The other week Patrick Collins wrote in the Mail on Sunday about football risking losing a generation of fans. His point was about the ridiculous situation of having all seated stadia and allowing people to stand, citing the problem of paying a fortune for seats for your kids only for them not to be able to see anything but the person in fronts back and therefore not being interested enough to want to follow the game. I agree with the issue of making grounds have seats and allowing people to stand; I’ve written on that subject more than once, but will it cost the game a generation? I’m not sure.
This was just a small topic on his page though, the main article being about the exorbitant wages involved these days and I think that this is what will cost the game dearly. Sure there is a passion about soccer in a number of countries, but I’ll stick with the UK here for now. People will always want to kick a ball around and there will always be a bit of a crowd to turn out and watch if the players have a little class or if there is enough parochial interest. Look at any council or school pitches over the weekend and you’ll see a few interested parties watching plus the odd person who has stopped by whilst out walking their dog. Village and small town sides fielding amateur sides will pull in a few spectators, possibly into the hundreds and usually freely admitted.
The game will always exist and be enjoyed by those that play and watch, but it is clear that it has become an extraordinarily expensive game at its pinnacle and how long can it sustain that, especially in today’s economic climate?
We hear an outcry about a bank chief possibly about to earn a little under £1m as an annual bonus and yet no-one bats an eyelid at a soccer club spending 50 times that on acquiring a player and then paying them staggering amounts of money per week regardless of whether or not they pay or perform.
The money for all of this has to come from somewhere, and there has to be a point where there isn’t enough of it to sustain this level of expenditure. Yes there are some big benefactors ploughing money into the game, but their fortunes have been made through commerce (of one form or another). They are canny business people which is why they have the funds in the first place, but as the world economy squeezes the sources of those funds what next? Formula One is another business where exorbitant amounts of funds have been consumed over the years, but there they have recognised the need for restraint and cost capping amongst the teams. Their problem now is that several of the newer circuits that have joined the circus to host races in recent years are struggling to pay the cost of running a race, much of which revolves around the TV rights, and can’t fill the venues anyway.
The F1 teams and the governing body recognise that, if they want to keep the sport, then they have to manage what it is costing, but football shows no sign of even recognising that they have a problem. With so many clubs in foreign hands, and with debts leveraged in some cases as well, how long will it be before there is a high profile casualty? And once that happens, as with the banks in 2008, there will be a domino effect.
No-one seems to consider the genuine fans in all of this, especially in the context of the hard times they face to fund their pleasures. The lunacy has to stop somewhere, so will it be the clubs or the governing body that see sense, or will natural causes that kill off the professional game as we now know it? Maybe we should just let it die and then we could enjoy what arises from the ashes?