Socialist Worker

Football - can we have our ball back please?

The Premier League’s plan for "Game 39" is the latest stage of football club owners’ search for profits and dominance, writes Kris Stewart

Issue No. 2089

The agreement by Premier League chairmen to pursue a proposal to extend the football league season to 39 games from 38 has provoked outrage. The extra games would be played at venues around the world, with cities bidding for the right to stage them.

The additional fixtures would be determined by a draw but the top five teams could be seeded to avoid playing each other.

Richard Scudamore, the Premier League’s chief executive, claimed, “All 20 clubs will benefit and there is a huge element of solidarity about it. When the league does well, other people in the football family do well in terms of redistribution. We feel it is a very positive thing.”

Is this really an attempt by philanthropic Premier League chairmen to cascade money down the league structure and help struggling clubs at lower levels? History would suggest not.

Since the Premier League began in 1992, the rich in football have got richer and the gap between the top and bottom has grown wider year on year.

Every move which has been made has been in the financial interests of the top clubs. Exclusive television deals made by the Premier League mean that the team finishing bottom of the league receives around 15 times as much TV money as the team winning the Championship.

Supporters are unlikely to benefit either. Ticket prices have spiralled since 1990, increasing around 500 percent. An average ticket to a Premier League game today costs £30. Concessionary tickets can be hard to come by, and visiting supporters are often expected to pay more than £40 to see their team.

But all is not well with the Premier League elite. Manchester United and Liverpool have both recently been bought out by owners from the US in heavily leveraged deals. In the current economic climate, the repayments on these buy-outs have grown and the owners, along with those at other clubs, are desperate for more cash.

They see millions of people around the world watching Premier League games on TV and believe that they can exploit this market further.

Of course the bigger, more successful clubs in the Premier League will benefit more from this proposal than those at the lower end, widening further the gap between rich clubs and the rest.

With cities bidding for these extra games, ticket prices will go even further through the roof, pricing ordinary fans out, particularly when extra travel costs and time off work are factored in.

The proposal opens the door to the franchise model, as successful cities may bid for all of a particular club’s games.

The very integrity of the competition itself is also threatened. The league is based upon each team playing every other twice.

With one extra game, and particularly if seeding is used, teams will have a lop sided schedule, with some gaining an extra match against a lower placed side, and some having to play a team at the top three times.

On an international level, the arrogance is incredible – other countries already have their own clubs and league competitions. That’s to say nothing of the environmental impact, in stark contrast to English football’s professed concern over climate change.

Condemnation of the proposals – dubbed “GAM£ 39” – has been swift, loud and almost universal. Football fans are strongly opposed, with a Football Supporters’ Federation (FSF) poll registering 94 percent opposition and its petition receiving 13,000 signatures in record time.

The Football Association, which at first seemed to be cautiously in favour, has responded to the chorus of disapproval by making clear its “serious reservations”. Even Gordon Brown was moved to comment, though his plea to “listen to the fans” was so carefully worded as to be meaningless.

Although Sepp Blatter has condemned the idea, saying it “will not happen while I am the president of Fifa”, supporters recognise that this is not the end of the campaign.

The proposals are still on the table and, even if they are withdrawn in their current format, they could easily be amended and reintroduced.

The FSF is seeking to harness the anger felt by many supporters in a series of meetings around the country to discuss how to take the campaign forward.

Suggested activity has ranged from letter-writing campaigns all the way to a weekend boycott of Premier League games.

The Premier League is already the richest in the world. Socialists can see the parallels between what is happening in football and what goes on in the rest of society.

We should be clearly on the side of the ordinary football supporter, while making the wider arguments about globalisation which provide the context for the Premier League’s money-grabbing schemes.

Kris Stewart was the founding chair of AFC Wimbledon, formed by supporters after Wimbledon FC’s league position was franchised to Milton Keynes. He was recently selected as the Respect candidate for the Wandsworth and Merton London Assembly constituency.

For more information on the GAM£ 39 campaign go to » www.fsf.org.uk


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News
Tue 19 Feb 2008, 18:45 GMT
Issue No. 2089
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