It looks as though we are not getting away from Rupert Murdoch stories yet. James Garry obeys the old adage “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em”. In this article he accuses Murdoch of destroying the game of football with money.
Last year I promised myself to stop following football. I do not follow football that much as it is. I have not read a newspaper using the Arabic technique (i.e., back-to-front) for many years. I seldom watch football matches on television unless the match promises to elevate itself above mere sport (the Liverpool vs. AC Milan European Cup final was one such event) and I have reduced my intake of football to maximising and minimising the Yahoo live results window on Saturday afternoons while working on other things at my computer.
But I have always wanted to break off from football totally. Last year I broke off from football and I thought that was it. I had done it. Finally. And then perhaps the only thing – the only thing – that most unlikely event – that could turn my head actually happened: Kenny Dalglish returned as manager to Liverpool FC.
Yes, I am a Londoner through-and-through. I have never been to Liverpool. I began supporting them, as a child, in 1988. The first live game I watched on television was Liverpool versus Everton. Liverpool won, so I chose to support them. Like most children, I was a glory-hunter. To my credit, I stuck to Liverpool through thin and thinner over the next twenty-something years.
I think I was also swayed towards Liverpool by my father, a Celtic fan who talked of the friendship between Liverpool and Celtic. This strikes me as odd seeing as Liverpool represent Protestantism and Celtic Catholicism. Surely Catholic Everton would be more suitable friends for Celtic, given incendiary sectarianism in football north of Hadrian’s Wall.
When Kenny Dalglish returned to Liverpool FC early in 2011, it opened the doors to a dusty, bejewelled palace of memories from my childhood. That was when I loved football and I would take the day off from school feigning toothache to watch an obscure European qualifier in Eastern Europe, where the pitches were patchy, sombre and… communist.
I remember when England’s exit from the World Cup on penalties felt like oblivion. That was when I loved football. Before I hated it. Before Rupert Murdoch launched SKY Sports and won the rights to screen premier league football and made it costly to watch.
Rupert Murdoch made football everything I hate.
The immense amount of money he created around football consequently changed its culture. It erased loyalty from the game. Maybe there was not really more loyalty before; maybe prior to Murdoch’s money players’ valuations on their own disloyalty had not yet been met. What is true is that before Murdoch, before SKY Sports, it was almost unheard of for players to switch from Arsenal to Tottenham, from Manchester City to Manchester United, from ‘Pool to Everton.
Then again, it could be the post-Murdoch mass-influx of international players who understand only what the commas in their bank-accounts amount to but not the historical and geographical quirks of inter-club rivalries. Neither do they appreciate why they have to put in an honest afternoon’s work at Yeovil or Aldershot or Woking in the third round of the FA Cup.
Certainly, the number of foreign players in the English game makes a mockery of club names and identities. When Liverpool only has a maximum of three born-and-bred Scousers, how is the club Liverpool more than it is any other club? Is there anything especially Jewish about Tottenham “Yid Army” Hotspurs? What is the extent of the disconnection between fans and players of Celtic when the fans are Catholic and the players are Zoroastrians, Zen Buddhists and Harikrishnas?
That is not to lay the blame at the door of foreign players who come to England for the money. They are only doing what is logical. If some oligarch elects to pay you – what in your own country equates to – approximately half a century’s salary in a single week, then of course you would book the first Air Burkina Faso flight to Gatwick.
Murdoch’s money has brought out the worst in our home-grown footballing thugs too. They are so rich that they are beyond punishment. If a normal person was known to their employer to pay sextegenerian prostitutes for a bit of slap-and-tickle, or for assaulting someone in a pub brawl over whether No Jacket Required was a better album than But Seriously, they would be out of their job. But footballers earn so much money that they cannot be punished because the threat of having their salary docked or of losing their job is meaningless.
Most of us do our jobs to pay the mortgage. The completion of our mortgage tends to coincide with our retirement. The threat of not being able to pay off the mortgage keeps us productive and honest at work. Most premiership footballers – even the ones who spend most of their lives on the subs’ bench – can afford to pay off their mortgages after a few months. So the threat of losing their jobs holds no fear.
Not that a manager who has paid as much for a human being as Richard Branson might spend on a small island would dare tell his troilism-in-Ayia-Napa star-striker to pack his bags and head to the nearest monastery.
Curiously, the first football match I watched in a long-time was Kenny Dalglish’s return to Liverpool against Manchester United in the 3rd round of the FA Cup when Ryan Giggs converted the only goal of the game from the penalty-spot. I am sure that the commentator issued his encomium on Giggs by saying something like: Younger footballers should learn from Giggs. He’s deadly on the pitch but away from it he’s a quiet family man. He doesn’t go out to bars and clubs to misbehave…
The thing is, when we found out that Ryan Giggs was most certainly a family man, he was twenty-years into his footballing career – which began, coincidentally, with the Murdoch Revolution in 1990 – and so rich and so successful that he probably feels he has carte blanche to behave how he wants. What would it matter now if Quorn no longer want him to be the face of mycoproteins?
Rupert Murdoch is not responsible for the immoral behaviour of today’s footballing scuzballs. After all, our footballers are the working-class boys who went to this country’s comprehensive schools where the “learning facilitators” dare not punish their bad behaviour lest they damage the child’s self-esteem. After all, these footballers are now two-generations removed from the hideous consequences of the 1960s revolution and easy divorce. These footballers are the children whose absent fathers were replaced by the television screen or by the Nanny State.
But Rupert Murdoch ploughed so much money into football that all fear was removed from footballers. They could be as immoral as they want. They could even be as criminal as they want because they could afford the best lawyers.
But there were better times for football. It had better people. Kenny Dalglish was one of them. His unforced kindness and genuine sympathy for the victims of the Hillsborough Disaster was the conduct of decent human being who cared about the community of people who came to see his club play every week – I doubt that such care for club or community exist much within the post-SKY generation of footballers. (NB. Dalglish’s solemnity and trauma over the Hillsborough Disaster served as a condemnation of his predessor Bill Shankley’s glib, tacky epigram about football being more important than life or death.)
Returning to the Murdoch revolution, I must talk about something else that I dislike: The eccentric fixture schedule brought about by the need to screen games all through the week. When all football matches were played at 3pm on Saturday, there was a certainty about what the league table would look like for the rest of the week, or at least until the mid-week game on Wednesday. There was an order and satisfaction about it. Now the fixture schedule is ragged; as unsatisfying as a meal of breadcrumbs. To get a sense of perspective and completeness from the league tables you now need to wait until Manchester City bore on Sunday and Sunderland draw on Monday.
What surprised me most about the SKY Sports revolution was how anodyne were the masses. I was expecting mass-protests by football fans demanding that their beloved sport be beamed back down to terrestrial TV where it belonged. I expected football fans to adroitly refuse to sign-up to SKY television and SKY, realising that you could not charge twice-over to watch sport (once for a TV license, twice for the SKY package), would return the game to Des Lynam and the BBC.
To my dismay, many pebble-dashed terraces and brutalist high-rises soon acquired satellite dishes as a shipwreck acquires barnacles. This was my first realisation of how television creates unquestioning zombies. Twenty years later and the public are still willing to cough up the money for cable and satellite TV, even though with so many games screened there is paring away of quality. The need to acquire cable and satellite TV is an indictment of the low, material aspirations especially of many football fans. They, the fans, are complicit in making SKY Television – mainly via the SKY Sports channels – a status symbol and a highly lucrative part of Murdoch’s increasing out-of-control empire.
To read James Garry’s other articles visit James Garry’s Politics On Toast blog. This article is (C) Politics on Toast and James Garry.