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The Beautiful Game is Over by John Samuels

Release date: 13th February, 2008
Publisher: Book Guild Publishing

List Price: £17.99
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The widespread reaction of supporters to Premier League plans to play one "international" round of competitive matches in sun-drenched, football-crazy locations some time in January 2011 suggested that in Britain, overt displays of raw greed remain particularly distasteful.

The tipping point arrived when Premiership chief executive Richard Scudamore presented the money-making scheme as a laudable (and inevitable) contribution to global sport. While a succession of government departments have tried hammering us into Orwellian docility over the past decade, here was Animal Farm personified: 'taking English football would be good for the fans and the English game' was the gist of Scudamore's argument, but everyone knew it was nonsense.

Scudamore's proposals came after the publication of The Beautiful Game is Over, but they serve to give Professor John Samuels' book even greater resonance.

Samuels maintains (accurately) that as a result of a concentration of wealth at a select number of clubs, there has been a marked decline in the Premier League's competitive balance. Moreover, as the game's weak governing bodies have a negligible say in how the league operates, it's free to continue its Klondike-like pursuit of gold.

Unfortunately, fans have played their unwitting part. Professor Samuels suggests they have been 'brainwashed':

"MostÖPremier League games are not of a high standard," he writes. "The English national team continues to be mediocre. Most football grounds are of poor qualityÖyet the media regularly lead us to believe the Premier League is the best in the worldÖ.The more football can be packaged by marketing people to be sold [globally], the more it will attract the really big money."

Fans have indeed been brainwashed, but not to the extent that Scudamore's global designs have received wholesale opprobrium.

Making money from football per se isn't wrong - far from it; the problem is, as the Professor explains, that those running the Premiership, in conjunction with an increasing number of incredibly wealthy club owners who display little appreciation of footballing tradition, have hijacked the game. In many respects, the Scudamore proposals have made this startlingly evident, which is not, perhaps, what he intended.

Let's face it: the Premiership isn't any more exciting than the old First Division and while players might be fitter, but they're no more skilful, yet the marketing myth, which prompts us to accept that what we're watching is outstanding, persists. It isn't.

Instead, the Premier League has become a vehicle via which club owners sell their wares - in this case our national game, into a global market. Any attempts to share the fruits of the top flight's commercial success (which is truly outstanding) are met with incredulity as anyone who remembers the recommendations of the All-Party Parliamentary Football Group will recall. This august body proposed that 5% of the Premier League's broadcast revenue was distributed to lower league clubs. It was laughed at and nothing happened.

Professor Samuels' reference to America's NFL is timely. This is the richest team sport on the planet, yet it maintains a competitive balance by a method of revenue sharing that would make Premier League club owners blanche. NFL club owners are referred to as "32 fat cat Republicans who vote socialist on football matters." Unless our Premiership fat cats take heed of how the NFL operates, one wonders how much more Orwellian nonsense football supporters here will be prepared to take.


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