The football I hate, the football which is all over the media all the time, which absorbs billions of dollars worth of funding and time and attention and like a greedy cuckoo squeezes all other sports out, is what I’ve dubbed the football industry. Overseen by the FIFA plutocrats who give every appearance of caring nothing for the game itself, the major clubs owned by oligarchs and businessmen who treat them like any other business venture, and played by millionaires who swap between clubs and countries at the drop of a hat, it is run for one reason and one reason only: to make money.
In this context, nothing matters except winning, because winning brings more support, more fans, more media attention, more sponsorship and merchandising opportunities, more TV deals, more money, more power. Players who don’t score are chucked aside like last season’s clothes, managers and coaches who don’t deliver are sacked without ceremony, often short months after a fanfared signing if the erstwhile favoured one has failed to hit the ground running and deliver success right from the off. Premier League managers, grown men who should know better, trade insults like primary school children in the hope of gaining more media space for their dead-eyed masters, and a compliant media reports on these childish spats as though they were the words of elder statesmen.
And what of fans? Fans are rewarded for their loyalty by being treated as cash-cows endlessly required to stump up more and more money, for over-priced season-tickets, expensive programmes, costly, shoddily-made shirts or strips, often several a season to maximise merchandising opportunities, for the very privilege of being able to watch the teams they love on tv after the rights have been sold for top dollar to companies which charge viewers to watch, all whilst being treated as far less important than the club’s corporate sponsors and ticket-holders and shareholders. And incidentally, loyalty to what? In an age when players, managers, owners, can all change at the drop of a hat, the loyalty of fans to a club would appear to be to a name, a ground, and a couple of colours.
Don’t get me wrong. Football is not the only sport to have gone down regrettable routes. In the eighties athletics was rife with doping, and cycling has had, and still has its problems. One could doubtless say the same of other sports. The difference with football is its unrepentance. As an industry, it exists solely to make money for its lords and masters, which it unarguably does enormously effectively, and while that continues, it is not going to change. While the fans continue to troop, sheeplike, through the turnstiles to be fleeced of their money or to cough up for high-priced sports channels, there is no reason for the football industry to do anything differently. Andy has commented that we need to stop paying attention to football as to do so only feeds the monster, and indeed we do, but it needs to go deeper than just not talking about it. People need to stop watching it as well, they need to turn off the money tap, for that is the only language which those at the top understand.
I know that this isn’t going to happen. Those who love football the game and football the sport are too invested to be able to walk away, and it is this love that football the industry exploits so ruthlessly. I wish it would change, and I’m sorry that I see no hope of it, because those who love football deserve so, so much better. And that is why I hate football.