Capitalism and football: sport reflects society

On Sunday May 1, after being kicked out of the English Football League three years previously, Bury FC were taken out of administration in a fan-led takeover.

This will see the club’s majority stake transferred to the Bury Football Club Supporters’ Society – no doubt a huge relief for local fans, who were the real losers when the club went into liquidation, with alleged debts of over £15. million pounds. .

As many football fans already know, Bury is not an isolated case. In 2020, citing similar debt issues, Macclesfield Town were kicked out of the National League just four days before the start of the season.

Clubs such as Bolton Wanderers and Oldham Athletic have also faced chronic financial difficulties, with the former facing liquidation, and the latter recently becoming the first founding Premier League side to move to 5th tier of the Premier League ladder. country soccer.

In response, in their recent game against Salford City, Oldham fans stormed onto the pitch, unfurling a huge banner demanding that owners “get out of our club”.

These generalized crises are a symptom of the insidious influence of capitalism on sport. Only by putting ownership and control of the club in the hands of fans, staff and working-class communities can we eradicate the endemic corruption, inequality and obscene concentration of wealth and power that plagues the “Nice game”.

Inequality

Captivated by the extravagant wealth promised to the top tier of English football, lower league clubs routinely spend more than their annual income on player salaries alone, racking up huge debts in the process.

The extraordinary wealth accumulated by the biggest clubs, compared to the bankruptcy of those in the lower leagues, is a reflection of the inequality entrenched in capitalist society in general.

It was only a year ago, for example, that the ‘Big Six’ tried to break away and form the European Super League (ESL), lured by the prospect of even bigger profits. Their super-rich owners didn’t care who was left behind.

This ruthless and ruthless attitude is found in all the bosses of large companies. In fact, in many cases, it’s largely the same billionaires involved.

For property developers, investors and kleptocrats who own football clubs, sport is just one business venture among many. Corruption and dodgy business will therefore remain in football as long as the same class of parasites hold the reins.

Racism

It is not just capitalist inequality that we see reproduced in football. Racism has also remained a central issue in the sport over the past few decades, maintaining an ugly presence – on and off the pitch – despite countless campaigns aimed at giving bigotry the boot.

The ruling class relies on racism and other forms of oppression to divide and distract the working class; to dispel and deflect anger that would otherwise be directed at the establishment.

This is why the Conservative Party, along with the rest of the capitalist establishment, is riddled with racism; and why, with the help of a docile press, racist ideas permeate all of society.

The world of sport – including football – is not immune to this, as seen with the Conservatives’ attempts to start a culture war at last year’s Euro tournament.

The truth is that we cannot talk about ending racism in football without ending racism in society in general. Like John Barnes, the former England player, correctly stated: “The only way to destroy racism is to destroy capitalism.”

Benefits

Wealthy football club owners 1

What makes sports entertaining is its unpredictability, drama, and suspense. Capitalism, however, requires profits.

The prospect of smaller clubs rising to challenge established teams, in this regard, is key in the work for larger clubs.

The formation of the Premier League in 1992 was itself an attempt to secure the profits and position of those teams already at the top of the football pyramid. As a result, the Premier League of English football has gone from 50% of TV revenue to almost 98%.

In turn, with the FA Cup to be played this weekend between Chelsea and Liverpool, this means that – in the 30 seasons since the Premier League was founded – only five teams have won 75 of the 90 domestic trophies available.

Similarly, only 15 different clubs have won at least one of the three domestic competitions contested each season.

Compare that to the 29 clubs that had won at least one of those titles in the three decades before the Premier League existed, and the concentration of power and wealth among top teams becomes evident.

Logic

ESL was not an aberration in the world of sports – a far-fetched scheme concocted by a cabal of exceptionally bad businessmen. It was the logical conclusion of a sport struggling with the dog-eating dog laws of the capitalist system.

Like all other sectors of the economy under capitalism, as Marx noted, the accumulation of wealth at one pole is at the same time an accumulation of ruin and degradation at the opposite pole.

While proposals for this elite tournament have been shelved (for now), the big owners of these clubs will continue to explore other sneaky ways to achieve the same goals.

Grassroots takeovers of local clubs can therefore only offer temporary respite to supporters and workers. After all, most fanbases cannot afford to take such measures.

Clubs that have been bought by supporters, on the other hand, will still be subject to the same laws and logics of competition that govern other teams. In practice, this means: cuts in salaries and working conditions for staff; price increases on match days; and inflated compensation offers to primadonna players.

Socialism

To end the inequality, corruption and racism that plague football, we must therefore get profits off the pitch and put the game under the control of fans and workers.

It means expelling the capitalists and their profit system from football, as part of a mass movement to transform society along socialist lines – based on nationalization, workers’ control and democratic planning of key levers of economy.

Only then can these historic clubs be protected from the corrosive effects of capitalists and their wealth at one end of the pyramid, and from the crushing burden of debt and threats of liquidation at the other.