The Guardian’s take on English football governance: the need for a moral compass | Editorial
IIt was perhaps the writer and journalist Arthur Hopcraft who came closest to the heart of the visceral appeal of our national game. In The Football Man, published two years after England won the World Cup in 1966, Hopcraft wrote: personality. “
Last May, the billionaire owners and hedge fund opportunists behind the ill-fated European Super League (ESL) scheme discovered it for themselves. The six most powerful clubs in the Premier League, shamelessly determined to join a global sports cartel, have sparked a fan revolt of passionate intensity. Boris Johnson, not a football fan but a politician who can read the signs of the times, has found the right record of reply: âThese clubs, these names, he said, come from famous cities in our country. They should not be “dislodged” from these places “without any reference to the fans and to those who have loved them all their lives”. The Premier League has taken its place alongside Mr Johnson as a champion of the prudent management of popular game.
For a sport regularly accused of losing its moral compass in the age of stratospheric wages, dubious owners and overly powerful âsuperclubsâ, this was a romantic and rewarding episode. But it suddenly seems a long time ago. The sporting takeover of Newcastle United by the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund – chaired by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – has once again exposed just how elite 21st century football has become a vehicle for the amoral pursuit of wealth, influence and fame at any cost. The Saudi state’s murderous approach to political dissent, brutal persecution of gays and restriction of women’s rights is well documented. But the takeover was greeted with enthusiasm by the government, the Premier League, local politicians and the vast majority of the squad’s fans. Those worried about lower moral standards may or may not be reassured by the news that in December Newcastle, along with other Premier League clubs, will take part in the Stonewall Rainbow Laces. campaign promote diversity and equality.
The contrast with the great spring rebellion is revealing. While the ESL concept was hostile to vested interests, which risked losing control of England’s star assets in football, the Newcastle takeover will add another star-studded superclub to the richest league in the world. Government – and Newcastle City Council – hope Saudi money will ripple regenerative effects in the northeast, such as in Manchester after Abu Dhabi to resume of Manchester City. Newcastle United fans are stunned at the prospect of trophies and glory, having spent so long in the doldrums during the sad Mike Ashley era.
âRIP in the good gameâ, as an anti-ESL sign said last spring. But in truth, lax governance has long since turned the top of the English game into a carnival of greed vulnerable to bagging machines, the oligarchs and, more and more, the states that play sports. The review on the future of football set up since the summer and chaired by the former Minister of Sports Tracey Crouch is an opportunity to reset. Ms Crouch will likely call for more powers and control for fan groups and a new role as regulator to address financial sustainability issues. These would be steps in the right direction, but the tenure of a football regulator should also contain an ethical dimension, with powers to block takeovers, like Newcastle’s, if they are deemed to bring the game into disrepute. The passions of a tribal world, central to the life and self-image of the nation, are being exploited unscrupulously for the wrong reasons.