By Tony Attwood
Classifying the travails of Manchester City at the moment as a battle between Man City and football’s regulators actually answers the question in the headline: from the off, Untold Arsenal has concerned itself with the regulators of football, arguing among other things that the FA is not a fit and proper organisation to run football.
In the Man City case, it is Man C vs Uefa. Uefa is seemingly a better regulator than it was in the days of Infantino but still a regulator. The regulators, like governments, make the laws, and then appoint those who have the job of policing the laws – and so they need to be kept an eye on. And this is where the battle is looming.
Of course which battle is actually fought, is to some degree a matter of chance, but as in the English civil war, once both sides have agreed that there has to be a battle, and both have managed to get their armies to the same field (just off the A14 as it happens not far from my home) on the same day, the battle rages, the victor decided, and history takes a new course.
For anyone who has driven off that main east-west road through the East Midlands in England to find Naseby, the question of “why use this field to settle England’s future, at least for the next 375 years?” is the one that probably springs to mind. The answer – it was just a convenient field.
And in the future, I suspect Uefa v Man City might take on the same aspect. Not that the result will influence football for 375 years, but it is happening, it will have a huge impact, but quite why it was this fight at this time… well who knows. It could have been any one of a thousand different fights, but it just happens to be this one.
Who wins this fight is important because ultimately, like the English civil war, this is a fight about power and the winner will probably take control for a long time to come. Do we go with the owners of a football club who run an autocratic state or a body of people who have somehow historically got the right to decide how football in Europe does things.
Of course a lot of things in football happen by accident. I support Arsenal because I was brought up in north London by parents and grandparents who supported Arsenal.
But also, part of my enduring love of Arsenal developed when I discovered the way they were founded – the one early League club run by the workers for the workers, as opposed to being a team set up by or taken over by a factory owner or a religiously inspired individual (Man City was set up by the rector of St Mark’s Church for example.)
In the early years, Arsenal was run by a committee of the workers. When Henry Norris came forward and saved Arsenal in 1910 by paying off all the debts (at least one of which was ten years old) there was dislike of him by fans because of his association with Fulham FC, and directors of other clubs (because he was a builder, rather than someone who had inherited his money).
But although most histories of Arsenal have skated over the issue, Henry Norris had the vision of a club owned by its supporters, and from the off, having made the club financially stable, he started to sell his shares in the club to the fans. This was typical of his vision of life – the club owned by the fans. It fitted in with his political views, from protecting working men from the gambling firms through to equal pay for women and lifetime state pensions for men injured in the first world war. The sell-off of the club to the fans was, I think, unique to Arsenal at the time, but was put into reverse in 1927 when Sir Henry (as he had become due to his war work) was ousted and the Hill-Wood clan took control in a coup. We’ve never looked forwards since.
Arsenal’s history shows conspiracies in football can and do happen as with the case when the Hill-Wood family worked with the FA and League to get the troublesome Sir Henry ousted and stop the share sell-offs once and for all. Now it seems Man City believe that the established football elite in Europe are involved in a conspiracy to keep out any upstarts and let the old elite stay in control.
And quite probably that is right – that is how capitalism works. Just look at how Amazon has behaved across the last 20+ years when faced with any rival.
So, finding itself challenged, Uefa fights back. And indeed Man City could always go to the European Courts over the activities of Uefa and FFP. After all that is how the Bosman ruling came about. And if they believe other clubs are corrupt or Uefa is corrupt, they can indeed challenge them although such challenges have been heard before and been lost. The European courts have repeatedly recognised sport and sporting leagues are a special case where the normal rules of business competition don’t apply. That is why we all remember Bosman… because it was one of the rare cases where the top European court said normal rules of employment do apply. When clubs submit their accounts to Uefa for ratification to be permitted to compete in a Uefa tournament, it is not clear who else they think should have jurisdiction. This is how sports are run.
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