South of the River – World In Motion

Compass-SouthComment logo 2Sepp Blatter and the FIFA scandal are all over the front pages this week. It’s hardly a South Leeds story, or is it?

Football is loved by many thousands of South Leeds citizens. We are home to one of England’s great clubs – itself not a stranger to scandal. More importantly there are a host of cash-strapped grassroots clubs – Middleton Park FC, Beeston Juniors and the Hunslet Club to name but three.

How can there be so much money in football and yet so little goes to clubs who actually get people out playing the ‘beautiful game’?

I think many people get confused between football as a sport and football as a business. The best players gravitate to the best teams and people want to watch them play. What starts as an athletic pastime becomes a commodity to be bought and sold.

I heard an interesting interview with Andrew Jennings, the reporter who has been covering the FIFA corruption stories on Panorama for many years. He pointed out that one of the reasons FIFA have got away with it for so long is that football is seen as a sports story, to be covered by sports journalists. As a business journalist he could see what was going on. What’s that mantra for corruption stories? Oh yes, ‘follow the money’.

I have to say I’ve enjoyed watching the FBI bosses using cheesy football puns at press conferences. “We’re giving FIFA the red card” – are they auditioning for Match of the Day? Whenever they mention the level playing field I wonder if they will refer to Yeovil’s famous sloping pitch to extend the metaphor, but perhaps their knowledge of the English game is limited.

There are a lot of disparities in football and not just between my ability and Yaya Toure’s. The European clubs and to a lesser extent the South Americans are significantly richer than the rest of the world. Blatter used this to hold onto power. He did a bit of wealth distribution with the profits from the World Cup, funding development programmes and new pitches in poorer countries. A little bit of money goes a long way in these places, so he could be seen to be generous. Of course it also ensured that the grateful delegates would keep voting for him to stay in power.

It seems to me that football needs some fundamental rebalancing. Not just at FIFA, but in the FA too. We need to break the domination of the big clubs and redistribute the TV money more sensibly. A cap on player’s wages could help cool down the overheated transfer market. And whilst I love seeing foreign players in the Premier League, I’m not sure what the benefits are to developing strong clubs and national sides in their home countries.

There are calls for the awarding of the next two World Cup tournaments, to Russia and Quatar, to be re-run. These were dubious decisions at best, but the real scandal in Quatar is that 1,200 construction workers have died, so far, on building the new stadiums. Add those deaths to the recent anniversaries of Hillsborough, Bradford and Heysel and it’s time to remember that the people who run football, run it as a business first and a sport second. That’s what’s got to change.

Which brings us back to Leeds United and that loss to Bayern Munich in Paris in 1975. Was it just a bad refereeing decision that ruled Peter Lorimer’s goal offside, or will something more sinister now be revealed?

I’ll be back next week with more of my views from South of the River. If you’re on Twitter, you can follow me: @BeestonJeremy.

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