What is football? Ask ten people and you get ten different answers. “The most important side-issue” is a popular saying in Europe. “Ballet for overpaid nancy boys”, is another. ” Football is emotion”, you’ll hear from people to justify verbal or physical violence as a result of the ‘Beautiful Game’ (British term). Brazilians like to say “God is round” (though that might refer to their fondness of big butts?) Che Guevara once described it as a powerful tool in the revolution.
Recently ADO Den Haag owner Hui Wang made a quite blunt comment about the football team from The Hague. “ADO has to be a profitable asset by the end of the year.” Now, perhaps I’m less informed than people that follow football very actively, but “valuable asset” is not a term I generally (want to) associate with football.
I know, of course, that football changed. It didn’t change yesterday, when this Chinese businessman uttered that gross nonsense, but it re-confirmed it. Probably football changed sometime in the early nineties. When the Champions League was conceived, when SkySports started to pay astronomical amounts of money for the television rights of Premier League teams. When a guy named Jean-Marc Bosman suddenly became world famous and flipped the transfer system upside down. It changed when a Russian oligarch bought Chelsea FC for his own amusement, when Red Bull took over an entire team in Austria and when a South African businessman decided to relocate Wimbledon FC to Milton Keynes.
In short: money and business became such an overpowering influence on the sport, that we started to lose sight of the original meaning and purpose of football, or sports in general. Or society in general. Because the tendency of a growing business that needs to expand and overproduce in order to maintain momentum is a something that we see happening to the world and the world’s economy in general. And it didn’t actually start in the 1990s of course, it’s just that from that point the change really started to take shape. It was the next big step in a direction that had been taken from the very moment sponsorship and other forms of commercialism had entered sports. Anyone well educated in the spheres of economics and dialectical materialism could have predicted this to happen.
You can only keep pushing your luck for so long until it blows up in your face. The self destructive nature of capitalist economics was set in motion the moment the exploitation of football began. Money flows towards an ever decreasing selection of top tier teams, the smaller ones can’t keep up or have to lean on the sheer nothingness of loans, the illusion of wealth based on smoke and mirrors.
Of course this could not happen without a counter reaction from those directly affected by the misery. Go talk to a couple of football fans, and the thing they will bemoan the most are the high ticket prices, players that aren’t loyal to their team but just follow the money, sponsor deals and merchandise getting higher priority than club culture and rich businessmen that buy teams just to make money off it, rather than pursuing success on the pitch. This sentiment is driven by the fact that all of these commercial undertakings are chipping away at the club’s identity. Most football fans won’t lecture you on economics or the finer points of the dialectic, but simply see their team being less approachable, more anonymous and a rigid commercial institute instead of a part of the community with traditions and cultural identity.
This is also the reason, however, that most tendencies of resistance in the football fanbase are purely reactionary and opportunistic. Without theoretical knowledge, a certain sense of idealism and the ability to look at the bigger picture, the movement remains out of self interest and largely short sighted. There are signs of progression though and this mostly expresses itself in the fact that more fans start to realise what’s going on and start to believe that they actually can make a difference. Because just as in the meta form of class struggle, the biggest opponent of progress is apathy.
Let’s start to define what football actually is (or sports in general) and what it means to the working class. A football- or sports team is a catalyst for the community and has a huge social function for the local people. Amateur teams still display this sense of community consciousness and responsibility, but most professional organisations do not. A sportsground provides a place for local populace to play sports, come and watch matches, meet people and occupy oneself. It can keep young people off the streets, offer charity initiatives and let everyone contribute in forms of volunteer work. This originates from the early roots of football as a working class pastime and social hub for entire neighbourhoods.
A great example of a professional club that still actively fulfills this role, is FC Sankt Pauli from Hamburg in Germany. Situated in one of the poorer parts of the city, it offers locals an affordable admittance and an accessible, unpretentious environment. Apart from football and other sports Sankt Pauli actively organises charity events, gatherings and offer their premises for courses and lectures on social topics.
Sankt Pauli is pretty unique in that aspect, but we see this sort of tendencies in other forms and places. The most interesting I find two so-called protest teams in Great Britain that have risen from the roots of that aforementioned anger and dissatisfaction with commercialised football. AFC Wimbledon and FC United of Manchester are two teams established by fans and are lead by fans one a one vote per member basis. The Wimbledon team was a reaction to the relocation of the club to Milton Keynes, and FC United came to be as a reaction to the purchase of Manchester United by an American investment company. Both are meant to give the team back to the fans, and both have experienced a lot of success on the pitch as well as in the community.
This shows us that the uprising of the working class is a vital and unavoidable in all aspects of society; be it work, sports or other forms of entertainment and culture. The realisation that this tendency is essential to give football back to the people where it belongs is growing, but not everyone is aware yet. In a grandiose display of ignorance, former Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson called the fans that started FC United “traitors”, completely and blatantly unaware that, in fact, he was the traitor.
No doubt Hui Wang is not aware of this either. He thinks FC The Hague is being a nuisance now, not cooperating with his grand plan and leading themselves into misery. The fans and the community behind the club have to realise that Wang is the problem. Selling the club to another rich businessman hoping that they will fix things is not the solution. The people themselves have to take the club back. I wish them all the success they need.