Editor’s blog: The not-so-beautiful game

Football is a monkey’s lunch of a business. And it’s drinking deep in Last Chance Saloon.

There have been some pretty badly-run operations down the years – British Leyland during the 70s, the South Sea Company in 1720, the Light Brigade in the Crimea… Following the great bubble burst of 2008, there are many on the brink at the moment – but nobody is drinking deeper and more fulsomely in the last chance saloon than the ‘business’ that is English football.

The national sport has had it very good for quite a while – luxuriating in buckets of telly cash, despite costs going through the roof. But it’s all turning very nasty now. The American wise-guys who bought Manchester United and Liverpool on the never-never have become hate figures among their customers – the fans – and are feeling the pinch when it comes to refinancing. Further down the feeding trough are the runts unable to get their snouts into the swill. No fewer than three UK clubs were in court yesterday – Portsmouth, Cardiff and Southend – trying to escape the inevitable, as those to whom they owe money seek winding-up orders.

Take my own club West Ham, recently acquired from the feckless Icelanders by a couple of porn barons, Gold and Sullivan. The Hammers are truly in the stuck: they’ve got debts of £110 million, and they’re performing like the band from The Muppets on the pitch. It’d be LOL if it weren’t ETMYW (Enough To Make You Weep).

This week, in an extraordinary piece of megaphone management, Sullivan engaged in a lengthy outburst (via the News of the Screws) at the organisation he has just taken over, demanding across the board wage cuts of 25%. This is not an M&A modus operandi we’d normally recommend at MT, but it’s certainly made the players listen as they ease their high-spec Bentleys and Lincoln Navigators into Upton Park (or whatever they call it these days). Sullivan noted: ‘Everywhere you look there is excess. Everyone is overpaid for the job they do. There are 110 mobile phones being paid for by the club, and you have minor people with Blackberry phones and other types.’ And there was more: ‘We had a player liaison officer who just drove a few of the players around and he was paid £50,000 a year.’ (One can only imagine what the player liaison officer does at Chelsea – offer to take Ms Peroncell from one gorgeous Surrey ranch-style mansion to the next, perhaps.)

Football has become a game big on greedy excess but low on fiscal and emotional intelligence. The dimness starts early, and from the bottom. I cannot think of a sport where the intellectual and educational achievements of the average practitioner are more lowly.

Maybe it’s of no consequence that the average Premiership footballer makes Peter Andre sound like Socrates (and I don’t mean the legendary chain-smoking doctor who wore the number six shirt for Brazil). What’s the point of bothering with GCSEs with the possibility of a John Terry-sized £150k per week waiting at the end of the player’s tunnel? But it has a profound effect on the culture. So when an oddball like the university-educated Graeme Le Saux takes to the pitch (no doubt after reading The Guardian from cover to cover in the dressing room) his opponents abuse and bare their buttocks at him, because that level of intellect meant he had to be a ‘poof’.

Sorry, but it’s a rough monkey’s lunch of a business, which is now in its decadent phase. And like ancient Rome, it will crumble to bits, the victim of its own vulgar excess. It’s enough to make you nostalgic for the old-fashioned moronic face of footie, as encapsulated in Peter Cook’s portrayal of legendary manager Alan Latchley. As he noted, ‘Football… she’s a cruel mistress. She’s more than a mistress. She’s a wife, she’s a mother, she’s a daughter, she’s an errant child. She can make you laugh, she make you cry. She can bring tears me eyes. She can bring blood to me shoulders.’

But I’ll still be glued to Sky Sports this weekend – an unkickable habit.

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