EPL – The Billion Dollar Obscenity

EPL – The Billion Dollar obscenity

riverAs a young kid, I used to play football every day after school, and also on most weekends in a nearby park. I was never a member of a proper team, and truth to tell I wasn’t much good at it, but there was nothing I liked better than to have a good kick around with my friends, using jumpers for goals, and a softball for a football.

In my teens, I played organised football at my school once or twice a week, but yet again was never selected to play for even the lowliest third team.

As well as playing football, at the age of 9, I became an avid lifelong supporter of Tottenham Hotspur (Spurs) who played in the old English first division and these days in the English Premier League (EPL).

From the age of 10, I  regularly went to watch Spurs play at White Hart Lane, in Tottenham. I still remember the number of the bus I took to get there – 144. In those unforgettable, far off days, I delighted in watching such legendary players as Danny Blanchflower, Jimmy Grieves, and so many more ‘greats’ of the game.

When Spurs weren’t playing at home, my friends and I would go and watch other London teams, such as West Ham (during the Moore, Hurst and Peters era), Arsenal, Queens Park Rangers, and even Leyton Orient. I don’t ever recall going to Chelsea…

In those days, there was no segregation of the crowds; there was no bad language and no violence. As a kid, the only time I felt a little scared was leaving the ground in the middle of a huge, packed crowd where I had no choice but to be ‘carried’ along.

There was a fair bit of jovial banter between fans during the game and whichever player made a good move, or scored a goal, it would be applauded by both sets of fans. But it was never nasty, never abusive and never violent.

It was a different world.

Apart from Spurs’ famous ‘double’ in 1960/61, they were never a particularly successful team in the league, although they were usually there or thereabouts -near the top of the league and rarely in danger of relegation.

Spurs forté was in the FA cup where they always had great runs. Indeed, it is only in recent years that they were deposed as the team with the largest number of FA cup final wins.

Incidentally, it was because of Spurs’ successes in the FA cup in past decades, that they once were the most famous club in Thailand. In those days, the only game to be televised live in England was FA Cup final, which was also broadcast live in Thailand. As a result, Spurs used to have millions of Thai fans.

Until the EPL came along – how times have changed…

These days I have lost most of my passion for football.

First, it was the hooliganism.

The football violence of the 70’s and 80’s was totally sickening, especially when it contributed to the dreadful stadium disasters at Heysel and Hillsborough.

The violence  put me off football, as I’m sure it did for countless fans like me. Even today, when violent incidents are rare, the fans still have to be rigidly segregated and there is always a very heavy police presence on match days to prevent any new breakouts.

The violence hasn’t gone – it is always just under the surface, and if there is any let-up or laxity in the policing, then it rears its ugly head, and people get hurt. Indeed, in very recent times, there have been several very nasty attacks on Spurs’ fans in particular when they have gone abroad to support their team in European matches.

It is a sad fact that Spurs fans are always targeted due to the preponderance of Jewish fans amongst its supporters. Anti-Semitism in Europe is alive and well, as is racism in countries such as Spain and most East European States, especially Russia.

Alan Clark, the famous  and controversial Tory politician and diarist, once said that all young Brits like to fight – it is in their nature. He told us that in the past young Englishmen were able to exercise their aggressive tendencies in the armed forces, but these days, the only outlet they can find is by being football hooligans. He advocated the idea of allowing the fans fight each other and get it out of their system. Good one Alan! 

(BTW, If you haven’t read his diaries yet, put it on your book list.)

Then came the Russian billionaire oligarchs, along with the Middle Eastern potentates and American billionaires. These new club owners, together with Mr Murdoch and his Sky Sports billions, changed the face of English football forever.

The hooliganism was bad enough, but the billions of dollars that started sloshing around soon transformed the Beautiful Game into the Obscene Game.

It seems almost impossible to believe that within my own lifetime, the wages that a professional footballer can earn in England has risen from £20 per week (£1,000 per annum) to £240,000 PER WEEK (£12.5 MILLION per annum).

Now while I would be the first to admit that the £20 a week maximum was clearly exploitative, surely no footballer on this planet can be worth a salary of £12.5 million ($18.75m) per year.

And as for transfer fees – well the day will soon be here when a single player could cost more than building a new football stadium – I kid you not. Ironically, to date the highest fee ever paid for a player was for Spurs’ Gareth Bale in 2014 when they sold him to Real Madrid for £86 million ($129 million).

Arsène Wenger, the Arsenal manager, recently went on record to say that the days of the £100 million transfer is imminent, following a rash of high fees paid by billionaire Chinese businessmen for European players to join football teams in China.

Guess how much Liverpool FC are spending on their new stadium expansion programme, which involves substantial rebuilding?

Answer: £100 million.

The football world has gone stark raving bonkers. It is all about money and The Beautiful Game has been left far behind.

There is so much money in the ‘game’ that players have become ‘soldiers of fortune’ – selling themsleves to the highest bidder. There is no loyalty, no real passion for the team; it is only about the money.

Do you know that Real Madrid tried to keep the amount paid for Bale a secret as they didn’t want to upset Cristiano Ronaldo who was only bought for a mere £80 million.

Oh the poor little diddums… never mind now, it’s only $8 million more – don’t get into a paddy about it….here’s  a million dollar note to wipe your tears away …

The money in football is so great that football’s world governing body, FIFA, has become riddled with corruption. No surprise there.

And what about the poor hard done by fans?

PROP141129-036-Liverpool_Stoke-600x345When a new TV deal was announced by the EPL which now totals  a staggering £5.5 BILLION for the next three years. the fans quite reasonably assumed that at least some of that extra money would be passed down in terms of cheaper ticket prices.

Poor deluded fools – and I’m afraid they are all fools. Because the clubs know very well that whatever price they put on the tickets, the fans will pay up. If they have to beg borrow or steal, or mortgage their homes, they will pay the price – such is the fanaticism of a 21st century EPL fan. Match day ticket prices for good seats at the top clubs can be from £81 (Spurs) to £97 (Arsenal).

The very same aforementioned Arsène Wenger has also asserted that rising transfer fees will prevent Premier League clubs using increased television revenue to cut ticket prices. He stated:

“What will happen is the prices of the players will go up and you will need this supplement of money coming in to buy new players,” he said.

“I believe the pressure on spending the money will become bigger and you cannot necessarily distribute the money to other people.”

I used to have enormous respect for Wenger, believing him to be one of the few real gentlemen left in the game – a man who always refused to spend vast sums on players and preferred to nurture home-grown talent. He took a lot of flak for this through the years but stuck to his guns.

Even if there is some truth in what he said, I would have thought he would have been the last one to become a spokesman for a sport that is so up its arse with billion pound notes that it has lost all touch with reality.

130203-063-Man_City_Liverpool-1200x504For the current generation of players and administrators, the new Liverpool ticket price of £77 is nothing – less than nothing. It wouldn’t even buy 5 seconds of time from one of their top players – or these days, even an EPL manager.

Talking of managers – what on earth is this current obsession with football managers all about?

I reckon that if you count up the column inches in the British press devoted to football managers, it would probably outweigh the number devoted to the teams or their players.

The press has become totally preoccupied with the comings and goings – the rise and fall – of football managers.

In the EPL, it is any manager, regardless of his nationality.

In Europe, it is all about the few British Managers who succeed in getting a job managing a European team. Thus, Valencia in Spain has never had so much English press coverage as when Gary Neville was appointed as their manager.

There are pages and pages devoted to his appointment, and ever since then, every Valencia game has been covered by the British press, the results examined in microscopic detail and with much speculation as to how long he will last in the job, poor chap. The same used to happen with Steve Maclaren when he managed FC Twente.

One of the most self-obsessed, conceited men I have ever had the misfortune to read about and see on TV is, Jose Mourinho the former Chelsea manager.

Honestly, what a tosser! Yet the world’s media hang on his every word as though it is from the good Lord himself. He loves the sound of his own voice and whenever people want to listen, he obliges in spades.

Never mind that he talks utter garbage, he lies, he makes crazy excuses for even the slightest setbacks, he criticized every referee that has ever existed, he blames his own team doctor for his team losing, he never gives credit to anyone except himself and occasionally his own players, he is rude to everyone. Yet he is the darling of the media. Even when he moved to Real Madrid, he was rarely out of the British press because he used to manage an English club – they love him so much.

What’s more, in my humble opinion he really isn’t that great a manager – as we have all seen this season. He never stays at a club more than two years – I can only assume that it is because he knows that 2 years is the longest period that he can keep control of the millionaire players he manages.

He is not a man-manger, and once he loses the confidence of the dressing room, these ‘Soldiers of fortune say – “Up your’s, Jose.” They don’t give a damn. They will still get their £12 million a year and maybe be sold to another club where the manager will more to their liking.

I was never a fan of Alex Ferguson. I just didn’t like him as a person. His trashing of Beckham in his autobiography after he retired demonstrated what a mean spirited man he really is. He didn’t have to do that. Beckham has never spoken badly about him. And Ferguson is a multi-millionaire certainly doesn’t need the money from book sales. After all those years running Manu, he must be missing the limelight.

But compared to Mourinho, Ferguson is a genius and a saint. He is clearly one of the most astute managers ever to have lived, and nothing demonstrated that more than when he retired.

What happened to Manu after he left? Okay, there are many reasons why the club fortunes faded so quickly – ageing players etc., but the fact remains that Ferguson was a man-manger par excellence. He knew exactly how to motivate his players and get the best out of them. If anyone didn’t toe the line they were put up for sale – no matter how good they were.

In this respect, Jose simply isn’t in the same league as Ferguson.

But it seems that the Manu hierarchy is also mesmerised by this vainglorious yob from Portugal. We are told that Jose wrote an 8-page letter outlining all the reasons why he should be their manager. If the press are to be believed the Manu directors have actually entered into negotiations with him. If they do hire him – mark my words they will surely live to regret it.

And if the press gets tired of writing about Mourinho, they switch to Wenger, or Hiddink, or Van Gaal (these days a very popular man to deride), Pellegrini and so on.

Football these days seems to be more about the fortunes of the EPL managers – than about the game itself.

But of course – it’s not a game – it’s a business; a billion dollar business. If the press is writing about billion dollar businesses – who do they talk to? Why, of course, the man who is running the business – the CEO, or in the case of EPL, the manager.

These days, my passion for the game has largely died. I very rarely watch live matches even though I can easily find them on internet streams. I read about them in the press, and try to avoid all the hyperbole over the managers, and of course, I still have more than a passing interest in my beloved Spurs.

But I also follow the fortunes of the other clubs of my youth, like Arsenal and West Ham and even lowly Orient. How many modern day football followers can say the same?


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