It’s perhaps a sign of the enormous change in English football over the last twenty-three years that on the day the families of Hillsborough stadium crush victims rejected the Football Association chair David Bernstein’s artless apology for his organization’s role in the disaster—namely, for allowing an FA Cup semifinal to go forward at a stadium without a safety certificate—Manchester City revealed plans for a state-of-the-art academy to operate adjacent to the Etihad stadium.
Where it was once the purview of angry young men, the English game is entering an age of “branding walls,” executive boxes, boardrooms within football parks designed with an eye to maximizing the Allen curve. The notion of a cordoned off stadium terrace like Sheffield Wednesday’s Leppings Lane, in which fans are penned in like animals under the watchful eye of indifferent police, now seems like something from the Dark Ages, not par for the status quo a mere two decades and change ago.
Despite the radical improvements in crowd safety and stadium facilities over the past two decades, it’s not clear that the intentions of the footballing ruling class, whether those who run the clubs or governing bodies, are any more benign now than they were in 1989. A cynic might point out that it took the establishment of the Premier League, in accordance with the principles of the Taylor Report, for those who run English football to realize the real money lay in gentrification, branding, complex investment models—all of which required at the very least safe, modern all-seater stadiums, and for police to treat fans as customers rather than a potential mob. The same exploitation of fans still exists, but with a glossy smiley face.
It’s worth asking: as long as fans are safe and the days of a Bradford and Hillsborough are long behind us, does it matter?
Surely it’s far better for average fans to be priced out of season tickets than to be able to attend games in decrepit stadiums, crushed within crumbling terraces guarded with spiked fences. If faced with a choice, would we not accept the current globalized and financially isolated Premier League in place of the non-televised English First Division rife with hooligan violence, unsafe stadiums, and police abuse?
Now that we’re on the subject, isn’t the rise of the Premier League itself the story of the past thirty years of economic development in the West? In which the welfare state lost out to neoliberalism but in turn generated far greater wealth, unsustainable and financially irresponsible as it may be? Is that too lofty a question for the Footy Blog on a Friday ahead of the return of domestic club football?
Hey, what’s this about Drogba going to Arsenal…
David Lacey wonders at how we might really determine England’s place in world football [The Guardian].
Dwayne De Rosario offers Canada a “crisi-tunity” [Canadian Soccer News].
The New Wave of Japanese footballers in the Bundesliga [Bundesliga Fanatic].
Arbeloa insists the Bernebeu will cheer Cristiano Ronaldo more than ever before [Marca].
“Geh Deinen Weg” [ESPNFC].
Oh Zizou [Youtube].