Football, the opium of the masses

The people’s game or the opium of the masses? I am continually branded a hypocrite for enjoying the World Cup whilst still maintaining what can politely be deemed an aversion to capitalism. This slander is usually qualified under the assertion that ‘football is the most capitalist thing in the world’. Terry Eagleton recently posted an article on the Guardian’s Comment section claiming that “Nobody serious about political change can shirk the fact that the game has to be abolished”. But why? Is football that much of a distraction that it stops us all from realising the extent to which we are exploited? Would we all be in revolt were we not spending our time thinking about the next match? In reality, the idea abolition of football is in my opinion more unrealistic than the much more favourable prospect of the eradication of capitalism but for those serious about political change, their time would be much better spent thinking about how football can be utilised rather than abolished.

It is useless to ignore the actuality that capitalism has taken over and transformed the sport from what it was at its roots, the origins of many top teams were in the work places of its players. Woolwich Arsenal, for example, being the team of the munitions factory south of the Thames, Boca Juniors and River Plate, the two Argentinian giants started out as teams of the workers in the docklands area of Buenos Aires. What would those players think now? Early football was in fact criticised by some leftists at its outset, especially in South America, who did see it as a distraction for the workers from resistance to their working conditions (as if they didn’t deserve one!). Now the roots of the game are a distant memory, black and white photos and memorabilia while the modern professional game is full colour in (almost) every country in the world, a platform for people on every continent to be brought together or a platform for advertisers to simultaneously reach millions and millions of attentive viewers. An art form for people to admire and revel in, or something to be manipulated to squeeze as much money out of its loyal followers as possible.

It can’t be ignored, the players that are worshipped are paid too much. The directors who plough in the money are at the same time the bosses of the companies profiting from the fans labour. Shirts cost too much, tickets cost too much, the fans have no say, but their loyalty to their team in without question. Their season tickets will have paid for the stadium in the years they have followed, but the price is still going up. The revenue from the World Cup, the Premier League, La Liga, the Champions League individually will exceed the annual income of entire nations. The hosting of the World Cup in South Africa has displaced thousands of the countries’ poor and profited the rich and big business.

Modern professional football has turned into a money making machine, which has, in return for our love, taken our money, or worse.

But to say it should be abolished is a useless comment. It ignores the fact that divided in so many ways, we are brought together by football. It can be a platform for resistance, protest and importantly, solidarity. When fans demand more control in their club, they are demanding more control in a big part of their life, its a struggle against the bosses and a fight against those who want most of all to make money from them. We are not tricked into loving football, we love it because it is an art, it is the perfect blend of individual skill and teamwork. As another responder to Eagleton, David Zirin wrote, in his Comment piece we are as naturally drawn to it as we are to music, or dance. We can still admire the art and recognise the politics which mar it.

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