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Book Review – Moving The Goalposts

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 football.

Commercialism Rampant

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 won’t get into Anfield for a fiver now. You won’t 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 it’s all a question of supply and demand, market forces. They would like to treat us as customers but we are not and don’t 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 Chelsea’s 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 sentiments.

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 football’s 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 atmosphere.

“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 doesn’t 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 Walker’s real legacy is more expensive ticket prices.

Vicious Spiral

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 wouldn’t 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 Chester’s downfall. Prior to the recent departures of Alsford, Jenkins and McKay, City’s 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 can’t continue to struggle in isolation. We have to call for legislation which will control the unchecked spiral of market forces which are ruining the game.

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. I’m 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 isn’t so. It doesn’t have to be like this. We don’t 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 won’t read it of course, and they wouldn’t want you to read it either!

ISSUE 25 Editorial
Fan Profile – Richard Goodier
A View from The West Stand
C'mon Arsenal!

Book Review – Moving The Goalposts


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