The most obvious explanation, it turns out, is usually the most obvious explanation for a reason. After several days of head-scratching, The Times newspaper acknowledged its error in running a story about the Dream Football League yesterday morning, bringing to a close an extraordinary few days during which we had been given cause to wonder who had been telling the truth over a news story which began as something remarkable for one reason and ended as something remarkable for something else altogether. It turned out that those that had viewed the story – which, as we pointed out before, would have been one the biggest football news stories for some considerable time – were right to be skeptical of it. This was a work of satirical invention created by the French football site Cahiers du Football which was picked up on by an individual with a history of feeding fake stories to the press.
Credit is due to The Times for running the retraction – it could quite easily have attempted to brazen out the story, using its not inconsiderable influence to discredit those that had questioned it – and to the journalist concerned, Oliver Kay, who apologised to the French website Cahiers du Foot, who had run the original article concerned as a piece of satire. Against, the expedient option for Kay might have been to remain silent and do nothing more than allow his employers to speak for him. At the other end of the spectrum, words fail on the subject of Robert Beal, the individual who pushed Kay in the direction of this story in the first place. If his credibility as a source of news stories for the British football press has been demolished, then perhaps there is a significant positive that can be taken from this whole unfortunate episode. Finally, as we wrap this small matter up – at least in terms of the specifics of the story itself – pats on the back are also due to Richard Whittall from Counter Attack for sticking with this story when it must have felt as if t would be as easy to give up on it as not, and to Andrew Gibney at French Football Weekly and Nick Harris from Sporting Intelligence for showing Beal up as the chancer that he evidently is.
The notion, however, remains that football is about to change, and what was perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this whole story has been the extent of people that were prepared to accept that this was somewhere between plausible and likely. Football is changing. This is an argument that we have been stating on this particular website for years. And the question that we should perhaps start to examine more than which journalist may have got by fooled by which hoaxer or who said what to whom is a broader and, in the long run, considerably more important one: if we understand that the game is going to change – as it has at a fairly steady pace since it was first formally codified in 1863 – then what is the game going to change into, and who is it going to benefit the most?
There have been some that have suggested that, in view of the amount of money being poured into professional football through broadcasting rights, then perhaps those that actually do turn up to the matches don’t matter any more. This is striking as a particularly short-sighted viewpoint to take. Professional sport of any description is important because of its context, and perhaps the most important aspects of that context are the roar of the crowd and the history of the game itself. The Dream Football League as satirised as a concept in Cahiers du Football might have worked had enough money been thrown at it, especially in the eyes of those who now consider themselves to be the guardians of the game’s future, and there is certainly a case for suggesting that the next logical step in the evolution of this game as a truly global game might well be to recognise the extent to which club loyalties trump everything else through the instigation of a tournament which recognises football as a global club game.
It is not the existence of such a tournament, however that would be root of the problems that would beset it and make it so unpopular amongst so many people. In a game that has become all consumed by the lawless end of the free capitalist market, siphoning off even more money to clubs who already have the word at their feet, metaphorically speaking, would destroy any last vestiges of competition at a national level, and quite possibly at a continental level. It’s difficult to imagine that such a tournament that would do anything other than entrench existing status quos indefinitely if FIFA were running. Quite what might happen were anybody else to get involved and what the effects of a schism in the global administration of the game might mean for the way that it looks would be anybody’s guess. So important is this as a question for the future that we might even wish to be quietly grateful for those that made this non-story public. The unthinkable was put before our eyes, and it was largely rejected, not just by supporters but even by the biggest clubs, who might well have stood to benefit the most from its existence… had it been real. Anything that gives us pause for thought on such subjects has a value that isn’t necessarily easily quantifiable. None of this, however, is to say that such a concept won’t rear its ugly head again in the future. The Dream Football League might have been no more than its name suggested this time around, but that’s not to say that it could never happen in the future.
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