, February 03, 2023

Gordon Brown calls for football regulator to speak for supporters


  •   4 min reads
Gordon Brown calls for football regulator to speak for supporters

Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown calls for a football regulator to speak for supporters so that the sport is less of a "money-making exercise for a few billionaires."

Is football still the game of the people? The cost of watching a Premiership match these days is staggering— for many, it feels like a game for an elite. If racing is the sport of kings, then maybe football is the sport of billionaires.

The former British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, has called for big changes to the way football is run. He took to Twitter to call for a regulator "who is speaking for supporters and is chosen because they are a voice of the fans."

He added: "They would be someone who has an appreciation of the game continuing beyond 'this ownership or that ownership' and instead building for the future."

There is another way of looking at his proposal — it is like he is saying football has become too capitalist.

"The game is at risk of moving further away from its original purpose of being part of a network of people at the grassroots and instead becoming a money-making exercise for a few billionaires," he Tweeted.

He also Tweeted: "Many of the people coming into football from abroad are only interested in the Premier League, but the Premier League only thrives because we have so much commitment and voluntary efforts going on at the grassroots."

Mr Brown, who was also the UK's finance minister for ten years, makes some good points.  Money has flooded into football but has it made the experience for fans any better?

Until 1961 there was a maximum wage for footballers in Britain — £20 a week- around 50 per cent more than the average wage. It was abolished following campaigning and a threatened strike led by a footballer called Jimmy Hill, who some readers might recall as a TV pundit famous for his long chin.

And from that moment, everything changed — soon after the maximum wage was abolished, one of Jimmy Hill's teammates at West Ham became the first player to earn £100 a week.

Another key moment in the story of football was the Bosman Ruling in 1995. Citing Wikipedia, the ruling "banned restrictions on foreign EU players within national leagues and allowed players in the EU to move to another club at the end of a contract without a transfer fee being paid."

And so football was transformed. But we have also seen a kind of arms race — teams are forced to spend ever more money just to maintain their position— fans celebrate the purchase of the next big football signing, but are they enjoying the game anymore?

These days football players are fitter — no doubt about that. Transport a player like George Best, one of the most naturally talented players to ever grace a football pitch, into a 2023 Premier League match, and he would struggle, not because of a lack of talent but because of fitness and attitude to training.

Money has changed the sport, of that, there is no argument. But has it changed the sport for the better? This is more debatable.

Yet both Hill's campaign against the fixed wage and the Bosman ruling seem eminently sensible.

Maybe the issue is one of extremes. To argue professional footballers (no matter how good) should only be entitled to marginally more than the average wage feels like the politics of envy.

Forbes estimates that the French player

Kylian Mbappé will earn $128 million this season.  Can you blame footballers for their high salaries? Of course not. But would they still ply their trade if they were paid a fraction of the current wages paid to top-flight players? Yes, they surely would.

A wage of £100 a week in 1961 was around seven times the average wage. Today, seven times the average wage is about £4,400 a week — around a quarter of a million a year. To a footballer who earns that, I would say, "good luck to him."

But the average wage of a Premiership player is around £3 million a year.

There is a point when the politics of envy turns into the politics of greed. Judging the level of that point is not so easy — but it surely exists.

But there is another issue. Before footballers' wages went through the roof, English football was plagued by hooliganism.  For some fans? Having a fight was part of the fun.

Gordon Brown didn't stipulate that football should be a family sport — he said: "We need to remind people that our football clubs are like families, not like casinos or gambling joints."

So he is not necessarily looking back with rose-tinted glasses, but football has had to clean itself of the stain of violence to attract the money. They used to call football hooliganism the English disease; maybe today, the only English disease to permeate football is the focus on money — not that Premiership teams have a monopoly on that.

Maybe the transformation of football, for better or worse, is the price we paid for fighting hooliganism and combatting racism in the sport.

Returning to Gordon Brown, he Tweeted: "Football clubs are places where at their best people come together, cultivate teamwork, build team spirit, find role models, and celebrate all that a community has in common.

"The regulator would be someone who is speaking for supporters and is chosen because they are a voice of the fans.

They would be someone who has an appreciation of the game continuing beyond 'this ownership or that ownership' and instead building for the future."

Is he right?

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