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Editorial Football urgently needs a democratic renewal 

WE see in the plan to create a new 20-club competition the inexorable workings of the capitalist drive to monopoly.

There is already a chorus of criticism — from Britain’s Premier League, from Uefa and from Fifa — that is opportunistically joined by a host of politicians who are with the fans on this issue but with big money when it comes to doing something serious about the drive to monopoly power and corruption of billionaire ownership.

Even if each of our team’s demigods originally hailed from a Spanish barrio, a Neapolitan terrace, a Glasgow close or a Brazilian favela there is a fraternity and sorority of football fans that sees, even in closely fought contests, a sense that what makes football special is its character as the triumph of the popular over the elitist.

This may seem paradoxical when top players earn the kind of money which puts them forever beyond the drive to earn a daily crust, but part of football’s eternal appeal lies in the pyramid in which a schoolchild given the chance to develop their skills can progress to the highest professional level.

Millions of girls and boys kicking a football around the school yard or the street are motivated not by the mirage of millions but by the sheer pleasure of the game and the delight in developing their expertise. 

And to think that top players are only motivated by individual greed is to malign the many who match their sporting skills to human values and progressive politics.

To see this latest manoeuvre by the money men of international football as simply the act of men consumed by greed is to miss the point.

The profit motive and the drive to monopoly is hardwired into our system and sport is a business like any other. Everything is a commodity which only realises its value when it enters the market — and this goes not just for each match, not just for each player, not just for each team but for the game itself.

Of course, it is the capital at the disposal of media moguls and television tsars — always in search of new opportunities to invest — that is joined with the big bosses and bent bureaucrats of global football in this merry-go-round of money-making.

While some vested interests will find in this scheme a threat to their personal fiefdom there are others in this notoriously venal world who will come to an accommodation.

From Labour we expect more than a few token words of protest shared with Boris Johnson. 

When even Tory Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden is prepared to consider shared ownership models for football clubs, it is time for Labour to give voice to the football fans’ favoured demand for democratic control. 

Time to reprise Jeremy Corbyn’s call for clubs to pay their staff a living wage, ban zero-hours contracts and give fans the right to hire and fire directors.

An essential part of the democratic renewal of football must be state regulation of the relationship between broadcasters and the game, coupled with a statutory requirement for fans to have a guaranteed say in the running of their club.

Any moves to curb the private power of capital in this most popular part of the nation’s sporting culture must include measures which enhance the local identity of clubs and divert a big wedge of TV money to nurture the footballing local ecology of every club. Football needs popular power.

The game’s institutions need not only the organised power of fans but the patronage of local authorities. Stadiums are not assets to be leveraged for debt accumulation by billionaire owners and should be collectively owned.


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