There comes a point, and I don’t think we are all that far away from it, when football, especially Premier League football, really needs to start watching its step.
By Dave Bowler
The transfer market, for example, has been in full swing for a while now, with a week or so still to run, and to be perfectly honest, if all you knew about the state of the world came from watching the goings on in the window, you’d be forced to conclude that the world is enjoying boom time rather than doom time.
Look at the cash flashed by the Premier League sides these last couple of months. In normal days, there would be plenty of us looking at the expenditure and tutting. £200m spent by Chelsea, £650k a week being trousered by Gareth Bale, Manchester City seemingly using all the world’s oil resources in a fruitless quest to buy a new Vincent Kompany.
As I say, in normal times, it’s a bit vulgar. But these are not normal times as we know and with the world currently going down in flames, calling such spending obscene seems far too restrained.
These clubs, let us not forget, were at the front of the queue when the government furlough money was being handed out – that’s the money we taxpayers are going to spend the next decade paying back incidentally – and although a few climbed down when they saw the potential PR backlash, how could they even dream of doing such a thing in the first place, when they’ve obviously got such huge sums swilling around to go and spend on transfer fees and bigger contracts for players?
And don’t imagine for a minute that most actually did ignore furlough money. There are a number of PL clubs that trumpeted salary sacrifices for the management and executives for a month or two – little more than a tax loss in truth – who still quietly furloughed and dumped office staff without putting that bit of detail in the press release or web story.
Then we have the likes of Guardiola complaining that players are being worked too hard. That’s players on big, secure contracts in a world where millions are now unemployed and facing ruin. Pass me the world’s smallest violin would you, I want to play Pep a tune.
And finally, since I think we can now be pretty confident that professional football will not see any crowds again in 2020, lower down the pyramid, for the want of a week of Gareth Bale’s money, there are a slew of football clubs who might not survive.
Sure, the Premier League will concoct some kind of “rescue package”, in the same way Victorian gentry bunged a few quid on the collection plate to save fallen women, but it will be every bit as futile and done merely to salve a bit of guilt.
The strength of English football is not in its money. It’s in its culture, the pyramid that goes from its most humble non-league clubs all the way up to the pointy bit at the top. But it’s the foundations, the broad bit at the bottom that’s the most important part of the pyramid – have you ever tried balancing one on its apex? Lose the foundations and the rest crumbles.
It could be as much as a year away from the game, possibly even more, by the time fans are back in numbers. That’s a long, long time, time in which habits change and in which even the most devoted can lose their ardour.
If the Premier League clubs want people to come back when they can, maybe they should start to get their house in order, get back into the real world and, instead of empty PR gestures, do something that really makes a difference.
Look after the wider game, look after the staff and, when the time comes, look after the fans by slashing ticket prices. Or they might find that their behaviour in this crisis has turned just a few too many stomachs.
Dave Bowler is the author of “The Magic of the Cup 1973/74”, telling the story of Liverpool’s FA Cup win in 1974. Available here: https://www.curtis-sport.com/books –
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