BOOK REVIEW MOVING THE
By Ed Horton
Reviewed by Colin Mansley
The backlash against commercialism
in football has begun. We have been aware of being
exploited as football fans for quite some time but
have suffered in silence. As Horton argues, The
starving will pay any price for food, the addict anything
to get their fix!" And we are all addicted to
Horton, is already well know in fanzine
circles for his articles in When Saturday Comes and
his book The Best World Cup That Money Could Buy on
the commercialism of the 1994 Tournament in the USA.
In Moving the Goalposts (Mainstream Publishing £14.99
hardback) he puts together a cogent and hard hitting
critique of how the game has been run in the last ten
years or so. Ten years is a good bench-mark over which
to measure what has happened. Horton, an Oxford United
supporter, recalls going to watch Liverpool in 1987,
a time when they were in their heyday, when the admission
price was £3. In ten years inflation should not
have taken that price above £5. Yet you wont
get into Anfield for a fiver now. You wont get
in for a tenner. If Chester had made it to the play
off final last May fans would have had to pay £15
for the cheapest seats. To get anything like a decent
view we would have had to pay £28. Yet these
prices are relatively cheap. Cup finals cost supporters
twice as much. The businessmen in charge of football
would argue that its all a question of supply
and demand, market forces. They would like to treat
us as customers but we are not and dont want
to be customers. Our love of our football club is as
much to do with our identity and sense of belonging
as anything else. Yet the brutal ratcheting of prices,
of which Chelseas recent massive hike in the
cost of their season tickets is but the latest example,
is a symptom of a demand for money gone out of control
in the game.
They are laughing at us
Fans have been prepared to put money
into the clubs they love with the thought that at least
their hard-earned cash was going towards supporting
that same club. This long-suffering attitude is changing,
as Horton argues, What gets to fans is the impression
that for all the loyalty and commitment shown by supporters,
their football clubs consider they owe them nothing.
And worse than that, their own clubs are laughing in
their faces. Remember that he wrote this before
the so-called Toongate affair when Messrs Hall and
Shepherd were finally forced to resign (As directors
of Newcastle, but not from the payroll) because of
the remarks they made expressing exactly those felt
Moving the Goalposts is studded with
very quotable soundbites. I would love to hear a speech
by Horton in full flow. Right from his opening sentence, Football
has sold its soul, and we are paying the price the
tone is set for a full-blooded diatribe at the way
in which football in this country has been exploited
for the benefit of a small elite. The recent
boom in footballs popularity had benefited just
a few. The profits to be made are great but are distributed
so unevenly that they serve only to destabilise the
game. For the rest of us (Apart from the elite) football
at the highest level is becoming tedious and arrogant
and alienating for its supporters, he asserts.
The cost to us is not just financial. Horton describes
well how football has moved away from its supporters, Football
no longer wants to be about traditional clubs and their
traditional supporter. It would like to be about selling
a product, about targeting an audience. So corporate
hospitality is valued more highly than loyal supporters.
It is making the game more shallow, more suited to
spectators rather than supporters. It is obvious that
in the Premier League the crowds are getting quieter
as traditional crowds are replaced by a more passive
clientele. At Wembley the tannoy plays We are
the Champions in an artificial effort to generate
Run Ragged by Philanthropists
Perhaps the most bitter invective
is directed at the chairmen who run football for their
own benefit yet portray themselves as benefactors and
philanthropists. There are many examples of owners
of football clubs finding ways of making a rich return
on their money. Horton lists the various perfectly
legal ways in which they can do this
They can pay themselves a salary.
Ken Bates who bought Chelsea for just £1 and
whose take in the club is now measured in millions,
receives a salary of over £100,000 per annum
as a director. Perhaps he can justify this but it doesnt
stop him and others like him claiming to be benefactors
of the game.
Owners can also loan money to their clubs at favourable rates of interest.
Bill Archer at Brighton, made £300,000 a year in interest out of
a club which was, at the time, being relegated to the Third Division.
You can charge the club for goods or services rendered. This is what
Terry Venables did at Portsmouth.
As every City fan knows, clubs can be purchased with a view to making
a lucrative property deal as the stadium is redeveloped.
Owners involvement in clubs can make them stepping-stones on the
way to lucrative personal careers. David Evans put money into Luton Town
that helped them win the League Cup, raised his profile enough to help
him into Parliament, and then resigned, taking back all his loans and
all the interest on top. Suddenly broke, Luton plummeted.
None of this is illegal but only
heightens the impression of supporters that some directors
feel the club is there to serve their interests rather
than the other way round.
Ironically everyone wants to find
a Jack Walker to buy their own club success just as
he was the first man to buy the Premiership title.
Yet Jack Walkers real legacy is more expensive
As we hear so often these days, although
money is around in the game as never before, very little
of it filters down to the Nationwide League. Perhaps
one of the most depressing thought Moving the Goalposts
inspires is that even if clubs like Chester were able
to attract more financial investment, it wouldnt
help solve their problems of existence. The reason
for this, Horton argues, is that football clubs spend
money compulsively because of competition. As soon
as clubs realised Al Fayed was backing Fulham two or
three noughts were added to the valuation of any players
they wanted to buy. As Mr Guterman pointed out at the
Fans Forum, players wages have spiralled
through out the game as a consequence of more money
at the higher levels. Clubs have to offer parity to
compete with others.
The only way that cash has been redistributed
from rich to poor throughout the game up to now has
been the transfer system. Only this keeps most football
clubs in business as Chester fans recognised to their
widespread relief on transfer deadline day recently.
Lack of activity in the transfer market has been Chesters
downfall. Prior to the recent departures of Alsford,
Jenkins and McKay, Citys only income since Guterman
took over had been the £8,000 for Andy Milner.
The Bosman ruling threatens the transfer system with
extinction, denying the possibility of income for clubs
like Crewe and Wimbledon who have been remarkably successful
at selling on players they have developed.
The economics of football at present
are designed to put most clubs out of business. "Long
term profitablility is a chimera, a dream to which
all clubs aspire but which almost none can attain.
Those of you who managed to watch
Premier Passions, the TV documentary on Sunderland,
might remember a scene where the directors had to face
the music from first their City Investors and then
their fans when relegation to the First Division became
a reality. No-one seems to be able to pose the obvious
question that not everyone can be winners in a single
season. For every one team that wins the title there
are twenty or so underachievers. Football is competetive
but clubs cant continue to struggle in isolation.
We have to call for legislation which will control
the unchecked spiral of market forces which are ruining
Now is the time for vision and foresight
in the game but up to now there has been little or
no imagination or the political will for taking control
of football back into the communities which bred them.
Im sure that Sunderland fans will have noted
the irony of the new club badge that went with the
new image of the Stadium of Light. The ship that had
formed part of the club crest since its formation,
symbolising the shipbuilding on which the prosperity
of the town was built, had disappeared without trace
from the new logo.
Football fans are not used to getting
together and supporting one another. We are usually
encouraged to think only about our club and not the
game in general. The Fans United days have begun to
show the way forward. Horton describes the demonstration
of solidarity at Brighton last year as the most important
event of the season. By organising ourselves, opposing
the forces which threaten to kill football and by showing
solidarity with fellow supporters we may have a chance
of influencing the future for the better.
Jim White, reviewing Moving the Goalposts
in the Guardian reckons that Horton has already lost
the argument because commercialism is part and parcel
of the game once and for all. I, for one, hope that
this isnt so. It doesnt have to be like
this. We dont have to be defeatist about it.
Besides, Jim White is a Manchester United supporter if
he supported Hartlepool United would his perspective
be the same?
You must read this book. Moving the
Goalposts ought to be compulsory reading for all Football
club chairmen, especially those in the Premier League.
They wont read it of course, and they wouldnt
want you to read it either!