By Tony Attwood
Every few months the media does its thing about which is the most expensive team to support. Arsenal usually come out on top and then for a few months we have readers writing in claiming that Arsenal has the most expensive entrance prices in world football. It’s a favourite filler of the BBC in particular, and some newspapers jump on it too.
Indeed you might remember when Manchester City fans decided to boycott Arsenal v Man C because of the price of the away seats. It got a lot of publicity. What got less publicity was that because only about 500 of the normal 3000 away seats were sold to visitors, the rest were then sold to Arsenal fans, and were snapped up in a trice. Those fans were, I think, very grateful, and rather wanted the Man C boycott to continue… but it didn’t.
However what is also not considered at all in the media is why Arsenal’s tickets were more expensive than those at the Ethiad Stadium (although at the time on a like for like basis Arsenal’s tickets were not in fact the most expensive in the country at that time). Indeedwhat has rarely been discussed until recently is where the money for each club comes from.
I’ve made the point in passing a number of times that Arsenal lives by its commercial activities: its entrance fees, sponsorship money, and other such commercial devices. Like Man U, but unlike Man C and Chelsea, it doesn’t get any money from its owners. In fact the allegation is the reverse: that the owners of Man U and Arsenal take money out of the club via management fees and other devices. Man U does better at money raising than Arsenal because under the long term stewardship of the Hill-Wood clan commercialisation of the club was looked up with disdain, while Man U travelled in the opposite direction and introduced world wide marketing from the late 1950s onwards.
But when it is time to knock Arsenal, all such matters are ignored, as indeed is the whole issue of where the money to support various teams comes from.
Of course the issue of money raises its head occasionally particularly with the question of the source of the money that QPR, Bournemouth and Leicester used to buy in players that could get themselves promoted to the Premier League. The legal case against QPR is still running as they are appealing against the fine of £41m for breaking FFP rules in 2013/14. If they lose, they will effectively be bankrupt, and thus ejected from the League. If Bournemouth and/or Leicester are ever relegated they too will be in the dock in a similar way, as they too are alleged to have broken FFP rules in the Championship and would face a hefty fine on returning to the lower league. (The PL refuses to allow the collection of fines on its clubs, imposed by other leagues).
It is difficult to say quite what the FFP rules are in the Premier League now, and certainly it is difficult to imagine that any club is going to be penalised for spending, no matter how much it spends. But it is still possible to consider where the money comes from: and that is the question that is never raised by the people who write their annual “Arsenal is the most expensive club to support” reports each year.
The difference between Arsenal and Manchester City lies fundamentally in the amount of money each is given by the feudal state of the United Arab Emirates. Arsenal’s money comes from the sponsorship of the club by Emirates Airlines, which is owned by the Investment Corporation of Dubai which is effectively the sovereign wealth fund of Dubai – which gets its money from the port of Dubai, tourism and property development.
Manchester City’s money comes from being owned by the half brother of the dictator of the United Arab Emirates. Arsenal’s income from the Emirates Airline comes from the same ultimate source, although because it is sponsorship rather than ownership, the income is far, far less. As for where the UAE gets its money, partly this comes from oil (companies that get the oil out of the ground and sell it around the world pay the Emirates between 55% and 85% of their profit, in taxation).
But there is more to it than that. As the Guardian pointed out in an article (which quite rightly notes that this is not the sort of thing that you hear about on Sky or BT Sport) the UAE is built on a system of apartheid in which 15% of the population are considered “full nationals” and have rights. As it says, “the dirty work – from construction to cleaning – is done by despised immigrants from south Asia” who have no rights.
What is remarkable about the Guardian article, “Who pays for Manchester City’s beautiful game?” by Nick Cohen, is that it focuses not primarily on the fact that the UAE is a slave labour state but rather that hardly anyone mentions this fact any more. If one does, the article suggests, then the old “don’t bring politics into football” quote comes up, although rarely does anyone bother to ask why one shouldn’t bring politics into football, since politics (in the form or tiny ruling elites who keep the money for themselves following an accident of birth) is paying for football.
Let me offer this quote from the article:
“In the 18th and 19th centuries, few wanted to say that gorgeous stately homes and fine public buildings had been built because the British looted Indians and enslaved Africans. Today, it feels equally “inappropriate” – to use a modern word that stinks of Victorian prudery – to say that a beautiful football club has been built on the proceeds of exploitation.”
Indeed – or to go back to my opening point, the fact that Arsenal is allegedly the most expensive club to support comes from the fact that Arsenal gets less money from the nation that lives by exploiting its slave labourers. As a result, those of us who go, have to pay.
There is also the suggestion that “the fans do not care where the money came from. Nor do neutrals who love football for its own sake. For them, it is as miserablist to talk about Manchester City’s owners on Match of the Day as to talk about the factory farming of turkeys at the Christmas lunch table,” as the Guardian says.
That is true but it does not excuse the fact that we have a mass media that covers football 24 hours a day, and yet absolutely fails to mention where the money comes from. Instead we get (as I am sure we will in 2018) the regular comparison of which club is the most expensive to watch – which is nothing more than an exercise in deflection.
Manchester City is above Arsenal in the league because Manchester City gets more money from a country in which all dissidents are picked up by the police and many are tortured, than Arsenal do.
I still support Arsenal as I have done since I became aware of football as a child in north London. But that does not stop me being ashamed that it is partly financed by money from a dictatorial state. Nor does it stop me from being rather pleased to see an article in the Guardian that points out just how football is financed. Here’s the link, in case you are interested…
- Revealed: the secretive group who could build a perfect team, but refuse to do so
- Arsenal in January 1919: rioting in the streets and the question of promotion
- Why being at a football match makes it all so very different
- What the media won’t tell you about football 5: Fifa lends money to Switzerland
- What the media won’t tell you about football, part 4 – referee variations
- The final transfer rumours: 3 new names to make 66 players tipped for Arsenal
- What the media won’t tell you about football, part 3 – referee home bias
- The real live facts that the media won’t ever touch (part 2)