FOOTBALL AND GOVERNANCE
Mickey Blue Eyes
"ALICE: While you talk, he's gone!
MORE: And go he should if he was the devil himself until he broke the law!
ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of the law!
MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that!
MORE (roused and excited): Oh? (Advances on Roper.) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? (Leaves him.) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast - Man's laws, not God's - and if you cut them down - and you're just the man to do it - d'you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then. (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law for mine own safety's sake.
ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god.
MORE (wearily): Oh, Roper, you're a fool. God's my god...(Rather bitter.) But I find him rather too (very bitter) subtle...I don't know where he is nor what he wants.
ROPER: My god wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else!
MORE (dry): Are you sure that's God? - He sounds like Moloch....."
A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS, Act 1, a play by Robert Bolt (1960). Also a film by Fred Zinemann (1966).
"Yet he was right and they were wrong. Their virtues were their undoing. They expected reason to triumph. He knew that men love power above all else......Worst of all are the men of power who are missionaries as well."
A.J.P.TAYLOR, essay Economic Imperialism, 26th March 1955 in the New Statesman and Nation.
This opinion concerns administrative power in football and what effects a change in the system might have; it adds to previous opinions on administrative structure and ownership of clubs. But it is necessary to separate this from how the game is played, which is, after all, why we are supposedly obsessed with it, not the day-to-day financial and administration stuff. It is important too to ensure current opportunist and profiteering parts of the system do not claim credit for improvements in the spectacle and facilities. Both of these advances were made because of changes in the law, rules and regulations and had nothing to do with profiteering. They were democratic, social decisions. Money-making has simply leeched onto the back of the sport and sucked out profits from its popularity. Its propagators have given the game nothing. They deserve nothing. They are takers, not givers, and have driven the game to the edge of bankruptcy. However, if change is to mean anything it is the system which must be altered. In the long run merely changing owners only postpones the inevitable. The stark reality is that there are no simple and easy answers, not in this opinion or anywhere else. Anyone can be destructive or mischievous; construction requires more than a bilious or hating mindset.
Later, to further focus the argument, I will assume the Reformationsordnung has taken place, the economic Premier League College of Cardinals dissolved, and the parish priesthood of the Football League disbanded. And the question will be posed: what and who fills the vacuum? But of course this imaginary Damascene road will be a tricky one. Whether anybody wishes to travel it is a matter for them.
Moreover, it is impossible to consider all footy problems in minute detail in this kind of internet opinion. In any case I have posted in relatively more depth elsewhere, for which see
and its following two parts. Other articles also describe relevant organised supporters' options. This time around I make general observations on the implications of community ownership. Apart from that, I suggest interested supporters take a good long look at how and why the Germans have organised their club ownership model. It demonstrates clearly there is at least one viable non-profiteering alternative, that greed need not be the sole motivator. It would also help with some issues I can't cover here.
It would help too if we dismiss the idea of a football Utopia, for there is not and never can be any such thing. Any system will be riddled with human failings. The democratic idea, surely, is to minimise widespread effect of such failings. Few widespread social issues are merely black and white and easily resolved. Hence laws.
As background (even in the trivia of professional football), laws, rules and regulations are in place for a purpose, for protection of some kind. Generally, those who try to remove them only do so for their own monetary or power gain. This is why, for example, neo cons seek deregulation while whimpering their "entrepreneurship" is hindered by "red tape and bureaucracy." It isn't, of course. What they seek is profit without equitable responsibility. It is their greed which is hindered. But unrestricted greed merely creates more greed and always will. It is one-dimensional. It has no morals, no ethics and no code except maximum gain at the expense of everybody else, which is why it often hides behind the "respectability" of organised religion. But so also does power seek more power. All of which means you have to form your own definition of "profit" and "power" and ask, if it isn't just money gain then what gain is it and what is it for? This question is never starker than in professional sport. Football is merely the most popular.
Unrestrained, some people will push the law to the limit and break it if it suits them. The transnational banking scam has demonstrated this in the most immediate and profound manner. Anyone who still doesn't see the correlation hasn't been awake the last five years, and certainly hasn't consulted socioeconomic history of the last few hundred years. Therefore, ordinary logic says football supporters who want to see changes in the sport must determine how far and why they want change: What "profit" or "power" do they want? Then they must organise sufficient support. Then they must decide which laws and regulations they wish to change. Otherwise they will not be taken seriously and will be brushed aside by more powerful entrenched interests.
Example, if the Laws of the Game hadn't been conceived and implemented (http://www.fifa.com/mm/document/affederation/generic/81/42/36/lawsofthegame_2010_11_e.pdf) football might as well revert to hacking shins and brawling in a park, the way it was before codification brought it to widespread popularity. Extreme playing anarchy can be as ugly as any other form of raw power. Democratic laws are supposed to represent consensual opinion and are thus tolerated, though often disputed. In practice few humans want limits on their individual freedom, but are quite willing to see other individuals prevented from freely intervening in their affairs. In other words, what is "right" is always open to interpretation. This is how constitutional lawyers and philosophers make a living.
How individuals wish to affect the process of secular law-making is their free choice. Some are activists, most aren't, which is why a democratic society evolves by debate and precedent. At least that is the tidy theory. In reality the process is slow, muddle-headed and prone to mistake, foolishness, wrong-headedness and corruption. Occasionally, progress stops or even reverses to disastrous affect, as we have seen since current neo con kleptocracy re-emerged in the late 1970s. So much for background.
Of course professional football is no exception to this and must fit into society. The number of people who support it and the huge amount of money flowing through it makes it so. It can and does affect every level of our culture. Trivial as it is it represents tremendous economic and social power, which also tells us something about basic human behaviour. The worldwide sport employs and is watched and played by many millions, even billions, and in a moral democracy there is therefore a social responsibility (if the consensus wants it) to see all are treated equitably and money is not siphoned off to the profit and/or comfort of a few. The key word is "moral." If serious, you are required to define this in the same manner you define "profit" or "power."
At spectator level it is up to the fans whether they wish to be mere customer-consumers or supervisors. If the former, morality doesn't enter in to it since practical involvement starts at kick off and ends at the final whistle. All the rest is gossip. If the latter, a reasonable layman's knowledge of responsibilities, administration, laws and regulations is required; there can be no useful involvement without it. Nobody sensible is going to pay the slightest attention to a self-styled proposed supervisor full of empty platitudes and slogans and no aptitude or interest in the reality of dealing with other people and ideas. Anything else smacks of totalitarianism or pig-ignorance.
So, if you want in, get off your fat behind and get involved instead of sobbing into your Guinness sump, snorting a line of brain deadening powder, reading the Sun or the Daily Mail, or assuming that smashing a few windows or bleating insults represents a revolutionary act. And don't expect any acknowledgment or reward because the chances are there won't be any. There never is for those who do the necessary daily grind of administration. Those who do, do. Those who don't, carp like old women.
If you get involved the unavoidable question becomes: How do you want the game administered and governed? If you want the sport to change, then like amateur statesmen, you have not only to devise a policy. You must also consider how to carry it out. For instance it is absurd to assume people will "do what's right" simply because you consider it to be right......and if they don't, leave you wringing your hands in self-pity. For a start, there are differing opinions of what constitutes "right." You have to establish a consensus before you can move forward. Gossiping and hating like an owl ale-house shawly will only get you into the company of the maudlin figure at the end of the bar nursing a pint of paranoid resentment. Outside, you might even become a dupe of the Rupert Murdoch ultra right mentality. Behave like a red-faced BNP thug and you deserve all the contempt you get.
In recent years there has been enough general unhappiness on the issue for the Parliamentary Culture, Media and Sport Committee to begin a government inquiry in December 2010. Here is evidence submitted so far by interested organisations:
If you follow the links you can also view videos of some of the proceedings. Hysteria aside, it depends on what you think government and ownership (of anything) is for. Extrapolate further, and unavoidably you question the place of sport in society. You have opened a Pandora's Box of prejudices, tribalism and self-interest, and you can never close it again. You will have to deal with it one way or another.
So, what is the place of amateur and professional sport in society? If amateur and non-paid, we can reasonably assume those involved do it mainly for visceral love of the game - misbehaviour apart - and leave it at that. If professional, the issues are different and usually a good deal more selfish, though of course love of the sport enters into it even there too. Human feelings and motivation are never just cut and dried. But inevitably money changes and distorts perceptions and behaviour. In either case, sport, non-productive and trivial, is supposed to be a healthy leisure pursuit, a hobby, whether played or merely spectated........Isn't it?
Instead, in practice all too often it involves all the greed, weird obsessions and neuroses the species has evolved, some of them quite scary, deadly even. Occasionally the worst of them threatens to overwhelm common sense. At which point we try to re-cast the consensus, which is why the Parliamentary inquiry is sitting. But when it delivers its final report the government is not obliged to accept all or any of its recommendations. There is still a long way to go. Democracy can be a very slow process indeed. The paradox is, when change is decided it can be quite sudden and deep. Creation of the Premier League in 1992 was just such a moment, though that decision had little do with true democracy. It was made by a small group of men supported by like minded politicians and financial institutions. As we all know, the fans weren't consulted in any meaningful fashion and the change was roundly condemned by fans groups from the beginning. If anything, discontent has grown and intensified and is now much more sophisticated, if still relatively disorganised. But it really wouldn't take much to collapse the whole house of cards. Better by far, though - if possible - to slowly deflate the bubble and minimise transition problems.
So for present purposes let's leap ahead and suppose, unlikely as it is, satisfactory legislation is achieved and implemented, democratic continental, national and clubs trusts are established, and the game becomes community owned. What then......would the game be played differently? Would tribalism and petty hatreds and jealousy evaporate? Answer: No, of course not. Only a mutual level of understanding can do that, and we are a long, long way from that desirable goal. After all, it has taken Western Civilisation two thousand years to grow and then begin to dismiss religion to the fate of other ridiculous superstitions. Perhaps we had to go through the present nonsense so there could be relatively more widespread understanding. Meantime, few sensible football supporters are going to forget what the last twenty years of organised institutionalised economic gangsterism has done to the sport. If they do, professional sport will go the way of gladiatorial games; it will have outlived its usefulness. People will simply walk away from it. Maybe that will yet be its fate.
Nor would economic competition disappear in a community owned system. Great population centres have always dominated the professional game and, occasional heroic performances apart, likely always will. Attendance levels and related revenues will always be a central financial factor. The current economic question is how we level up its effect on the playing field to an acceptable plane. Nobody I know wants the current system to continue and there is good reason to believe this is the dominant feeling amongst supporters everywhere. Moreover, there was a time when generally the system was more equitable and fair even though supporters had as little direct effect as they do now. It was never perfect - far from it - but you won't find many who said it was worse than current spivvery and seedy opportunism. In my view if we are to get anywhere near that state of affairs we have to be rid of the separate monopolist Premier League and restore a single Football League in, say, five divisions. We should also consider a single pool for merchandise with equal shares for all along the lines of - of all places! - the American NFL share out at its best. Mainstream media revenues too should be equally split, as should exposure time. Distribution of gate revenues should be restored to the previous system of the Football League. None of these measures would abolish differences, but they would make for a fairer system. There would be plenty of other situations for each club to supplement its revenues.
Each club could be a legal public trust majority-owned by one-man one-vote members, elections, say, every four years. Each trust could be administered by an elected board of directors supported by full time administrative staff. Money and shares ownership would not be allowed to buy a position on the board. Director service would be limited to one term of four years, then stand for re-election. Nobody would serve more than two terms. This would limit the opportunities for corruption and a power clique. Accountancy practices and financial controls would be unified and made part of a national football constitution. All financial dealings would be posted on the internet. The same principles would apply to all trusts at all levels, including national and continental.
The overall aim would be to make the game as open and transparent as possible and to avoid the formation of long-term individual power bases or personality cults. However, there would still be unavoidable human behaviour problems. For example, much-loved and much-missed philosopher Bertrand Russell said men are motivated by power, not money......which is only a means to an end. Former Tory Prime Minister Harold McMillan once said he sought the centre of power all his life, but when he found it it was like the centre of Dead Sea fruit, nothing there. Great socialist Aneurin Bevan, founder of the National Health Service, said he found the centre of power was with the people and they didn't use it as much as they could, perhaps should; this is certainly true in football matters.
Whichever of these opinions you agree with it is obvious the exercise of power by individuals is as important as the system which regulates them. All of it distils to a residue of individual and collective responsibility, to a code of morals and ethics. This was once the sole province of organised religion, but no longer. A modern democracy requires this to be consensual. There can be no guarantee all individuals will stick rigidly to an agreed system. In fact history constantly examples the opposite. There will always be challengers; there will always be outright criminals. No system is foolproof and it would be absurd to assume otherwise. The question is which system is wanted by most people and how much effort they are willing to exert to get it.
In the end Aneurin Bevan's words are those which ring truer and wiser. It really is up to you. But beware of mere power-mongers; they are every bit as bad as mere profiteers.