Who’s the whore now Wayne?

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I write this missive, dear reader, whilst listening to the oldest and fiercest derby football fixture in the world – Celtic v Rangers. At the moment, halftime, the score is 1-0. It’s a home game for Celtic, and You’ll Never Walk Alone, the club’s anthem (pre-dating Liverpool) is being sung like a hymn by the masses.  I live about 500 yards from Hampden, the national stadium, and about 5 miles from Celtic Park and Ibrox, in either direction.  In fact, my favourite Sunday bike run, around all three stadia, is roughly 17 miles. (newsflash – Ranger have just equalised).  Most people who know me, insist that I know very little about football, as I don’t favour either side of the Old Firm.  I come from Airdrie, so in my book, I don’t qualify to support any Glasgow team.

I admit to being no expert in the beautiful game. However, living in this city, and so close to 170,000 seats in three of the world’s  most famous football grounds, it’s impossible to have no opinion whatsoever.  What really interests me, are the machinations of the modern football club, and their ability to engage, enrage, excite and confuse. (update, Kenny Miller, former Celtic striker, has scored for Rangers, taking them to 1-2).

There are many instances of ludicrously illogical behaviour within this sport, but I’d like to look at the recent goings on regarding a certain Wayne Rooney, and Manchester United.  Patrick Collins has written a long ponderous column in today’s Mail on Sunday (her indoors buys it), entitled “Why we should all celebrate Ferguson’s greatest victory”.  He is of course referring to the latest negotiations between the club and player, which have now been resolved with the signing of a new 5 year contract, and a doubling of his wages to around £10 million per annum.  Wages is the wrong term here, as I refuse to speak of players salaries in terms of weekly wages.  Do we really think footballers are being handed a brown envelope every Friday, containing tens of thousands of pounds?  (Kenny Miller scores again from an outrageously awarded penalty 1-3).  Of course they don’t.  Even if they were getting paid every week, the money will be getting paid directly into their own Limited Companies; Wayne Rooney Enterprises for example.  This company, in turn, will be paying the invoices and wages of lawyers, accountants, agents, domestic staff, as well as handling investments, and paying all business expenses related to the player’s livelihood.  That same company will also be receiving income from sponsors for endorsements, TV appearances, modelling, etc etc.  Basically, the individual footballer is the face and CEO of a sizeable business enterprise.

In the 1960’s, Jimmy Hill led the campaign by players to remove the cap on footballer’s earnings.  This was certainly a time when their wages were weekly, and did bear comparison with that of the average working man.  The players had come to realise, that the very best of them could exert enormous influence in wage negotiations. Thus began the inexorable path to where we are today.  Last week, Sir Alex Ferguson told us that Wayne Rooney, the club’s prized striker, did indeed want to leave the club.  He couldn’t understand it.  They had bought the player for £26m from his boyhood team, Everton, thus establishing him as a commodity, and had paid him in the region of £5m per annum, on a contract that still had almost 2 years to run.  They had even gone out of their way to protect their investment, by helping him through a range of personal and professional indiscretions, and had kept him on the bench with an invented injury, while his agents were “negotiating” a new contract.  Basically, this is not a simple situation of a young employee and his mentor / employer.

Essentially, Rooney’s team played a blinder.  By publicly walking away from Man Utd’s offer, they called their bluff.  Patrick Collins at The Mail, wrongly claims this to be a victory for Sir Alex, whilst Rooney gets a new contract worth twice the previous one, and doesn’t even have to leave and learn a foreign language!

Anyone who blames players for the financial woes of football clubs is a complete fool.  It is for club owners and boards to decide what to pay, and they are idiots to go beyond what they can afford.  “Winning at all costs” is wilfully destructive, and never more so than in this game. Just yesterday, Portsmouth were saved from liquidation, last week Liverpool changed hands as a result of court cases and spiralling debts, and Manchester United themselves are financed by an eye-watering mortgage taken out by its owners, and paid for by the club.  I believe there is a very good case for football clubs to be prevented from being either profit or loss making enterprises. Barred from spending more than they generate, and compelled to reinvest every penny of surplus they make.  This may sound like communism, but isn’t that the essence of all sport? Winning on merit, playing on ability.

My team, Airdrie United (formerly Airdrieonians) went bust several years ago. They overextended by building a 10,000 seater stadium, for a 2,500 support.  They were instantly reconstituted, as would Portsmouth, Liverpool, or even Man Utd in the same circumstances. In that situation what has truly been lost?  Nothing of any real value.  The people who own and run football clubs in the UK are entirely responsible for its impending demise.  The fascination for wages, contracts, and High Court intrigue is nothing but a ridiculous sideshow.  This is not sport.  This is not football.

PS. Celtic 1 – Rangers 3.