared about them until it was realised there was money to be made? Such is the passion for football for the working classes, such an anaesthetic from every day life, that this greedy world has changed a friendly game into a multi million pound industry. And still the fans sign up for their Sky subscriptions and season tickets. So strong are the passions for football from the working class. Every fan will have felt every emotion for their club from elation to despair, from the excitement of anticipation, to fear and dread. Their family of fans from their mutually supported club understands their predicament like no other. There used to be a day when communities were mutually supportive, when trade unionists stood together, where solidarity was the word of the day. Men and women stood up together for what was right, what was fair. And from Trade Unions grew The Labour Party, which brought about better pay, better conditions and a National Health Service. Where has the proud passion of the working class has gone? Some seem to feel shame to admit a working class background, they seem to fear to be classified as a working class “chav”. Thatcher promised everyone they could aspire to own their own homes. They could easily move away from the working classes and have a comfortable life. Forget the working classes, forget the shame! Maggie’s way was their future! The lie was convincing, the bankers profited. No such thing as society, Maggie, no solidarity and feeling of community and camaraderie? No working class passion? No Big Society?

Far too often people today live their lives feeling alone, struggling on without help, lonely and no longer sharing with their neighbours. Karl Marx famously once said, “Religion is the opiate of the masses. “ There may be truth in that. It may be true that football has had such a desensitizing effect on some of the working class in the past from harsh reality. The aspiration bubble burst for many, for others it was never even in reach.

Newly promoted QPR fans have been stunned to find the joy at promotion soon evaporate to realisation that ticked prices hike to up to £ 72 a match or the most expensive season tickets increase from £699 to £999. And what of the latest transfers? An Argentina international arrived in England last week to finalise a reported transfer for a reported £38m from Athletico Madrid to Manchester City. Thirty eight million pounds! To kick a football around? When we can’t afford teachers and doctors, or build hospitals and schools? The absurdity of such exploitation must not be tolerated and the working class passion will not allow it.

They used to say if you didn’t know the way to an away ground, “Follow the crowds!”… And then the punch line was, “I followed the crowds and ended up in Woolworths’” Well, we know what happened to Woolies…..

So yes, my answer will be: “I admit I am looking forward to the beginning of the football season, but not as much as I used to. It’s just not the same. There is a bitter taste in my mouth.”

QUOTES:

Football has gone global. If you’d told me 30 years ago that Brazilians would be playing in Moscow, I’d have said you were crazy. Now it’s the reality”. FRANZ BECKENBAUER , 2007

Footballers are the modern day gladiators.” GEORGIO ARMANI, 2003

I know more about football than politics.” HAROLD WILSON, MP, Labour Prime Minister, 1974

I thought the no 10, Whymark, played exceptionally well.” MARGARET THATCHER, MP, Conservative Prime Minister (Trevor Whymark was listed in the programme, but did not play).

There are more hooligans in the House of Commons than at a football match.” BRIAN CLOUGH, 1980

It’s an entertainment industry, for heaven’s sake, not life or death.” MATT LE TISSIER, 2002

Football is bankrupt without the TV deals. If the banks ever withdrew, you would see a bigger collapse than Black Monday.” SIR JOHN HALL, Newcastle Chairman, 1995

Someone asked me last week if I missed the Villa”. I said. “No. I live in one!” DAVID PLATT, 1991

There is nothing going on in the world at the moment that I find distressing or have a view on”. MICHAEL OWEN 1999

Premier League Football is a multi million pound industry with the aroma of a blocked toilet and the principles of a knocking shop.” MICHAEL PARKINSON, Daily Telegraph Column, 2003

“I’ve always been right of Centre (politically). Most footballers are.” When you’re told you go out and tear your opponents apart, it tends to make you right wing.” JIMMY GREAVES, 2003

Labour. Definitely. Aren’t all the players Labour?” STEVE PERRYMAN, 1972. (Only 2 turned out to be Labour, 9 were Conservatives)

“I’m no hero. Doctors and nurses are heroes. Surgeons , people like that. We had a real hero born right here in Stoke-on-Trent: Reginald Mitchell, who designed the Spitfire, He saved Britain. Now that’s what I call a hero.” SIR STANLEY MATTHEWS , 1995

“I’ve never voted anything but Labour in my life. And never will.” KEVIN KEEGAN, 1980.

“When socialists fall out, the Tories rejoice. When Sheffield Wednesday supporters fall out, the gods weep”. ROY HATTERSLEY, MP Lab, 2000

“What would you be if you weren’t a footballer?” Reply: “On the dole.” MARK FLATTS, 1993

“Anyone who has had to support the Labour Party these past five years knows what it’s like to be a West Ham fan. There’s a great similarity in the “Oh fucking hell,” head-in-hands response you have to what they do, the own goals and ridiculous defeats.” BILLY BRAGG, 1991

( From Phil Shaw, The Book of Football Quotations)

REFERENCES AND RECOMMENDED READING:

 

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3 thoughts on “The Passion of the Working Class

  1. Pingback: The Banks have Stolen Christmas. | Think Left

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