Now that George Bush is pouring public money into private firms and bankers have suddenly discovered the attractions of state intervention, it is increasingly difficult to find examples of savage, unadulterated, old-fashioned capitalism. Now, one of the few businesses where a wild and jungly form of free enterprise still pertains, is threatening to become responsible. Football has started worrying about money.
There are, admittedly, few signs of this new spirit of financial responsibility at the top level. Sheikhs and oligarchs, men of unworldly wealth, still gaze hungrily at big English clubs. The latest to be gobbled up, Manchester City, are said to be about to spend £35m on two players. Roy Keane, below, who quit yesterday as manager of Sunderland, burnt his way through £70m in just over two years.
The game may be awash with TV and sponsorship money but, further down the food chain, there are squeaks of discomfort. Clubs, who are big but not quite big enough, are in danger of bankrupting themselves in a desperate attempt to reach the Premiership, where serious money is to be made. The chairmen and moneymen of the Championship, England’s second tier, have decided that the people to blame are the footballers. They are paid too much. There is now serious discussion of introducing a formal cap on wages.
It will be a tremendously popular move. In our snobbish, class-ridden culture, it has become customary for people to complain about footballers. They are vulgar, with pretty, airhead girlfriends. They are over-sexed and cosseted. If they are foreign, they are mercenary; if English, they are yobs. And all of them, it is said, are paid too much. That, by any normal financial standard, is clearly true, but footballers’ salaries are no more obscene than, say, that of famous actors. No one frets and moans when some talent-free jackass from reality TV becomes a millionaire. Indeed, the obscene wealth of those who run football clubs – the sleek, the spivvy, the mildly sinister – rarely, if ever, causes disapproval. It is a mystery, this vilification of the men whose skill brings in the spectators, whose careers are short and precarious. Either football is a business, or it is not.
There may be a case for making the sport fairer by allowing the vast financial rewards of the small number of big clubs to trickle downwards, improving connections with local communities and perhaps even raising the standard of the national game. It would mean that the sport was more egalitarian and socialist. There would be few, if any, billionaires from Russia or the Middle East investing in it, and the fancy dans who grace Match of the Day would soon be on their way.
Few would want to see that happen. Greed is what has made the Premiership one of the most successful leagues in the world. It is not only absurd and intellectually inconsistent to suggest that, below the top level, players should make sacrifices but it is also impracticable. The gap between a few rich clubs and the rest would become a chasm. In a game famous for its bungs and black economy, ways of avoiding wage-caps would quickly be found.
Mercilessly fiscal, football is propelled by money and greed. For those in charge to attempt to skew the market in their favour at the cost of players is the purest hypocrisy. Either the financial structure of the sport, and its character, is changed from to bottom, or not at all. If much-loved clubs die as a result, that sadly is what tends to happen when you play the game of capitalism.
The ugly and outdated face of feminism
Is it just possible that feminism is becoming rather too po-faced for its own good? Those who have protested about the Miss University London beauty contest at the London School of Economics seem to have forgotten that the world has changed in the past ten years.
Young women and men now strut about and flaunt themselves in a way that has nothing to do with exploitation or “objectification”. Showing off, with a hint of amused self-parody, is now simply part of growing up. There are more important battles to be fought in the great gender war.
A Vidia nasty that could be a box-office hit
The success in Australia of Shane Warne – The Musical will doubtless have had West Endproducers sitting up and taking notice. The show’s simple formula of setting an eventful contemporary life to music and putting iton the stage may yet provide theatres with a way through the hard times to come.
My candidate for adaptation would be Sir Vidia! The Musical, a musical romp through the career of Sir Vidia Naipaul, right. Everything the Nobel prize-winner touches turns to comedy gold. His spat with his former fan Paul Theroux became one of the funniest clashes of ego in literary history. When he commissioned Patrick French to write a biography, French went on to reveal him as a snob and bully, with an exotic and restless intimate life.
Now Sir Vidia has taken Lady Naipaul – another character with great stage potential – to see a witchdoctor in Kenya. Lady Naipaul was keen on putting a hex on Theroux and French but then remembered she had left her wallet at the hotel and ended up being cursed herself.
She was a “a wicked woman and beyond juju of any kind”, bellowed the witchdoctor.
With some dance routines and a toe-tapping score, this show could run and run.