By Tony Attwood
Who holds the power in football?
In one sense one could argue that much of this season has been about just that topic. The club owners, the players, PGMO, the fans, the mainstream media, the FA, Fifa, Uefa, and even unfunded blogs like Untold, who when ranged against the previous groups on the list should have no power at all, try to influence how things are.
A while back I did a whole series looking at the key operators in football from a power point of view, and I’ve started to think of such matters again in the light of recent events.
Of course a huge amount of power rests with the clubs. But as I tried to point out in a recent piece which was illustrated with pictures of fans from a whole variety of clubs holding up placards demanding the manager should leave, fans are making a pitch for power once again – although only with limited success.
But as we are constantly told, next season is the season of untold megawealth for the clubs, so surely that gives them the power, along with the TV companies who can now more or less decide at a moment’s notice when the games are played, what bits of football we see, how competitions are organised, etc etc.
Thus it seems reasonable to start with money.
Forbes recently announced that the top 20 teams are collectively worth 24% more than the teams filling those positions top 20 slots a year ago. The cause is the increased income from television contracts and kit deals.
Here’s the value of the top ten football teams…
- Real Madrid £2.52bn
- Barcelona £2.46bn
- Manchester United £2.3bn
- Bayern Munich £1.85bn
- Arsenal £1.4bn
- Manchester City £1.33bn
- Chelsea £1.15bn
- Liverpool £1.07bn
- Juventus £900m
- Tottenham £704m
Now let’s try and relate the figures above for those clubs in the Premier League to Turnover, Wages and wealth. In fact Turnover and Wages give us the same top five. It is the value that is out of sync.
But as you can see neither turnover, wages or value predict where a club will end up in the league.
Indeed this has often been the case. Manchester Utd had the highest turnover in the 1970s when they got relegated to the second division.
As things stand the actual league table looks like this
|6||State Aid Utd||37||16||14||7||64||49||15||62|
As we all know Leicester have massively overachieved beyond anything expected in terms of past experience, turnover, wages or wealth, although as noted before there is some uncertainty as to their financial situation particularly vis a vis their marketing operation which may be the source of their funding, and details of which may become clearer in the future.
We also know that State Aid Utd are able to spend massively because they have virtually no stadium costs from next season onwards, while gaining extra income by being able to convert their existing ground into flats.
Tottenham’s finances have looked a little odd for quite a while as we have noted several times and questions have been raised about the inter-relationship between Tottenham, Real Madrid and Spanish banks that have appeared to finance Madrid transfer arrangements which under EU law they should not be doing. Certainly if the UK votes to leave the EU in six weeks, that will be one investigation that Tottenham may well be spared. But they still have to pay for the stadium, and there is still no clarity as to where this money is coming from. Bank loans seem likely, and that, combined with the cost of playing at Wembley for a year could affect even their very odd balance sheet.
But at the same time the championship of Leicester suggests we have entered the new era in which money is not the deciding factor when it comes to who wins the league. Is that right.
I think so – but only up to a point.
As you will have seen, we have done a referee’s review of the atrocious Chelsea Tottenham “game” (one can hardly call it a game in the normal sense) and then Walter has published a commentary on the situation that we all observed.
Following that came the game between State Aid United and Manchester Utd, a match which was preceded by scenes revealed in pictures circulating in the press and elsewhere – scenes that take us back to the worst days of the 1970s.
Both of which remind us of power in other sectors: State Aid Utd gained a huge amount of power by getting its stadium, and the running costs of its stadium, for next to nothing, knowing that they now have even more money to spend on players. Man U’s vast fortunes from world wide marketing. Tottenham’s and Chelsea’s ability to do what they want on the pitch and with punishments totally out of sync with what happened, or what were given out before.
Then came the comments of Mr Sullivan, a co-chairman of State Aid United who laid the blame for the delayed kick-off squarely at the feet of Manchester United – a further power game. It was a statement suggesting that “clubs like Man U have got away with this sort of manipulation for years, but now we are big players, and it serves them right if they get caught up in this.”
Of course Sullivan tried to squirm out of it with a very weak comment afterwards, and it was a clear power game – would be highlighted by the media but then forgotten. They have loved State Aid for quite a well, and made much more fuss about them leaving one ground and moving to a Tax Payers Stadium, than they ever did about Arsenal leaving Highbury and moving to a stadium they were paying for themselves. The owner’s time in prison and his past trading activities are neither here nor there to them.
The fact was that Sullivan was on radio saying definitively, absolutely and with that total certainty that he always brings to all statements that he makes (be they able the violence of fans or about the way tax payers’ money has been used to finance his club’s stadium) that there was no trouble with the bus, none at all, and that it was just stuck in traffic. So when he said, “There were people around it and people were being pushed in all directions but there was no attack on the coach,” few in the media really went for him or held him to account for, “If you check the coach, there won’t be any damage,” he said.
If he can tell such tales about a bus, imagine what stories he can concoct about a stadium, and a load of tax payers money.
Then if we move on to the Chelsea/Tottenham game there again was the case of a power battle – not just a battle between two totally out of control sets of players, but two clubs saying, “we can do this our way, and PGMO and the FA won’t stop us.” And they did – and true to their belief, PGMO and the FA have done very little. Certainly nothing in comparison to the two points deducted from Arsenal for a far lesser affair at Old Trafford in the Graham era.
It has always seemed to me from such evidence as I found, the Old Trafford affair was whipped up strongly by the media who talked up the “football is out of control” story, along with a load of rubbish about “children being given a bad lesson in sportsmanship.” It was a media power play to say, “we, the media, are the guardians of the well-being of football.” The FA reacted accordingly.
They don’t do that now because of the power shift. The live-tv-media has power because they pay for football, rather than tagging along as mere reporters. So they reported the Chelsea game like it was entertainment, with only a limited amount of concern about the lack of rule appliance by the ref, and no concern about the lack of serious comeback from the FA against the clubs. They knew it was newsworthy, but didn’t want it to bring the entertainment value of football down.
And this shows you power at work. In the 70s when the fans took control by invading the pitches, and often turning up in smaller and smaller numbers, the media’s control was lessoned. Now the fans turn up to games, TV demands full stadia for its at home audience, and PGMO (which didn’t exist in the 70s) has moved into utter secrecy.
For the print media, the TV companies that don’t have live rights, and the bloggettas all that is left, now that the power has moved to the likes of Sky and BT Sport are ever more negative derisory headlines. Try a few of these for size…
- Thought Manchester City fans were bad? Sheffield United supporter lays into players on lap of dishonour
- Premier League review: Lucky Louis van Gaal gets away with reckless gamble
- Manuel Pellegrini offers bizarre explanation for Samir Nasri omission
- Ronny Deila says nothing he did at Celtic would have been good enough
- Arsenal fans aren’t angry really, they’re just bored
All of which have appeared over mainstream articles in the major newspapers in England in the last few days. What we have now is a non-live-football media fighting the live-football media, the former telling us that it is all “bizarre” and with a negative input on everything, and a live-football media saying everything is wonderful. It is fact just another power battle.
As a result of this we have a Newspeak approach to football. In any normal sort of analysis, “consistency” is considered one of many positive values to aspire to. But now it seems that only certain consistencies are of value. If as seems likely Tottenham end up one place above Arsenal for the first time in 20 odd years then that is a sign of Arsenal’s failure. If (as is now certain) Arsenal are in the Champions League again, that is irrelevant because fourth is not a trophy and consistency is boring.
It is this sort of reversal of reality in a world in which “this counts but that doesn’t” on a totally arbitrary basis that is the result of these power swings.
Indeed one newspaper told us this week that Liverpool fans are happier than Arsenal fans, because Arsenal’s consistency has become boring. But Liverpool, as with most clubs in the league – including Chelsea and whichever of Man U or Man C don’t make it to the Champions League this year) have spent far more than Arsenal over the last 20 years desperately trying to achieve what Arsenal fans reject – regular entry into the Champions League.
So with power now in the hands of a small number of broadcasting companies, and, I still believe, PGMO and a few other organisations, what on earth is there for us to do? (Other than support our team).
- Arsenal to change whole squad: 44 in, 8 out, 4 promoted from youth
- Wemberlee, Wemberlee, We’re the Famous Arsenal and We’re Going to Wemberlee Ladies FA Cup Final preview Arsenal v Chelsea Sat 14 May 2016
- They maybe didn’t want change… preparing for the Villa game.
Untold Arsenal has published five books on Arsenal – all are available as paperback and three are now available on Kindle. The books are
- The Arsenal Yankee by Danny Karbassiyoon with a foreword by Arsene Wenger.
- Arsenal: the long sleep 1953 – 1970; a view from the terrace. By John Sowman with an introduction by Bob Wilson.
- Woolwich Arsenal: The club that changed football. By Tony Attwood, Andy Kelly and Mark Andrews.
- Making the Arsenal: a novel by Tony Attwood.
- The Crowd at Woolwich Arsenal by Mark Andrews.
You can find details of all five on our new Arsenal Books page