The announcement by English football’s ruling elite, the FA
Premier League, that they intend introducing an extra round of fixtures to be
played in venues around the world over one single weekend should come as no
surprise to anyone. Since its formation 15 years ago as a replacement for the
old First Division, the FA Premier League has sought to increase the
profitability of its product (their term not mine) out of all proportion – and
at our expense.
By seeking to arrange an additional round of games – fixture
39 – for the sole purpose of raising cash and developing new markets, they are
simply taking to its logical conclusion the whole purpose of forming the
Premier League in the first place.
When the new league was created in 1992, it was at the
behest of club owners – especially those organised around the big clubs – to
ensure that more cash went to them and less to football in general. Their first
task was to start maximising the income available from television. The
appearance of satellite TV provided them with a lever. The likes of Sky were
more than happy to splash out the cash to get live football onto their screens
as, even now, these games command the highest viewing figures and therefore
The amounts of cash now flowing into the club owners pockets
is staggering. In 1988 just £11 million in domestic TV income was raised in a
season, in 1992 this shot up to £304 million and, after a dip in the
mid-nineties, went up to £400 million in 2001 and an incredible £667 million in
2007. The price they (or rather we) paid – quite apart from forking out for Sky
subscriptions – was the arbitrary moving around of fixture times and dates to
suit the TV schedules. The idea of all games kicking of at 3.00pm on a Saturday
as become a thing of the past.
Has this cash been used to benefit supporters? Hell, no – in
fact we have seen seat prices shooting up year on year. So much so that
attendances started to be hit and clubs have been forced to reduce or freeze
seat prices for some games to get fans back in through the turnstiles. One
exception to this trend has been Manchester United for reasons that will become
Of course the Premier League has not been alone in this rush for new avenues of money. Good old Uefa weighed in with the formation
of the bloated Champions League, or as it should be known the
Champions-and-their-rich-chums league since you no longer have to actually be a
champion to qualify, as was the case with the European Cup. The aim has been to
ensure a regular and huge source of additional income for the big clubs in
Europe without the inconvenience of having to first win a league title to get
in. With a TV revenue of £625 million in 2007, these clubs have been laughing
all the way to the bank. The only downside has been that for clubs who
regularly play in the Champions League, their increasing reliance on having to
qualify each season has become something of a drug with the consequences of not
actually qualifying being nothing short of a disaster.
Naturally the sight of all this money coming into football
has caught the eye of a number of wealthy wannabe owners who have started
buying up clubs with the – and we
should be clear on this – sole intention of making a packet on the back of the
so-called national game. So Abramovich bought up Chelsea using money nicked
from Russian workers during the break-up of the Soviet Union and then the
Glazer gang wheeled in to grab the biggest target of all – Manchester United.
What have we seen here? Ticket prices shooting up, meaningless friendly games
being played abroad to raise cash and so on – anything to raise an additional
Dollar. Other clubs have also been sold to people on the look out for a quick
buck. Since the cost of buying these clubs can be pushed onto the club itself,
these people have found themselves in a win-win situation. Only the supporters,
whose voices have been increasingly ignored, have lost out.
These owners have acted against the background of a Premier
League management that has constantly acted since day one in the interest of
the moneymen rather than having the best interests of the game at heart. They
listen to owners and sponsors and no one else.
It seems the additional 39th fixture will involve
five cities around the world each staging two games, one on a Saturday and one
on a Sunday, with staggered kick-off times so that all the games can be
screened on TV with all the additional income that will generate. One downside
is that this will in effect increase the already overlong season by two whole
weeks – this at a time when many in football are already complaining about the
number of games players have to take part in over a season. In addition fans
who wish to see their team playing will have to fork out hundreds of pounds in
hotel and airfare fees.
The reaction from supporter organisations has been hostile.
Neal Atkinson, from the Sons Of Shankly group was quoted in the Guardian on
Friday 8th as follows: ‘This is another example of English
football’s owners and administrators being utterly divorced from their core
support… at what point will someone protect the core of these institutions, the
supporters, from the whims of those whose only aim is personal gain?’ In the
same report, Duncan Drasdo, from the Manchester United Supporters Trust adds:
‘…This is the slippery slope towards franchise football and it can’t be any
coincidence that this idea has raised its ugly head since the influx of foreign
private owners with no feeling for football, only for how they can maximise the
funds they can extract from it,’ We would only add that home-grown owners have
shown themselves to be just as greedy over the years – they may claim to have a
feeling for football but their feeling for money will always outweigh it.
The Football Supporters Federation have already organised an
online petition against Game 39, which can be accessed at www.fas.org.uk. A number of supporters
organisations have already stated that they will organise against this additional
fixture. Of course, the FA and others have said that they will seek
consultation over this but do not expect anything to come of this – if Fixture
39 looks profitable enough then the FA and the rest will just roll over and do
nothing. So long as the perks keep coming in, they will be happy.
The time has come for supporters to unite and organise not
just against Fixture 39 but also against the whole way in which football is
owned and run. Our football clubs are as important a national asset as are our
stately homes and museums yet they are being ripped apart to earn a cheap buck.
They should be taken out of private ownership and run in the interests of
supporters, players and the local communities – and this is an action that can
wait no longer. Fixture 39 shows that we are running out of time to save
football from the money vultures – even if this scheme gets put on ice (for
now) the general drive towards disaster will continue. It’s time to act.