Football’s amateur rebels
The current slogan ‘against modern football’ is gaining currency amongst those independent clubs and dissident supporters who see the game being taken away from them, channelled towards the multinational media empires for the benefit of the billionaire club owners and backers, where money not only rules off the field but is the decisive factor in generating success on the field.
‘Modern’ in this context is taken as an insult to the working class traditions of the game; the histories and loyalties of all those fans whose voices through the years echoed with passion around the main stand, who gloried in every goal and trembled at every defeat, where football was sewn into the social fabric of the everyday lives of each community. What was once a life-long obsession and fervent identification with your local team is now being held in contempt by those in charge and in power, re-packaged as ‘brand loyalty’ and represented like any other big business interest.
And football is big business. Very big business. The English Premier League has the highest revenue of any football league in the world totalling €2.479 billion in 2009–10 season, with the revenue from broadcasting more than double than that of matchday takings. The League also received the Queen’s award for Enterprise which recognised its “outstanding contribution to international trade and the value it brings to English football and the United Kingdom’s broadcasting industry”.
The commercialisation of the game though is nothing new and the fight against it is as old as the football league itself. Even the current trend of breakaway clubs such as FC United and AFC Wimbledon has a long tradition. In the early days of professional football a number of teams split from established clubs, keen to retain their amateur status amongst the growing demand for a more business orientated Football League.
Sunderland Albion FC were formed in 1888 after Sunderland were disqualified from the FA Cup due to illegal payments to players. Concerned with the commercial takeover of the club eight players, including the original founder of Sunderland, left to form Albion. There was a bitter rivalry between to two sides which came to an end only when Albion narrowly missed being accepted in the Football League.
When Woolwich Arsenal factory team decided to join the Football League as professionals in 1893, the workers at the Royal Arsenal, some of whom still played as amateurs for Arsenal, proposed a new workers team and Royal Ordnance Factories FC was born. Immediately five Arsenal players defected to the breakaway club, followed by two more, which two years later beat their professional rivals 1-0 in a friendly.
There is a growing awareness amongst fans that football cannot continue on its current trajectory where we are excluded and ultimately invisible beneath the demands of capitalism. Against modern football is a rallying cry that articulates that resentment, not for a return to ‘the good old days’ of freezing terraces and rusty turnstiles but for reclaiming the sport and returning it back to the ordinary fans.