Last night, Sergio Agüero, an Argentinian forward formerly of Atletico Madrid, purchased from Independiente for €23 million and sold on to Manchester City for a ballpark sum of £35 million—the most expensive player in the club’s history—scored the winning goal for Manchester City. The club paid Agüero’s enormous transfer fee on the back of money provided by owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the Deputy Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates. This money was generated in part by the Supreme Petroleum Council, the fourth largest oil and natural gas company on Earth. It sells its products to a global industry that is driven by fossil fuels, despite the major risk the product poses to the fragile global climate.
The game meanwhile was played against the likely Premier League title-winners Manchester United at the Nike Swoosh-adorned Old Trafford. United of course are owned by American businessman Malcolm Glazer. Glazer purchased the club on leveraged money in 2005, meaning much of the team revenue was initially directed to making substantial interest payments on Glazer’s borrowed cash. The Glazer family generated their wealth through property ownership, initially trailer parks in Florida in the 1970s. Malcolm Glazer made several failed corporate takeover attempts in the Reagan eighties and finally succeeded in purchasing the ailing Zapata Offshore company, which was a remaining subsidiary of Zapata, an oil and natural gas company established by President George H.W. Bush. From there Glazer invested in a host of various companies to generate a considerable fortune.
Both teams played to a global audience in the tens if not hundreds of millions, through satellite and digitial cable television stations which paid millions and in some cases billions of pounds, dollars, Euros for the privilege, money that is funneled back to both clubs and to the globally preferred Premier League. The money is recouped by the companies that paid for the rights in ad revenue from commercial spots for a host of products aimed at a lucrative young demographic, all produced via a globally integrated free-market fueled by petroleum products. It’s a closed circuit of wealth generation, money which is redirected back to stockholders, and to company employees, from manufacturers in the developing world to mid-level corporate executives in Western Europe and North America.
Needless to say, this system doesn’t make much a priority of the community history of a few clubs, nor the mere tens of thousands of fans who pay to see the clubs play in regions like Greater Manchester, or Yorkshire, or any of the economic areas which in many ways are still readjusting to the post-1980s, state-owned economy smashed to pieces by Margaret Thatcher during her time as Prime Minister (1979-90).
This, at least to me, is the real legacy of Thatcherism. It’s an intractable ideology, not an atomized historical moment. It involves more than the gentrification of English football which followed a complex chain of events stretching back to the ban on English clubs in Europe following the Heysel stadium crush in 1985. And more than the unjust treatment of all football fans in that same dark period which merely reflected Thatcher’s Tory hatred of the English working class, a group whom she referred to once as “the enemy within.”
Thatcher uprooted a Britain locked in a mixed economy which, for better or worse, perpetuated an industry that existed in large part to employ a work force rather than produce a lucrative good at market value. But Thatcherism—the ideology her approach to the trade unions and state-owned industry—only survived because it was cemented by the smiley-faced, pro-middle class New Labour politics of Tony Blair, a Prime Minister who helped ensure that global, wealth-obsessed neoliberal policy was signed off by history.
The legacy of Thatcher is only something we talk about because of Newcastle-loving Tony, much in the same way Reaganism survived in large part because of Bill Clinton’s Third Way approach, which generated enormous wealth for the middle class even as it further dismantled the New Deal welfare state. Apportioning blame or credit for the current global wealth-generating machine that is Modern Football goes far beyond slagging a Prime Minister who was last in office when Liverpool won their last first division title.
This is not meant to be a lecture on political science, but merely to point out that, it’s complicated. Thatcher may have directed history, her politics may have been an inevitable response to an inert 1970s, it may or may not have paved the way for the massively wealthy Premier League, which may or may not be the worst thing in the world. But she is not an independent agent.
Read the rest of this entry »