Football, a game made for the working class. A game we all refer to as 'The Beautiful Game' but is it still the beautiful game we all grew up to know and love? Different generations have different opinions on how football is and how football was when they were growing up. In recent times, we have seen fans protest many things from ticket prices to ownerships of clubs. There has been a rise in fans stating that they are Against Modern Football, many have directed it due to the money being pumped into the game and changing the game from what was once a game for the working class to a game made for businessmen.
Progression of Money
When the game first came about, we had amateurs playing the game but about 150 years on we now have professional footballers earning hundreds of thousands a week, making them multi-millionaires. Over the years, we have seen players go from earning £4-a-week to £400,000-a-week. Transfers have also been rising from the first £1,000 player in 1905 to the first £1 million player in 1979 to now witnessing a mouth watering £200 million transfer for an individual player. Whenever we watch Transfer Deadline Day, it doesn't come as any shock anymore to see records smash and clubs spend over £1.2 billion during a single window. But how did it come about for footballers to be made so expensive?
It all stems back to 1879 when Lancashire outfit Darwen FC were paying the Scottish duo of Fergie Suter and James Love which set a standard for other clubs to follow suit and start paying their players. This prompted professionalism to become legalised in 1885. In 1901, teams were restricted to pay their footballers a maximum of just £4-a-week. 4 years on from this restriction being put into place, Alf Common swapped Sunderland for local rivals Middlesbrough to become the first footballer bought for £1,000. Moving on 17 years to 1922, the maximum wage for a player to earn was upped to £8-a-week but only during the league season. It was made £6-a-week during the summer with a loyalty bonus of £650 after five years of being at the club.
The first £10,000 transfer came in 1928 when Arsenal signed David Jack from Bolton. Jimmy Guthrie, then Chairman of the Players Union, kept the maximum wage of £12-a-week during the league season and £10-a-week for out of season in 1947. The turning point during since the legalisation of professionalism came in 1961 when new PFA Chairman Jimmy Hill finally won his case to abolish the maximum wage meaning players were able to be paid whatever a club felt necessary to pay their players. Was this where it all started? Could this have been the reason we now have players earning thousands? It wasn't long after Jimmy Hill made the announcement to abolish the maximum pay cap as in the same year Fulham's Jonny Haynes became the first £100-a-week player an increase of £88 within 10 years. Previously the pay cap only rose £4 in 21 years from when a maximum pay cap was bought in.
In 1979, Nottingham Forest broke records in terms of player earnings and transfer fees when they signed Trevor Francis from Birmingham City making him the first player to be bought for £1 million. In the same year, they also made Peter Shilton the best-paid footballer in Britain with a new contract worth £1,200-a-week. From the first £100-a-week player to a player earning over £1,000-a-week it took 18 years. It was a rate that just appeared never ending that eventually we would see more and more increases for footballers to earn more and footballers to be bought and sold for more.
Chris Sutton became the first player to break the £10,000-a-week mark when he signed contract with Blackburn Rovers after joining from Norwich City in 1994. Just one year later, the bosman ruling was introduced meaning that out of contract players can move on a free transfer meaning higher wages for players to earn. In the same year as the bosman ruling being introduced, Dennis Bergkamp signed a contract worth £25,000-a-week after joining them from Inter Milan. 1996 saw Britain's transfer record smashed as Newcastle United signed Alan Shearer from former Premier League Champions Blackburn Rovers for a fee of £15million. From this time onwards during the late 1990's, it seemed as though clubs weren't going to go any further than these fees for both transfers and wages instead settling for what was then seen as the normal price to pay clubs and players.
However, at the turn of the Millenium, Roy Keane became the first footballer to break the £50,000-a-week mark when he put pen to paper in a new deal with, then Premier League Champions, Manchester United worth £52,000-a-week. In previous times, it took years for another record to be broken. But just one year on from Roy Keane breaking the £50,000-a-week mark there was a new standard set for players wages when in 2001 Arsenal signed Sol Campbell from North London rivals Tottenham Hotspur with Campbell putting pen to paper signing a contract worth £100,000-a-week. In the space of just 40 years since the abolishment of maximum wage caps, it has seen players go from £100-a-week to £100,000-a-week. Carlos Tevez was reportedly earning £286,000-a-week from Manchester City making him the first £1 million a month player. But when will this spending spree end?
At the rate of which transfers and wages are rising, it won't be long till we are witnessing the first ever £1 million-a-week player or even the first player to be bought for £1 billion. Players in today's market tend to have release clauses which can't be met unless you have lucrative funds available to make these transfers, even if that was the case, there is still the case of Financial Fair Play to deal with. It's often reported that 'World Class' players who are indispensable to clubs have release clauses of between £300-£800 million. Was Jimmy Hill wrong for abolishing the maximum wage cap? Each person will have varied opinions on this but many might see this as the starting point that triggered such lucrative wages being offered to players.
The previous restrictions to cap players earnings might have been put in to play for this exact reason. It could have been set in motion to allow clubs a level playing field in which to offer players the same amount. Imagine today witnessing a League Two club offering the same wages as a Premier League club to a top player. Financial Fair Play was introduced by UEFA in 2009, which is seen as a similar replica to the restrictions made in the early 1900's by The FA. It states that a club must generate a significant income to allow them to sign players for big fees and offer big wages. If they sign players with high wages without having the means to self generate this type of income, the club in question would be subject to sanctions from UEFA. A step in the right direction, in some respects.
Cost of Following a Club
We often grew up on stories from previous generations about how prices have spiralled out of control throughout the years from beers to houses. Football is no exception in these circumstances. The cost of following a club feels as though it will cost you an arm and a leg to be able to support them week in week out. Ticket prices, Merchandising and half time beverages have increased over the years. Many will argue it's a different era with pricing changing but in reality, it is deemed to be cheaper than in today's pricing.
A football fan will travel thousands of miles each season, home and away to follow their respective teams. They will be there irrelevant of weather conditions from frosty tuesday nights right the way through to a warm weekend afternoon. It's often been said that a fan would need to be truly dedicated to following their teams due to the amount of games played in each season. Take into consideration that some clubs will travel from the full distance of the country in some cases for a late night midweek kick off. A fan would then have to leave work early, travel up/down to the stadium and then not arrive back home till after midnight which would mean that they would have to endure a minimum nights sleep or have the next day off work due to the late arrival back home. For some, it's not possible for them to have time off. Despite this level of support, clubs are still demanding that fans pay extravagant prices for tickets and on top of that the cost to travel down and also beverages while down there which can amount, in some cases, fans paying just shy of £100.
Over the years, fans have not been completely happy with the cost of ticket prices home or away with many suggesting they are buying overpriced tickets. In response to this, a group called Twenty's Plenty was formed in 2013 to protest for the fans against clubs and the FA to make it more affordable for fans to watch their teams play. The protest gathered momentum with more and more fans taking action which gained a response from the Premier League when they introduced a price freeze of £30 for a match day ticket. This is still deemed unacceptable to many and the protests from Twenty's Plenty continue to gather momentum and still progress throughout England.
There is a huge difference in pricing of tickets when it comes to comparing the Premier League and the EFL with Europe's top 5 divisions. While Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich, a few clubs to mention, are playing in Europe's biggest cup competition, the Champions League, they charge significantly less in terms of season tickets than most of England's top four divisions. Many will pay whatever they are charged to watch their clubs play but to say that you could watch a team such as Real Madrid or Barcelona cheaper than Leagues One and Two states something that pricing needs to reduced in order for it to be back within the working class price range. Last season, some fans were charged £50 for an away game put on top of the cost of travelling down. Matchday prices are no exception when it comes to over pricing with some clubs slapping a £30 price tag on matchday tickets with many adding on an additional £2-£5 on the day.
During the 1966 Final between England and West Germany, a fan paid, an equivalent in today's money, £11 to watch this historic event take place. Compare that with today's pricing seems extraordinary. The fact that a supporter could go watch a World Cup Final cheaper than it would cost them to watch a Football League match seems ludacris. On top of that, 1974 a fan paid £1.60, equivalent to £16.20 today, to watch an FA Cup game take place. Fans would be fortunate to receive a ticket for this price today as many clubs are being charged upwards of £25 when it comes to a Cup tie.
Take into consideration the amount fans pay for tickets, it's also the cost of club merchandise which many feel to be expensive. From National League up to the Premier League, shirt prices range from £39 - £50 at the minimum to wear club colours. England changed sponsors from Umbro to Nike and with that transition came a huge hike in pricing to purchase an England shirt. Prices often came in at £60 for a replica. It was rumoured that some fans would be paying £80+ for a new adult shirt and £40+ for a childrens kit. When it comes to clubs, sponsors appear to dictate the price of shirts but it also depends on the place of the Footballing pyramid in which the club stands. Even saying that, should a shirt really cost as much as they do?
Fans enjoy a half time beverage, whether it be a pint or burger and chips. But with cost going up, is it any surprise that many fans choose to avoid paying prices in stadiums opting to wait till after games when they reach the city? On a cold night, fans sometimes opt for a Hot drink and a pie but even that could further hit the pocket with some charging £5 for a pie alone.
Fans are the heartbeat of any football club, without them clubs wouldn't stabilise. Home or Away, Summer or Winter, Day or Night. The fans are there, why should they have to break the bank, pay an arm and a leg to watch their beloved clubs? The suitable choice should be for clubs and the FA to take action and reduce prices to bring back affordable pricing for fans to pay.
Throughout the years, it has become a common theme for businessmen coming in buying teams and pumping money into the team. But having these owners doesn't always result in to success as many clubs have realised over the years. Many owners have faced protest from supporters for what fans deem to be unsatisfactory running of their clubs.
When it comes to unsatisfactory running of clubs, Mike Ashley certainly tops the list, even from a neutral point of view. Since 2007, when Mike Ashley bought a majority 43% stake in Newcastle United, the club have experienced two relegations from the Premier League. Alan Shearer, the Premier Leagues all time top goal scorer and Newcastle United legend, is one of the most famous names to be part of the Anti-Ashley movement. Despite being owner in retail sports giant Sports Direct, Ashley has failed to invest significant money in to the club which has often been met with criticism for not giving managers the means to strengthen the club. Fans became even more infuriated with Mike Ashley when earlier in the year, Mike Ashley offered a lifeline to debt ridden business House of Fraser to clear up £50m worth of debts as well as open 47 stores countrywide despite stating he couldn't compete with other owners in the football industry.
Blackburn Rovers, since the takeover of the Venkys, have seen their club rack up debts and subsequently result in the club dropping from the Premier League to League One, which has been subject to many protests over the years. Blackpool have seen Owen Oyston take them to the heights of the Premier League but then falling to the bottom tier of English Football, Belokon, an investor of the club, was owed £31m by Oyston in which fans hoped would be enough to see Oyston sell up. West Ham United fans set out protesting against owners David Sullivan and David Gold mainly due to the issue of moving from their beloved Upton Park to the new London Stadium, many didn't feel it to be homely as it was promised. Charlton Athletic fans formed a group called the Coalition Against Roland Duchatelet, which is similar to the group which was created by Standard Liege supporters which resulted in Roland Duchatelet selling up.
But what happens when fans protest a movement and take matters into their own hands?
In 2000, Pete Winkelman proposed a large retail development in Milton Keynes including a Football Stadium which was then offered to Luton Town, Wimbledon, Barnet, Crystal Palace and QPR. It was to be Wimbledon who were to be relocated, ridden with debt Winkleman injected funds in to the club to keep the club in operation while they were transitioned to Milton Keynes, 56 miles away. They were later renamed Milton Keynes Dons during the 2003-04 season. In response to this, a Wimbledon Fan Consortium formed a new club in the name of AFC Wimbledon. Since then, they have climbed from Non-League to League One.
Following relegation to the Conference, National League, in 2003 Exeter City were then subject to takeover by a supporters trust meaning fans would have control. Wycombe Wanderers, in 2012, were taken over by a supporters trust and in doing so stabilised finances and ended an embargo set on the club. FC United of Manchester, a Non-League club, was formed by fans of in 2005 as response to Malcolm Glazers takeover of Manchester United.
However, having these billionaire owners doesn't always result in fan protests or as some fans would say "a destruction of a club" as has been shown with Roman Abramovich, Chelsea, and Sheikh Mansour, Manchester City. Before their takeovers, Chelsea and Manchester City were regular mid-table finishers but since big money investment and spending big, they are both now regular contenders for the Premier League Title. But despite being successful, has this been an unfair advantage to allow them to gain so much success since their owners came in? They still have to comply with Financial Fair Play but clubs who are less fortunate to have these big money owners rely solely on revenue with majority income coming from fans.
Modern Day Footballers
When it comes to a modern day footballer, most people have the image of a person who takes home thousands a week, has a state of the art car, brand new mansion and has the latest fashion. It often comes with the job as a footballer you are asked to take part in adverts, photography sessions and attend events.As the game has progressed, so has the ability and training regimes of footballers. Not to mention the fame and image that comes with being a footballer in the modern era. Footballers of today have strict training regimes with such things as a diet they must stick to.
Back in the early 60s, 70s and early 80s, footballers would often smoke cigarettes and go for pints after games. There was even rumours that some footballers often took part in drinking at a pub before a game or breaking curfew set by their manager to go to a club and have a few drinks the night before a match. However, today footballers aren't smokers and many don't have drinks before or after matches at the local pub as they once did. This is due to the strict nature of managers today to restrict them from taking part in these activities. It's often been rumoured that players have been told to quit smoking or even fined for having a cigarette here and there. Despite being, in today's era, what's deemed an unhealthy professional, the players still took to the field and got on with the job at hand.
When it comes to Christmas, as fans we all love the festive period due to the amount of games that is played in the space from Christmas to New Years. However, there has been many footballers and managers who have come forward in the press to state their dissatisfaction about the amount of games played during the festive period. It's understandable that players may be tired and may wish to spend more time with their families but the training regimes of a modern day footballer and the pay grade in which they are in, it seems less understandable for them to make complaints when you take into consideration that a Non-League team can play 11 games in the space of 14 days, which has been known to happen due to postponements of games or a cup run.
Those who play Non-League often have part-time jobs they have to work to make ends meet and some often come from work to play their matches and then back to work straight after the match has finished in which we also witnessed during a few FA Cup runs in the past. Compare the training regimes on top of this, the professionals should be able to cope with the pressures of playing so many games as they train day in day out. Where as part-time footballers have training only a selected few nights a week in avoidance clashing with jobs, which sometimes has to be done.
With the introduction of Social Media, fans often make their voices heard and opinions known the clubs and players alike. Most notably, Raheem Sterling requested to sit out of England's 1-0 win over Estonia in the 2016 Euro Qualifier due to 'tiredness' even though he has trained his entire life to make it as a professional footballer and raking in thousands a week. This made for an interesting backlash by fans as many were quick to take to Social Media to mock Sterling.
Are we being too harsh on players to believe that they should be able to cope with the physical demands of games?
Players are under contract with clubs and have to stick to the terms associated with their contracts. But what happens when a player can dictate what goes on at a club and has leverage over clubs to meet their own demands? It isn't uncommon as most might believe, it has become more of a trend now that players believe they are above clubs and the club will bow down to them to meet each and every demand stated. If the clubs star attraction isn't happy, the club will then do everything they can to make him stay and keep him happy.
In 2011, Carlos Tevez made headline after headline for the wrong reasons. Failure to turn up to training, opting to return to his native Argentina. Roberto Martinez stated "he wanted him out of the club" after he refused to come off the bench in a Champions League match against Bayern Munich. He was then suspended for two weeks and was guilty of five breaches of contract then given a fine of four weeks wages only for the PFA to reduce it to just two weeks. It was also rumoured that fellow Argentine, Lionel Messi, 'demanded' that the Barcelona board sack Luis Enrique or he will leave the club for China back in 2017.
Thibaut Courtois managed to force a move away from Chelsea to Real Madrid earlier this month by refusing to report in for training having previously stated his desire to move. When he was unveiled as a Real Madrid player, he was pictured kissing the badge, even though he had previously played for rivals Atletico Madrid. But this isn't the first time a player failed to report in for training to force a move to the Spanish giants, as in 2013 Gareth Bale was ordered by Tottenham Hotspur to report for training only for the Welshman to decline. Having previously rejected bids, Tottenham had no choice but to succumb to the demands and sell Bale. Even though both players forced a move away they still had the audacity to state that they were "thankful" for the clubs.
In a generation of players bigger than clubs, would managers such as Brian Clough, Alex Ferguson or Bill Shankly have let these players behave in the manner in which they do or would they be quick to show them the door if they weren't happy? My guess would be the later, they wouldn't hesitate in showing a player the door no matter how big the player is.
When it comes to money, it's not just about what goes on the players or how much it cost to watch a team. It also comes down to how much money is actually being pumped in to the English game. Where is this money going? Is it being used to great effect or could there be more that could be done with the amount of money pumped in?
It's often been said that grassroots football is failing due to the lack of funding being provided by the FA despite so much money being pumped into the system and being promised so much to keep grassroots alive and kicking to develop the best players it possibly can. Each footballer has come from developing as a youth product in academies or playing for their local teams and many often go back to visit where it all started to help out as best they can but still more could be done in investing in to the heart of the English game that could determine the future of English football. Billions of pounds are pumped in to the game each year with majority of it going to England's top division, the Premier League. There has to be enough money to spread out across from the Premier League down to grassroots and share out equal amounts rather than pay more for higher levels of football.
Over the years, we have all witnessed the English League Cup change names in accordance to sponsorship from the Worthington Cup to the Capital One Cup for it now to be known as the Carabao Cup. Despite having different names for the trophy, the draw has always remained in England. But that was all changed when sponsors, Carabao, decided that it was to host the cup abroad with events last season being staged in both Bangkok and Beijing leaving many fans frustrated due to having to stream online for the draw during the early hours of the morning. It also proceeded to make the first round draw in Vietnam on the 15th of june 2018. It was stated by the EFL that this was to build relations abroad but was it in fact to keep the injection of money coming in?
Similar situation happened earlier on in the year with Spain's La Liga when it was announced that the fixture during Barcelona and Girona will be played in New York City, USA. Meaning fans would have to travel thousands of miles on a plane to watch their teams play a league match. Abroad. For many years, it has been speculated that more clubs could soon follow suit with the EFL and Premier League contemplating the prospect of having league or cup matches outside of England. These are speculations and possible rumours but in the case of it happening, fans, clubs and players must be voters in this scenario.
Since the introduction of the Premier League in 1992, Sky Sports have had the rights to every game. As witnessed in many football grounds across England, fans have taken to protesting Sky Sports and the prices they are charging by holding signs up that read 'Football was not invented in 1992'. Fans are expected to dish out hundreds of pounds to watch their club on TV with some fans opting to wait till Match of the Day is aired on the BBC, free on National TV, to watch the highlights. From 1992 to 2018, it is estimated that the price Sky Sports has paid for the rights of the Premier League have gone up from £192m to £5.9bn. A huge amount of money which is being pumped in to the game. It's seen as an opportunity taken by higher authority in the English game.
In 2018, UEFA's new competition, UEFA Nations League, began. Sky Sports were first in the que to gain the rights to this new competition. Following Sky Sports having the rights, England fans were left bemused when their games against Spain in the UEFA Nations League and their friendly against Switzerland a few days afterwards in September wasn't to be hosted on National TV Channel ITV, free to viewers. Instead, fans were made to wait for highlights shown later on ITV, buy a Sky Sports pass or stream the matches. Those who already had Sky Sports bundle were able to view. It was then announced that England's UEFA Nations League matches as well as Friendlies would be hosted on Sky Sports while Qualifiers were to be shown on ITV. As a result of this, fans have taken to social media and let their feelings be known that the matches of the National team should be free to view for everyone.
Still, the FA Cup is still free to view on National TV with them being played on BBC live. Including the Final.
Despite TV rights being an astonishing amount, there is still a class divide when it comes to Premier League and the EFL Championship compared with Leagues 1 and 2. While the Premier League has its own dedicated programming, Match of the Day, the Championship also had its own dedicated programming on Channel 5, for the 2017/18 season followed by Goal Rush which is half an hour long for both Leagues 1 and 2, before being moved to Quest as an all in one programming. Despite being a programming as one, the Championship still has an hour showing with Leagues 1 and 2 still crammed into a half an hour slot.
Where there is money available, scandal and bribery isn't far behind. As has been shown with former FIFA President Sepp Blatter who was sacked from his position and banned from FIFA for accepting bribes allowing Qatar the rights to the 2022 World Cup and also rumoured acceptance of bribes which led to Russia hosting the 2018 World Cup.
There is certainly a lot of money involved with today's game but has it been transformed in to a tycoon property rather than the sport it is supposed to be known as? Business appears to come before the needs of the fans with money being the main objective for most.
While most will argue that it is the foreign imports that light up the Premier League and help give it the reputation as the greatest league in the World, are they preventing our youth products from developing due to them not being given game time? Most clubs will opt to bring in a foreign import as opposed to bring through an academy product or so it seems. While some players have moved abroad in hopes of game time and making strides to gain a call up. Jadon Sancho, a most notable name to mention, has lit up the Bundesliga with Dortmund. Fans alike have taken to social media to show support and encourage many others to follow suit.
But should we rely on other leagues to give valuable game time to our youth players? It must be a case of English leagues and clubs to produce players and develop them in to the best of their abilities.
Sepp Blatter once suggested that the Premier League should introduce the 6+5 rule only for the Premier League to refuse to adapt this rule. The Premier League however do state that out of 25 players in a squad 8 of which should be home grown. But we still don't see many homegrown players playing for the top clubs which makes it hard for selection of the National team.
Despite winning 5 consecutive youth championships, only 32.5% of Chelsea youth players have gone on to make it into the first team with a reported 31 players out on loan in the 2018/19 season. Which has began speculation of should teams be limited to how many players can be loaned out.
During the 90s, England saw a whole host of stars in the making from Gazza to Beckham to Owen. However, these players who were seen as the 'Golden Generation' of English Football from the early 90s to early 2000s, Michael Owen, David Beckham, Gary & Phil Neville, Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney. A few names to mention, all achieved great success with their respective clubs but they had regular footballing time in England's top flight. Still not to amount to any major success on the International stage.
But, with more foreign imports coming in are we going to witness another 'Golden Generation' due to the lack of game time given to our youth products?
With many youth products sent out on loan to lower divisions, it hasn't dampened their success at youth level.
In 2017, the Young Lions of English Football took the World by storm winning Three competitions including;
- Under 17s World Cup coming from 2-0 down to beat Spain 5-2
- Under 19s European Championships beating Portugal 2-1 in the Final
- Under 20s World Cup with a 1-0 win over Venezuela.
Despite this success, which seems to be a regular occurance for our youth squad, we are still yet to witness a breakthrough for many of these in both club form and Senior call ups.
It has been a proven success by the likes of Germany and Spain who have bought players through their ranks.
In 2009, England Under 21s lost 4-0 to Germany Under 21s in a European Final. Since that final, the 11 players who started that match for England have only made a combined 143 caps for the senior team. Only a handful of that starting 11 are now playing in the top flight of English Football. Compare that to the German starting 11 having a combined 418 caps for their seniors including regulars such as Ozil, Neuer, Khedira & Hummels. But yet, despite finishing runners up it was still a success for a finish to be known that high in English football.
Spanish football was dominant from 2008 to 2012 winning, 3 consecutive tournaments on the bounce. Euro 2008, World Cup 2010 and Euro 2012. But they have utilised their youth products in order to achieve this success which could be seen as a precedent to follow. Most common names include the likes of Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Iniesta, Xavi & David Villa.
Away from foreign imports and players making it through the ranks, are we developing players in a way to let them showcase their abilities? Many pundits and fans alike have argued the fact that when a club signs a youth player from the tender age of 6, from that moment the player is developed in accordance to the teams philosophy which might not be suited to ways some like to play their football. While back in the 90s, some players weren't signed until they was in their teenage years and often got to showcase abilities of their own, playing their own way of football with friends on a local park or for their local team.
Gareth Southgate and his class of 2018 defied all expectations when England finished their joint best position in the World Cup since winning it in 1966 by finishing in 4th place, same as the squad of 1990 under Sir Bobby Robson. There was no expectations for this team which many wrote of before the tournament had started due to the lack of inexperience and being one of the youngest squads in the tournament. But Southgate looks set on keeping faith in his youth products, encouraging more clubs to play young academy players to allow them to make strides in gaining a call up. The door is open for these youth products, it's just the case of will they be given the chance?
Should there be a new ruling which prevents clubs loaning out so many players and have a 6+5 rule allowing more graduates to make statements in clubs?