Mickey Blue Eyes...
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Mickey Blue Eyes.


"Cui Bono?" (Translated: To whose profit?)

CICERO (106-43 BC), 'Pro Roscio Amerino', chapter 84, quoting L. Cassius Longinus Ravilla.


"If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich."

JOHN F. KENNEDY (1917-1963), 35th US President, inaugural speech, January 1961. Assassinated November 1963.


 The money powers prey upon the nation in times of peace and conspire against it in times of adversity. It is more despotic than a monarchy, more insolent than autocracy and more selfish than a bureaucracy. It denounces, as public enemies, all who question its methods or throw light upon its crimes. I have two great enemies, the Southern Army in front of me and the bankers in the rear. Of the two, the one at the rear is my greatest foe.

ABRAHAM LINCOLN (1809-1865), 16th US president. Assassinated April, 1865.


If you are the kind of footy fan who says, understandably, "Look, I just go the game for a bit of leisure, pay at the gate, and then go home and forget about it," then go no further reading this polemic and its end notes. Probably you are more suited to the status quo or power-dozing. In which case, quite rightly, this will be of no interest to you. Go watch Strictly Come Dancing or Coronation Street or read the Bootle Times or the Daily Mail or take a Prozac.


Meanwhile, those who stay have a football problem, like it or not. Yes, you have a football problem. So do I. So does everyone else connected with the game, be it owner, player, administrator, employee or supporter. The problem is, loving the game as we do, how do we tackle the obvious economic problems of football? Now of course there is no such thing as a perfect system, a football Utopia. There never has been and there never will be. So let's get that notion out of the way before it sprouts limbs and a head in the manner of Sun-style newspaper propaganda. However, things can change and improve. The problem is man-made and therefore can be put right in the same way it was created. There is no need for dismay.


The basic problem of football is three-layered: What is profit? Who gets it? And democratically who controls who gets it? There is no escape from these questions, though many try to ignore them and wish they would merely vaporize. This is a thin hope because we live under a system whose self-appointed high priests claim profit = economic efficiency.[1] The questions will press on you sooner or later, in one form or another. There is no escape in football or anywhere else, including your place of work. But for present purposes let's stick with footy.


In football you do not have to look very far to see examples of what happens when illusion gets in the way of reality and profiteering. You need only look across the width of Stanley Park, or indeed at any football club. Football and profits have made a witches' brew as unstable as nitro-glycerine. And now added to the mix is UEFA's revised Club Licensing and Fair Play Regulations 2010 for clubs wishing to take part in their club competitions.[2] Superficially, the intention is honourable enough: to produce a level financial playing field and force clubs to live within their means. And who could oppose it after the flood of bankruptcies and legalised large and small shares scams that have scarred the game for decades - not just recently. But does the UEFA scheme go far enough? We shall see.


First, consider the notion of "profit." It need not detain us too long if we dismiss self-serving micro-accountancy, legal and economics jargon. It means the cash surplus left after all debts, taxes and costs are paid.  In other words, money that is left over for free use. (Yes, yes, there are many weasel words and wriggly definitions employed by right-wing sophists[3], but we merely need to use our common sense). The issue then becomes what to do with the profit. This in turn raises further unavoidable moral and practical social issues. If you believe the Objectivists[4], Friedmanites[5] and "Gordon Gekkos"[6] of this world - the so-called "free marketeers" presently in control - its use has nothing to do with you if you don't own any private or public stock exchange shares. According to them, all that matters is self-interested greed, so shareholders trouser the money and that is the only real politik. Everything else is immaterial, including you as a non-shareholder. If you don't like it you have to lump it and take your interest and your ball elsewhere. Under this system, paying your entrance fee merely entitles you to sit, watch and shout for the duration of a game, nothing more. You have no other rights in football and in truth never have had. Many years ago some grounds even carried signs reading, "No money returned in the event of bad weather."  If a game is abandoned you are still not entitled to recompense. So far as I know, nobody has ever challenged this in law.


If you want to try to affect matters your only practical recourse in one-dimensional "free market" theory is to stop going to football matches. You must then hope revenues diminish enough to cause a rethink by the owners. Of course that indolent viewpoint assumes the rethink will go in favour of the non-matchgoer, a highly unlikely outcome. Much more likely is decline of the club, maybe even its demise and sell off at a large or small profit depending on ruling economic conditions. Even then non-matchgoers are a tiny voice amongst many thousands who won't stop going. Gates may or may not reduce but the game will still be immensely popular. And no committed supporter is going to take seriously the views of a mere absentee mitherer who sounds like something out of East Enders or a sort of motley contemporary version of the Copperheads.[7]


All of which brings us to......Ah, yes, .Adam Smith's two hundred years old withered "invisible hand," in which he claimed competing self-interests find a balance. Somehow, said Adam, everything will be alright; all you have to do is pay up or not.[8] But to say dear Adam's notion is an outdated base crudity is putting it mildly. Well, if you believe UEFA's revised regulations that kind of simple-mindedness doesn't "somehow" improve matters. You have to take action to achieve improvement, which requires a good deal more than simply withdrawing financial support: you have to think. You have to understand you will be up against monopoly-owned media and academia bought and paid for by the establishment. You are in relatively the same position as the labour movement of a hundred years ago. There are no shortcuts, no miracles. If you wish the sport to change you have to define and argue your definition of fairness and then try to gain a majority consensus. It isn't just about price and value, it is mostly about power.


It goes without saying the established interest, whatever and whoever it is, will always defend itself vigorously. It also goes without saying the establishment will write and implement laws to suit its own interests. You have to prepare accordingly or you will simply be annihilated in debate and in legal dispute. In other words, you will lose. Dear old Adam's notion might have worked after some tiny fashion at the dawn of capitalism and in the local cattle market, but once organised industrialization and mass production got under way it became as practical as a paper road bridge.


So if you require "fairness" you will have to define it before you can establish it. Then you have to put it into operation. Then you have to protect it against corruption, an ever present danger in any form of human organisation. Presumably this will entail an understanding of individual and collective liberty and justice. You have to describe a set of values, which is where it gets complicated. So, what to you is "fairness" in football?


If you are of an Adam Smith mentality you will insist that all your club needs is more money put through the existing system, more trophies will be won and more profit made and everything will be alright. "Fairness" doesn't enter into it; in which case you have largely abandoned your right to complain about bankruptcies, unequal competition, overpaid players and playing standards. You will have no set of values apart from profit. And profit knows no goal other than more profit. It cannot exist without this fundamental motive. If you insist on financial regulation then by definition you are not a "free marketeer." In reality of course all markets are rigged. In a democracy markets are rigged to suit the ruling consensus. This was how, for instance, the National Health system was introduced in Britain[9] - at the time the market was public good, not private greed - and how, for an alternative instance, a disgusting[10] private health system is imposed in the USA. Unchecked, if the British establishment has their way let there be no doubt we also will be subject to the edifying sight of a privatised ambulance crew searching a prone street casualty for credit cards.


But what does "community ownership" mean? More to the point, how do you define it? You can start by looking at available public[11] and private[12] resources and go from there to suit yourself. It can be a long, lonely road. Every social gain during the last hundred years has been made in the teeth of violent resistance by an establishment hell-bent on keeping its strangle hold on society. The gains were made nevertheless. Each time it was made harder for the establishment to claw back, though government actions since 1979 show they never cease trying. So if you genuinely believe in community ownership you have a long struggle ahead of you. In football you run the risk of your club going out of existence. For under present circumstances would you really expect the international banking system to tolerate a leading English club going into authentic community ownership and making a success of it? More likely such a solo attempt would be slowly choked to death in the fashion of KME[13], a wonderful pioneering effort amongst others in the 1970s that terrified the establishment and which it never forgot or forgave; the result was the most squalid right-wing politics in living memory[14]. Against that, the less alternative allowed, the more desperate they make people, the greater the likelihood of widespread action whatever the consequences. As the successful Poll Tax revolt showed, if you force enough people into a corner they will come out fighting eventually.


In football the supplementary questions are these - Which leading club's fans will be the first to run the risk? In military parlance, who will be first to lie on the barbed wire? Who will go beyond mere street demonstrations to change private owners instead of change to community ownership? Will fans dissatisfaction develop into something more organised and intelligent, or will it stick in its present low, moaning, cathartic ale-house whinge?


As matters stand I think we are a long, long way from the kind of fundamental community ownership this fan would like to see. Understandably, football is way down the list of priorities for most people trying to make a life in an iniquitous, evil and unjust economic system. Circumstances may make it otherwise but somehow I doubt it. Making a decent life for one's family will always relegate football and sport generally to the back of the queue. The chances of the two coming together are infinitesimal, though of course nothing is impossible in human affairs. Sometimes events accumulate and achieve a sort of spontaneous social combustion. But it almost always takes a catastrophe to get grudging change out of the establishment, as the Chilean miners rescue showed[15]. Football is no different.


The future is in the hands of the fans. Sadly, they haven't yet realised it.


[1] http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1468-0270.1985.tb01728.x/abstract


[3] http://ingrimayne.com/econ/MakeProfit/Profit.html

[4] http://www.aynrand.org/site/PageServer?pagename=objectivism_intro

[5] http://online.wsj.com/article/SB121918987389555029.html

[6] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7upG01-XWbY

[7] http://www.barrypopik.com/index.php/new_york_city/entry/copperhead_civil_war_nickname/

[8] http://plus.maths.org/issue14/features/smith/

[9] http://www.newstatesman.com/200408230014

[10] http://fora.tv/2010/03/03/Sick_and_Tired_How_Americas_Health_System_Fails_Patients#chapter_05

[11] http://www.communities.gov.uk/documents/localgovernment/pdf/144878.pdf

[12] http://www.jrf.org.uk/publications/community-ownership-and-management-assets

[13] http://www.clickliverpool.com/news/local-news/127196-liverpool-mourns-firebrand-union-leader-jack-spriggs.html

[14] http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1979/feb/19/kirkby-manufacturing-and-engineering

[15] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-11518015

Some years ago, the Prime Minister at the time (Ted Heath) branded Lonrho (a large UK based trading company) and its CEO Tiny Rowlands the unacceptable face of capitalism. I think the Premier League in UK has become the new unacceptable face of capitalism. Adam Smith cannot be blamed for this state of affairs. Like it or not, the Premier League has become a victim of its own success. In connection with Sky and other mass media channels, the Premier League has moved football in towards big business. This means that the rich get richer and the also-rans stay as also-rans. Measures are required to level the playing field and to keep it level. Success for most Premier League clubs now is either escaping relegation or finishing as "best of the rest". Only those clubs who have been able to buy success (Chelsea and Man City) have realistic chances of claiming the big prizes. Others (like Liverpool, Man U and Arsenal) are trying by whatever means to hang on. The rest have no chance. This "big business" approach is also causing issues with teams from lower leagues. Traditionally, smaller clubs feed bigger ones. Now, big clubs raid other big clubs for talent. They also look at overseas clubs as being a source of foreign talent. A source of revenue enjoyed by smaller clubs is drying up. The last point is that the clubs with sugar daddies no longer need a youth structure. Everton appears to be only Premier League club now with a vibrant and productive youth system. The combination of this and the demise of lower league feeder clubs also has impact on the UK's international teams. As long as the current situation continues, our national teams will have little or no success. UEFA action would be good to level things up a bit. But the FA needs to act, together with their Welsh, Irish and Scottish counterparts.
Chris, Taiwan, 4:14 AM 28/10/2010
Maybe if somone is going to "lie on the wire" it should be that lot across the park as if it all went wrong they wouldn't be missed!
kevan, liverpool, 5:41 PM 27/10/2010
"Viva la revolution.." if only..
Big H, Birkenhead, 12:54 PM 27/10/2010
The uefa rules will take a couple of years to have affect. The big clubs will still have big gates so they'll still have more money. I reckon one of the important matters is TV money, it should be put in a pot and shared out equally, and every club should get equal exposure during the season. All clubs benefit from TV exposure and should get the same.
Paul, Warrington, 11:49 AM 27/10/2010
Been a blue all my life (48 years old now)... seen great, then good then mediocre then great again then really poor then back to mediocre and not too bad...which is where we sit now. as a kid I remember the mersey millionaire's tag even if I didnt really grasp it and as the years rolled on got an understanding of how the wealthy and illustrious, Moores, Edwards etc indulged their dreams and pleasures through football. The game has never changed, all that has changed is the numbers, I recall Everton and Arsenal continually breaking transfer records for a long period between them, Ball , Latchford etc etc etc. the main change is that the players now get a huge slice of the pie but then again, why not? They are the show, its not Bill Kenwright or the Glazers that attract 1 billion plus pay per view customers in the far east for Sky tv and even at the equivalent of £1 per customer, 2 matches sees the Sky deal well and truly paid for every 3 years. There have always been the money clubs, the media has made the game global and the noteriety has made the players global stars, its show-business, nothing more nothing less. I can't see Warner's or Universal Pictures allowing a community ownership, yet billions turn out to watch their product and follow them religiously.. its just the same here. Unlucky for us, we missed out on the money this time around... just enjoy the game and dont worry about it!
mike, l, 11:35 AM 27/10/2010
I think you've been a bit hard on Adam Smith - it's not his fault that the 'free marketeer right wing hands off brigade' have used his theories in a pejorative fashion. What we are seeing in football are the successes and the iniquities of a particular brand of extreme fundamentalist capitalism writ large and exaggerated. This sort of capitalism doesn't really solve problems - it just moves them somewhere else and if you are a 'winner' you win big... for a while. So you have the situation where in the most successful league of the most successful game on the planet, the leading clubs operate on the brink of bankruptcy despite the supporters being fleeced thrice over (Rising ticket prices; cost of viewing the game on the telly; subsidising corporate junkets). The 'sugar daddy' route is a way to the top - the problem with sugar daddies is they often love em and leave em. So, as a supporter what do you do to change things? Well, you can lobby for change; band together with other like minded individuals; form interest groups. Personally speaking after a 70hr working week I haven't the time nor the inclination - even though football is my great escape. I'd much rather spend my non work based energies defending something more worthwhile like the NHS or Education. (PS I can't stand X factory, dancing in the big brother house on ice or any other reality TV shite)
Kev S, Northumberland, 11:00 AM 27/10/2010
I think you have set out very clearly what the problems are, with great clarity and eloquence and more in-depth than I was aware of before (although I couldn't get my head around all of it). To be honest though, I would have liked to have seen you take this article further with ruminations on what could possibly be done to address the problem. But maybe that's a whole 'nother article..?
Toby, Nottingham, 9:51 AM 27/10/2010
Makes perfect sense to me , keep it going MBE. There is no level playing field now as any old football fan will know.
pete, north wales, 9:20 AM 27/10/2010
Steve, Basically, MBE is saying that as most fans have more immediate concerns football will remain in the control of private owners. Also, that any attempt to take a major club into co-operative ownership would be fiercely resisted by the establishment. Personally, I think history demonstrates that you never know; eg the Berlin Wall 1989 and Russia, October 1917 both of which spontaneous events.
bill, huyton, 12:02 AM 27/10/2010
Well said Steve, its not for us, its written so every clown with an intelligence ego can appreciate the literacy brilliance of crusty. its also called insecurity, 'look how great i can write'
paddy, dublin, 10:51 PM 26/10/2010
I Second that Emotion or maybe its Tears of a Clown. Bon appetit mbe, your words would make a 5 star meal.
glen , winsford, 6:52 PM 26/10/2010
Someone please translate the latest MBE text. I am not an English professor or a lawyer. I cannot be arsed looking up every other word from a dictionary. Please try and keep it simple for simple people like me.
Steve Enty, Winsford, 4:29 PM 26/10/2010
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