Corrupted Beyond Salvation
Some of you may have been aware that I have been out of the country for the last few days, and may have presumed this to be the reason why there hasn’t been much going on around these parts since then. Well, that’s not strictly true. I normally find a way to commit some words to the screen, no matter where I am. There’s always a way, and had, say, Spurs have won 73-0 against Middlesbrough in the FA Cup during the week, I would have found a way. But reader, I didn’t need a week away from writing. If anything, I needed a week away from football.
This week has seen the emergence of several stories which sum up pretty neatly where the game back on Racist Island stands right now. On the one hand, there was the matter of further changes to the Champions League which will only further engorge that competition, almost certainly the detriment of everything around it. I haven’t paused to look closely at the details of this, but the tone of this particular story has been as clear as you like. UEFA is desperate to stop The Schism, and is contorting its own raison d’etre in order to maintain its control over the game rather than anything else.
Let’s not get suckered into the argument that UEFA has the best interests of “the game” at heart, because there really isn’t a “game” left to hold dear, any more. Everything is atomised, now. All that’s left is a handful of institutions run by the very worst people that you could imagine, from the sportswashers with their fingers in the pie at Manchester City, PSG and Barcelona, to the manufacturers of heart-exploding energy drinks and international turbo-capitalists who you wouldn’t cross the road to piss on if they were on fire just about everywhere else.
The coup has been slow and quiet. Slowly but surely, club by club, they’ve eaten the game, and no-one really cares because just enough cake is fed to the lumpen proletariat to keep everyone inside the bubble, and everything is kept glittery and sparkly enough to maintain our desperation to be a part of the party. Like frogs in a pot of boiling water, we’ve been immersed in this for much of the last twenty years whilst failing to see it going on all around us. FIFA were amoral enough to sell two consecutive World Cup finals to these people and no-one did anything, because nothing must ever stop the party that is The Football, and because the vast, vast majority of us ultimately don’t look at these people with revulsion, but with envy.
The other story of the week has been the story that Derby County have now joined Sheffield Wednesday on the naughty step in terms of their efforts to cook the books through selling their stadiums to themselves to bypass EFL rules limiting the amount of debt that they can run up in their pursuit of a place in the sunlit uplands of the Premier League. If in doubt, throw more money at it, and eventually it will stick. The stench of desperation is overwhelming, and whilst it remains entirely plausible that the EFL might have screwed their own administration up so badly that one or both of these clubs might yet escape punishment through a loophole for what we’ve all seen them diddle, this doesn’t alter the fact that they were acting in this way in the first place.
There’ll be a defence, because there’ll always be a defence in a culture as broken as ours, which considers genuine fair play and admissions of guilt to be signs of weakness. No-one seems terribly interested in the question of how shit the senior management of Derby County must be to have pissed the financial losses that they have up the wall and still only be in seventeenth place in the Championship table. Mel Morris is sticking it to The Man, and that’s all that matters. Look at those fools trying to play within the rules, seems to be the attitude within the whole of that particular club. We demand Premier League football, says a fan base that doesn’t give a fuck whether other clubs are staying within them. The stench of entitlement hangs heavy in the air, second only to the curdled sense of grievance whenever this is pointed out to them.
You will note that there are no “good guys” in any of these debates. There’s no-one standing up for integrity, and no-one standing up for such an outdated notion as “sport” any more. Supporters Direct were strangled by the Premier League, and no-one gave a fuck. Publications such as When Saturday Comes, which defended this quaint notion that there could perhaps be more to this game than mere self-gratification, had to pass round a begging cup towards the end of last year. The FA gave away responsibility for just about everything bar running the FA Cup and the England national team several years ago.
No-one really *cares* about football any more. They care about winning, they care about getting what they want, and they care about rubbing the noses of others in the dirt when they do. Such is the nature of the twenty-first century. Rage and entitlement in equal measures. Once you start seeing these patterns of behaviour, they’re very difficult to unsee, and they’re absolutely everywhere, at the moment. Even the debate over ending replays in the FA Cup can only frame itself in terms of money, with the small point of whether an entire domestic sporting competition should be distended for the (dubious, at best) benefit of twenty of the hundreds of clubs that take part in it broadly considered an irrelevance.
There’s nothing really to suggest that Derby County or Sheffield Wednesday are particularly worse than anybody else, in this respect, either. They just happen to be the two clubs that are in the dock in the court of public opinion this month. Next month, it will be someone else, for some other reason. These two clubs, like the vast majority in the Championship, are desperate for a place in the top twenty. They see a football culture in which the media saturates us with coverage of the top six and the top twenty, and they want in. They don’t consider the fact that they’ve played barely a handful of seasons in the Premier League over the last two decades between them to be an indicator that perhaps, just perhaps, this actually is their level. They are Big Clubs in the reality created by their own imaginations. They want to bend reality to their will, and curse anyone that gets in the way of giving them what they want for themselves.
But they’re no different to any of the rest of us. We’re all swimming in this effluent trough, and I’m no better than anyone else. I was suckered into the Champions League hype as soon as Spurs stopped being shit in it. I didn’t walk away when the Premier League was formed. I watched the World Cup in Russia, and I’ll probably watch the World Cup in Qatar, even though the thought of it brings a little bit of sick up into my mouth. Contrary to what we may wish, we will get no say in what the future looks like for professional football. It’s already been sold.