Is Money Killing Football?
In 1992 the premier league was founded. In 2010 half of the premier league clubs are now owned by foreign investors. This figure looks set to rise as it appears that outside investment is the only way that the top English clubs can survive in the harsh economic climate. So far this season (2010/2011) two premier league clubs have been taken over by investors: Blackburn by Indian Poultry farmers the Venky’s Group and the high profile takeover of Liverpool by New England Sports Ventures. These takeovers have gained as many column inches as the football itself and this proves that issues off the pitch are as important as the action on it. As this trend continues it appears that the finance behind football dictates the quality of the game. The rise of Man City buoyed by Sheikh Mansour’s bank account shows that cash contributes to success; this all comes after the Roman Abramovich Russian revolution at Chelsea. But what for the clubs who don’t have a limitless transfer and wage budget? More and more teams, particularly in the lower leagues, are struggling to pay for the basics that keep clubs in business and many have to go into administration, incurring massive point penalties as a result. As a supporter of one of these clubs (AFC Bournemouth) I’m starting to feel that investing time and money into watching live football is becoming a futile exercise when the club doesn’t have financial backing required to achieve anything in the modern game. Although if the organisations that control football continue to prioritise profit over the sport, I may not have the choice of following the team, as it may not exist.
The Premier League
The Premier League is arguably the most powerful brand in world football, it broadcasts to over 200 countries and to half a billion people. The league was formed to revitalise the English game following the troubled footballing times of the 80s. It succeeded, with the help of an injection of cash from sky the league flourished. However this was at the expense of the lower leagues. The divide between the top flight and the football league grew over the years as the premiership received huge sponsorship. Clubs that got relegated from the premier league found it difficult to adjust to life in lower and less economically driven leagues. Also clubs started to spend money beyond their budget in order to succeed in the short term, in the long term this would mean they jeopardised their future. For example in 2001 Leeds reached the champions league semi final, in what was the climax of investing millions of pounds of money they didn’t have. Following their defeat to Valencia in this game they went on a downward spiral that lead to relegations and point deductions. It is only now that the club has managed to stabilise and are climbing the leagues again. This is not an isolated incident, other clubs such as Southampton, Sheffield Wednesday and Nottingham Forrest have all fallen on hard times following their relegation from the premiership. However even the consistently successful teams in England are not safe from economic meltdown.
Manchester United and The Glazers
Despite fan protest, in 2005 American tycoon Malcolm Glazer completed a takeover of the premier league’s most successful club, Manchester United. The takeover was paid for with loans. The glazer family have thus far paid nothing towards these loans and the club now registers a debt of £520m with annual interest payments of £45m. Unsatisfied with this treatment of their club, a group of fans decided to create a new club called ‘FC United of Manchester,’ they currently sit in the 7th tier of English football. Not only this but fans who decided to stick with the team started protesting against the glazer ownership by wearing green and gold scarves, in reference to the colours of the club during their origins as Newton Heath. Manchester United remains a divided club as long as the glazers use their income to pay off their debts, so much so that the successes of the team are being overshadowed by the unrest behind the scenes.
Franchise FC (formally Wimbledon FC)
The rise of Wimbledon FC was the ultimate footballing fairy tale story. After working their way through the English lower league system they eventually found themselves in the top flight in 1985, just 9 years after gaining promotion to the football league. Following this, they famously won the FC cup in 1988, beating favourites Liverpool 1-0 in the final. After this pinnacle of success the team remained in the top division for over a decade before getting relegated in 2000. The new millennium brought with it a new incarnation for the team as they were relocated to life size lego city Milton Keynes, 56 miles away from their home in Wimbledon. The team became MK dons, were given a new kit and a new badge. This move was 30 years in the making as Milton Keynes had been looking to poach an existing team to bring to the city. Other clubs were named for relocation during this process such as Luton and Charlton, but Wimbledon were always in the spotlight due to their inadequate stadium facilities. The move went ahead in 2003 much to the fans dismay, it was hoped that they would travel with the team but instead (much like disheartened Man Utd fans) started their own team from the bottom of the English league system: AFC Wimbledon. MK Dons signalled a worrying option for football, a team built out of a franchise, using money from the development of a town rather than the money it made from playing football. They were shockingly allowed to keep the league status earned by Wimbledon and were originally allowed to keep their 1988 FA cup honour. All of these facts contributed to unpopularity throughout the football league and the club is dubbed ‘Franchise FC’ by fans of other sides. To the delight of these fans it seems as though the relocation has not been a success. Even though MK Dons now have a 22,000 seater stadium, courtesy of the ‘mk’ franchise they don’t have the fans to fill it. In contrast, AFC Wimbledon regularly fill their modest ground and the team are steadily climbing the leagues. Further proof that fan power can be more influential than economic prowess, especially when the lower leagues are concerned.
Russia 2018 & Qatar 2022
Football’s governing body FIFA is currently under scrutiny. In recent years the organisation, headed by Sepp Blatter, has been investigated for corrupt activity. The most recent allegations have been made by BBC’s current affairs programme, panorama. It claimed that FIFA officials took bribes in exchange for favourable treatment of certain nations. The programme was aired just days before the hosts of the 2018 and 2022 world cups were announced. Russia and Qatar won these respective bids and this has lead to an aftermath littered with claims of financial irregularity. Russia’s technical bid was described as ‘high risk’and Qatar had many issues including tolerance and the need to build a majority of new stadiums. It is impossible to ignore the fact that both of these nations had heavy financial backing, especially Qatar. FIFA have made it clear that the reasons behind this selection stem from an intention to expand their market to new nations. As a result more established football countries such as England and Spain were overlooked despite having better technical bids. Whether this policy is right or wrong is up for debate, however what is clear is that, be it corrupt or not, money talks in the offices of football’s international affairs. As far as FIFA is concerned the world cup is a brand that is to be exploited and spread to nations that can afford it.
A fair future for football
These are just a few examples of how money is having an adverse effect on football. I’ve not mentioned escalating transfer fees, huge wage bills and money grabbing agents. The recent Wayne Rooney transfer farce, where Rooney held Manchester United to ransom over wages, proves that football is dominated by the money men and seasoned professionals like Sir Alex Ferguson have no choice but to take it. The Hicks and Gillett saga at Liverpool, where the two tycoons had to have Liverpool FC prised away from them by the courts, showed a disregard for a history that the club’s fans hold dear (see video above). If football is to avoid a future where clubs operate as businesses rather than sports teams it needs to take lessons from other sports. Wage caps and drafts are compulsory in American sports and ensure they are dominated by talent and not by big bank balances. These sorts of changes need to be made in football. The European football body UEFA are taking steps to ensure that wages do not balloon and that home grown academies are encouraged. FIFA and The Premier League needs to follow suit if we are to have a fair future for football.