ONCE MORE UNTO THE BREACH
Mickey Blue Eyes
"Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead.
I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start. The game's afoot:"
HENRY V, Act 3, Scene 1, a play by William Shakespeare.
If football is one of your spectator hobbies you should listen when Greg Dyke speaks in his capacity of chairman of the English Football Association. On Monday 23rd March he fronted presentation of an FA Commission report on foreign players. The proposals will have to be approved by the Premier League and, if accepted, would be phased in over four years from 2016. Some basic proposals are:
1. A 25 man first team squad to have a minimum of 12 "homegrown" players.
2. "Homegrown" to be defined as on the books of an English club for three years before their 18th birthday.
3. Players costing a transfer fee of £10 millions must prove they are of "international quality."
In addition, the new requirements state that non-EEA (European Economic Area) players will have to meet a minimum percentage of international matches played for their country over the previous twenty-four months period, as determined by that country's FIFA world ranking. A player must come from a top fifty team on the FIFA world rankings with a sliding scale of appearances based on the ranking over the previous two years.
FIFA 1-10: 30% and above
FIFA 11-20: 45% and above
FIFA 21-30: 60% and above
FIFA 31-50: 75% and above
The period assessed reduces to 12 months for players below 21 years old.
During an update on the England Commission, Dyke said the FA led a formal six months consultation with the Premier League, Football League, LMA, PFA and Home Associations in September 2014. The final proposal was submitted to the Home Office on 6 March with unanimous support from the game and approved on Friday 20 March. He also said, "...my fear for the future of English football is the Premier League ends up being owned by foreigners, managed by foreigners and played by foreigners..." and that new Home Office visa rules would help. He claimed too the new £5 billions TV deal would make matters worse.
There, he said it, Sun and Daily Mail style........."Foreigners." If there is one word calculated to raise the xenophobic hysteria of island people it is....... "Foreigners." What are those aliens doing invading our island paradise, taking our jobs, bedding our women or, worse, our men, buying up our industries and impoverishing honest English men and women? Everyone knows they come here on benefits and health tourism, taking everything and giving nothing. Or something. At that level, Dyke is seemingly a gift horse for UKIP and the English "Defence" League.......or for that matter the Scots or Welsh Nationalists or the late unlamented, oblong-headed buffoons Jeremy Clarkson and James May. Whatever happened to the brotherhood of man - and I do not mean a gaudy 1970s popular music group?
A tricky subject, then. There is more than a whiff of xenophobia and racism in the air.
So, is this institutional protectionism and nationalism run amok? Do you believe in freedom of movement and employment throughout Europe? What is the point of arguing it? After all, they are only football players. They create and produce nothing. What harm is there in total freedom of movement and employment for everybody?
Well, it is worth arguing because it brings us to the language of priorities. That is, which matters are more important than others. And that is where things start to go awry in human affairs: everyone has their own set of priorities and, yes, prejudices. It can be a minefield. For instance I believe in a European Union - but not a capitalist union, the one that wrought so much inevitable misery. (It would help if there was a realisation that all strategic markets are rigged, that what matters is what, consensually, we rig them for, private greed or community good.) It is also the source of some of the current football administration woes. Which is why the matter will have to be settled at the level of European law and made bulletproof, otherwise it will be as vulnerable to legal challenge as it was in the Bosman case, and with equally profound affects on the sport.
Therefore, in this opinion I will avoid detail arguments because I have written about them at length before. You can find them in the archives if you are interested.
At the centre of the issue are these rhetorical questions: So what if the sport does end up "...being owned by foreigners, managed by foreigners and played by foreigners..."? What does that matter if the club you support is successful? Surely the only crucial thing is playing well and winning? And if it is not, what other priorities are there and in what order? What if "homegrown" players are not good enough? Why should fans be denied the chance to see talented players on a regular basis, either in their own team or their league? Why should players, managers and owners not seek a contract wherever they wish and make the most of their talents while they are still able? Would you willingly subject yourself to such restrictions? Looked at that way, the issue becomes much more difficult to solve.
Here is my basic position, previously stated in other articles, now abbreviated:
1. Enshrine the following in European law.
2. Designate all amateur and professional sport as exceptional and healthy activity organised for the benefit of society, not for shareholders or excess wages profit.
3. Organise and fund sport to encourage and train youngsters who show sufficient determination and talent, including allowance for late developers. All in an administrative framework from local to national levels.
4. Each club to have majority supporters ownership and a common constitution and accountancy formula.
5. All local and national associations to be subject to open elections.
6. On the basis of item 2 above, limit foreign players to, say, three per any European club. This leaves each nation free to develop its own youthful talent while acknowledging freedom of movement. Thus, priority goes deliberately to development of local abilities within natural limits. Playing success will rise and fall accordingly, and with no guarantees.
7. All gate, broadcasting and sponsorship receipts to be divided equally between the competing clubs.
All of this is of course open to argument, some of it already in existence but not established in law. Therefore, any country employing new restrictions will be wide open to legal challenge. None of it will work if not enshrined in an "exceptional" European statute not related to other employment and business practices. All of it would need a working consensus between supporters, players and politicians. All of it would fall if subject to current (failed) economic sophistries. A new paradigm is needed. But an agreed language of priorities is yours only if you can be bothered arguing for it. The other alternatives are the current disgusting mess or anarchy.
So what are the chances of any of this happening? Given entrenched, institutionalised and perfectly legal corruption, judge for yourself. It is probably as likely as a parliament free of dishonesty and scoundrels. That is the kind of near-completely immoral, London-centred culture we have created for ourselves, or at the very least tolerated. Eventually change has to happen or football will simply decay and die as surely as gladiatorial games. The current course will render the sport as useless as corrupt Italian and Francoist versions. I doubt I will see revolutionary change in my lifetime, though each day dawns hopefully.
All Premier League clubs have their microconcerns. Allowing for wild fluctuations in playing form, Evertonians, for instance, might wonder where their club would be without the likes of Tim Howard, Seamus Coleman, Sylvain Distin, James McCarthy, Darron Gibson, Muhamad Besic, Kevin Mirallas, Steven Pienaar, Steven Naismith, Romelu Lukaku and Joel Robles. Extrapolate that throughout the professional game across Europe - let alone England - and you begin to see the extent of the issue. And even that is too limited a view: what of non-European players? Which makes it a global matter. The fact is, football ceased being a true local community activity the moment it became professional almost one hundred and fifty years ago. What we have now is a logical conclusion. Where we go from here is a matter for conjecture.
Beyond that there remains the philosophical question of competition, what it means, what are its limits, and how it is dealt with decently and fairly. Typically, Dyke and the Football Association have thus far avoided the substance of it, to say nothing of the corruption in UEFA and FIFA, while in a much more serious vein the overwhelming majority of our academics and intellectuals continue to peddle the ultraright politics and economics of fear. Therein lies the biggest obstacle to enlightened humanist progress in English and European culture, let alone footy.
Your call. Deal with it or stop moaning.