Anyone but England?
The World Cup final, in case you didn't know, is being fought out between Brazil and Germany on Sunday June 30. As the competition reaches its climax, Mark Fischer spoke to John Reid, member of the Socialist Party in England and Wales and author of Reclaim the game: 10 seasons of Premiership swindle
I'm not really a football man, but I have been quite engaged with the tournament so far. Have you enjoyed it? Yes, it has certainly been good for surprises. My partner is French and when I was over there, the French were describing Senegal as their "third team". So the fact that they beat the French - their old colonial masters - was a great plus. Of course, the problem for African football is that European teams are poaching most of their very best players. The French, for example, have had meetings in Senegal and elsewhere in Africa to bring players over for French teams. So there is very little basis or infrastructure for a proper African league. The players are basically commodities, traded internationally and ending up in the French or other European leagues. It makes for a very lopsided development in terms of world football. And England's performance? Well, yet another gallant failure! The feel-good factor that would have given English football a temporary boost if they had got past Brazil will now not materialise. This will highlight the fact that the football industry - it's not just a sport in a full sense any more - is facing a very serious crisis. England's success on the pitch would have temporarily hidden the problems. During the closed season, 800 players were laid off in the Nationwide League. Then the collapse of ITV digital has exacerbated the financial headaches. Between 30 and 40 clubs are in danger of going into receivership. Part of the problem has been that saturation coverage of football on TV has shown that the audience just isn't there. The glitz and glamour of the World Cup has hidden some rather shady dealings, hasn't it? Fifa, the governing body, is embroiled in corruption scandals. That's right. Before the competition started, Fifa president Sepp Blatter was cited in a 30-page dossier on corruption and allegations of dirty dealing. Basically serious criminal activity. Fifa is something like £200 million in debt under his stewardship. Given the amount of money washing around in the game, some of the officials who run football have had their snouts in various troughs. It's exactly the same with English football. With multi-million-pound TV deals, there are backhanders at every level. OK, football internationally faces a profound crisis - how can it be resolved? What should working class politicians be saying about it? The answer is on two levels. We have to be aware of the commercial pressures. If you look at the World Cup, a massive world audience will have watched it. Big business can't resist a market like that. Viewers have been bombarded with wall-to-wall advertising. On average, the football viewer will have been subjected to 100 hours of football-related advertising. And it has a sort of cumulative effect, doesn't it? For example, we have a Socialist Party World Cup social on Sunday to raise party finance. I can imagine getting up during the game to get a beer and the one in your head is the one they've been constantly plugging - even if it's muck and you don't normally drink it. Beckham for example will earn £10 million through sponsorship deals. He is now being described as the Michael Jordan of football - Jordan was a US basketball player who was worth £1 billion to the sport. Beckham's marketing value is now said to be worth £1 billion in potential sponsorship. Basically, the super-rich players have made millions out of the World Cup, while their fellow professionals back home face wage cuts and uncertainty over their future. What I would put forward for football is a totally different way of running the game. For example, the average Premiership player earns £400,000 a year, and many receive millionaire wages. But then, they are now playing in an industry that is worth £1.7 billion a year. Directors of the top football companies are making millions, yet there is very little investment. Under socialism, football would obviously be rid of big business. The profit motive has to be taken out of the sport altogether. As 74 clubs out of the 92 in the football league are already running at a loss, this shouldn't be too painful! The clubs should be democratically run - by the players, the club staff and all those involved in the game. But we don't have to wait for socialism to fight for that control from below, do we? No, we don't. We need a campaign today for a proper, democratic football membership scheme. The fans should run the clubs in the here and now. They should elect a share of the board, and the players would have representation on the board, as would the club staff. Clubs should be opened up to real democratic involvement of everyone associated with it. People should not just be turning up to watch football, to be passive spectators. It would be a real club membership, with substantive content to people's rights as members. The remit of the clubs could expand beyond football if that was the decision of the membership - other sports could be organised. People should be involved at different levels, regardless of age, sex, physical disabilities, etc. So you would have a whole range of different teams operating under the umbrella of the club, involving a wide range of club supporters - the people who should actually have the democratic control of the organisation as a whole. We need a real involvement from the fans, way beyond just turning up, paying inflated ticket prices and passively watching a game when Saturday comes. At the moment, fans' loyalty is cynically manipulated and exploited. For example, since the Premiership was set up, match prices have gone up to between something like £27 and £40 a game. If prices had merely kept pace with inflation, it would only cost £8 to watch a Premiership game! Sport in general, but football in particular, is an opportunity for the ruling elites in all countries to rally support around the flag. Certainly, there are plenty of instances of football games being used as opportunities for all sorts of chauvinist demonstrations. But should the left simply have a negative attitude to manifestations of support for national teams? Well, personally I don't buy this 'reclaiming' of the flag of St George. Of course, you do have to be careful. I come from an Irish background, so I wanted them to do well. But then, as I'm born and brought up in England, I like to see England do well as well. That may be a minority opinion on the left in England. I know that English SWPers in particular tend to have an 'anyone but England' attitude. You don't think much of that, it seems. I don't really like the attitude that England always has to lose. I can't see the logic of it, frankly. Yes, England - all of Britain, actually - has a colonial past and an ongoing imperialist role in the world. But then, look at the political make-up of the government of the countries that it is supposed to be 'OK' to support! Would you support Turkey, Germany or South Korea on the basis of their politics? There is obviously an ongoing debate on the left on this. One good feature about this year's competition is that there doesn't seem to have been the same levels of xenophobia amongst English fans as there have been in the past. In fact, it was the Germans who were coming out with horrible stuff before the South Korean match - 'They eat dogs and they've got small penises' - that sort of thing. First and foremost, I'm an Ireland supporter. But if England is playing any other team apart from Ireland, I support them. What's the problem with that?