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English football sold its soul in the ‘90s; let’s not take the moral high ground now

Greg Devine


Used blue turnstile with peeling paint

It’s been well documented during the last few weeks that Chelsea FC’s Russian owner, Roman Abramovic, has been left with no option but to sell the club. The sanctions imposed on the oligarch have left Chelsea unable to make any money—they can’t even sell tickets to their supporters at the moment.

Newcastle United has also faced scrutiny. The club is now owned by the PIF (Public Investment Fund), which means they’re essentially owned by Saudi Arabians. I’m sure you’re aware of the many human rights issues that blight this country, so it’s perhaps understandable that some fans were against this takeover. Before it was owned by the Saudis, Newcastle United was an asset of Mike Ashley’s. For those unaware of Ashley, he’s the owner of Sports Direct. He’s not exactly a model boss, with his zero-hour contracts and scandalous documentaries.

Newcastle fans despised Ashley—not just because he was considered abhorrent, but because he refused to invest enough in the club to ensure it remained competitive. I find it laughable that, nowadays, football fans are considered human rights activists and freedom fighters. If my club was owned by an oligarch or an entire country, winning countless trophies every year, I’d love it.

Fans gave up on football being free of sports washing and controversial owners when the Premier League started in the ‘90s. We gave up on a historical league in favour of large pay packets from television companies. 3pm kick-offs were easily moved when the TV company felt the game was big enough to show on TV. Away fans were particularly affected—a Liverpool fan whose team played a London based club with a 12pm kick-off meant they had to leave their homes at a ridiculous time in the morning.

Empty Stadium with blue seats

Empty Stadium with blue seats

The Premier League is only there so that the largest football clubs in the country can demand more money and keep the riches to themselves. Football clubs in the other leagues have been left behind; many struggled to find the funds to compete, and some have even gone under after they were unable to pay their staff.

English football is now too far gone to save.

Roman Abramovic selling Chelsea makes no difference–another powerful billionaire will buy the club. You don’t become a billionaire without doing some questionable and controversial things along the way. The next owner of Chelsea will be no saint; it would be naive to think otherwise.

I really don’t see things getting any better. We’ve had around thirty years of this, and with the amount of money associated with the game, making any changes for the better is an impossible task. Any changes will only make the problem worse. For example, the proposed European Super League centres on money…there’s no attempt to make the game better for the fans. Clubs would have made even more money from TV rights, whilst fans would have had to consistently travel to other countries to support their team. But none of this revenue would have trickled down to the smaller clubs struggling financially—if anything, the monetary gap would’ve increased, as more clubs would go into liquidation. This is the fault of greedy owners, but it didn’t start with them. It started with the Premier League—a competition built purely for money.

Roman Abramovic leaving Chelsea doesn’t make football a purer place. Football is simply a home for crooked businessmen to wash their money. Let’s not pretend otherwise.

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