Football: Politics & Business

Football – where the marriage between socialism and capitalism gave birth to the beautiful game.

In its roots, association football sprouted from fan culture which was localized to domestic teams kicking ball. 

Today, it is a ravaging global market where mega corporations pay national athletes millions to play the game at breakneck speed in state-of-the-art super stadiums.

Football in an English Public School, 1889 (source: linguapress.com

Football however, in its essence has a strong socialist core. Clubs are organized by local lads, supported by local lads, for local lads. 

A lead figure sets a tone or system for the entire team, and club efforts are prioritized to achieve and maintain organization harmony. Players and staff are recruited with the expectation that they agree with the team philosophy set by the aforementioned leader or manager. Football clubs desire to be in unison from top to bottom, everyone including the groundkeeper, the tea lady, and the ball boys, hence so.

This emphasis on this single tone, system, or philosophy for the club or team is an indirect result of the very nature of the team sport; the team with all players and staff pulling in the same direction and on the same wavelength of thought. As compared to the team comprising of eleven different individuals with their own methodology of the game.

Globalization of Football

Real Madrid of Spain (White) take on Kashima Antlers of Japan (Red) at the FIFA Club World Cup in UAE, 2018 (source: thenational.ae)

As the sport grew popular, supporters were being born; first families and friends of the football players, come to watch their  associates on the pitch. Soon a trend appeared with multinational crowds eventually piling onto streets in the thousands to support their teams. Club management recognizes this as a business opportunity to begin selling tickets to supporters, leading down the lane to merchandising, licensing, branding, and many other business ventures.

This is where things became tediously tricky.

The very same people in management of association football clubs and whom have since laid the building blocks of a strong socialist organization, are also tasked with undertaking the football club’s business ventures. Television deals, kit sales, sponsorship arrangements, the sort, cannot be handled in the same manner as the former. The relentless nature of business and enterprise being the exact opposite of the stable and secure framework of football organizations.

As football transitioned to become a business enterprise, most evident in the 1990s, clubs needed to adjust. Those that failed to do so, slowly faded leaving nothing more than a footnote of their past. 

The English Game

The announcement of the FA Premier League in the 1992/93 football campaign (source: fourfourtwo.com)

The English Football League First Division had seen twenty-two different champions before it was converted into the FA Premier League in 1992 but produced only six different winners since then with the competition being dominated by the Red Devils of Manchester United. 

The conversion of the English Football League First Division to the FA Premier League allowed the teams of the FA Premier League to be commercially independent from the regulations of the rest of the English Football League. This puts a huge emphasis on business savvy management of football clubs. 

Manchester United win the UEFA Champions League under the stewardship of Sir Alex Ferguson (center) in Barcelona, 1999 (source: mirror.com)

Manchester United invested well, backed with significant club infrastructure to reap great profits from this new era commercialization. The club had done so under the astute management of Sir Alex Ferguson, who’s charismatic yet pragmatic approach ensured that the club never ran astray of their core socialist approach while securing shrewd acquisitions on the business frontier. They obtained financial power this way and exerted their dominance at the top of English football, winning twelve premier league crowns, with the next best team being Chelsea with only five.

Sunderland AFC meanwhile won six English First Division titles, more titles than current English football powerhouses Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspurs, and Chelsea, but have since been relegated to the English 3nd division of football. Due to the immense financial pressure relying on immediate results, the stable socialist structure that was the backbone of Sunderland AFC was abandoned for policies that do not necessarily agree with the values of the locals and the club, but that had a better chance for immediate return and financial performance. Poor decisions on this end left the club bereft of their identity and of their financial capabilities, effectively relegating them to perennial strugglers in the lower divisions in the English football pyramid.

Sunderland AFC face back to back relegation from the English Premier League (1st Division) to the English Football Championship (2nd Division) to the English League One (3rd Division) in 2018 (source: chroniclelive.co.uk)

This was the case not only for Sunderland AFC, but also for many other English football clubs. Leeds United and Portsmouth were financial mismanaged due to immense business pressure. This drove them to the brink of liquidation as football performances took a turn for the worse, dropping one if not several divisions of football.

In conclusion, there is a fine balance between socialism and capitalism at play in football. Clubs are navigating their treacherous day to day operations with close caution as to not set the dominoes off in the wrong direction. 

Think you are going to make it in football because you are good at the footy?

Think again. 

Written by: Ameer Danial

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