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Rich men play, the rest of us just watch

PUBLISHED: 07:05 26 April 2003 | UPDATED: 13:46 03 March 2010

DON'T let anyone tell you football's only a game. It may not be a matter of life and death, whatever Bill Shankly said and whatever Glenn Roeder is suffering right now. But it is too crucial to our culture to let a few rich men keep it as their plaything.

DON'T let anyone tell you football's only a game.

It may not be a matter of life and death, whatever Bill Shankly said and whatever Glenn Roeder is suffering right now. But it's a crucial part of our times and culture.

Actually, at the professional level it's barely a game at all.

It's an entertainment on a vast scale. It's part of our identity, a key element in the way we define ourselves. It's a tribal ritual.

It is also big business. And that is where the trouble lies.

There is too much money at the top end of the game. And too little at the lower level.

It is in the middle levels, where greed and reality struggle to co-exist, that the problem goes deepest.

You can point to many reasons why Ipswich Town are in trouble so short a time after flying so high.

They over-reached themselves. They thought one fabulous season guaranteed success on a long-term basis. They shelled out on some over-priced, over-paid stars.

But the root cause of their demise is not unique to Ipswich. This is a crisis point not just for the Blues, but for the whole of football.

Relegation from the Premiership was a disaster for all three of the clubs that went down a year ago. It could be at least as bad for those that make the drop this time.

Promotion into the big league may not be such a wonderful thing for Portsmouth, either.

If they don't spend big this summer, they will be straight back down. No one who saw their pathetic performance at Portman Road a week ago could be in any doubt about that.

On the other hand, if they do spend big, it could be their undoing, just as it was the undoing of Ipswich.

If by some miracle Town manage to join Pompey in promotion, it will not be the panacea to cure all their ills, either.

There will still be an awful lot of work to do on both the playing and financial sides to keep them from falling straight back once more.

And whatever division they are in next season, there will be a lot of work to do to repair the damage done by administration.

The whole sorry scenario has driven an unpleasant wedge between the club and the people.

Happily, I am not one of the club's creditors. If I was, I would be very unhappy at the prospect of receiving a paltry five per cent of what I was owed.

For many small local traders and craftspeople, that offer is worse than getting nothing. It is a casual and cruel slap in the face.

It could spell a personal disaster far worse than anything the club or its directors are experiencing.

And it must take away some of the delight in watching the club's preposterously well-paid stars perform on the pitch.

The whole unsavoury fiasco goes to demonstrate one essential point about the beautiful game.

The fans don't own, run or even have any real say in the club they give such devotion to.

They are just the poor bloody infantry whose contribution, in the forms of cash and crowd presence, are taken for granted. While their rights and opinions are ignored.

Football is wonderful. I love it.

But as long as success is dependent on who has the most money, it is a hollow love.

As long as who has the most money depends on how rich the owners are, it is a shallow pleasure.

As long as Ipswich Town FC remains the plaything of the landed gentry, it will never be one of the big boys.

But then, who really wants to play with the big boys anyway?

***

HE didn't fight any dragons. He didn't wear a big red cross. He probably never even heard of the far, cold land that centuries after his death was to become England.

So why on earth is George England's patron saint?

Simply because Henry III liked the stories that had been made up about him and chose him as his emblem. This was in the 13th century, by which time George – a Roman soldier in what is now Turkey – had been dead for 1,000 years.

You probably didn't celebrate St George's day on Wednesday. Well, frankly, why would you?

But there is a growing movement to make it more of a public event, in the style of St Patrick's day.

Don't let's get carried away, though. St Pat's has really only taken off here in the last few years, as a brilliant marketing ploy by the brewers of various dark brown liquids.

If we have to have a national day (and I'm not at all sure it's such a desirable thing) why not celebrate a real Englishman who really did something great?

Like William Shakespeare, for example – whose birthday, and probably death day, just happen to be April 23: St George's day.


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