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Prawns In The Game: How football got where it is today by Paul French

Release date: 18th October, 2006
Publisher: Dewi Lewis Media

List Price: £9.99
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One of the more recent developments in football publishing has been the appearance of books examining the sport's overt commercialisation. It is a genre marked by quality research and impeccable ethics. One of its leading exponents, David Conn, has written two books, 'The Football Business' and 'The Beautiful Game', both widely regarded as providing thorough examinations of the true state of British football.

Conn is one of a number of people interviewed by Paul French for 'Prawns in the Game', a book which forsakes an academic approach in favour of a more humorous style. Although the attempts at humour, which tend to involve creating stereotypes and caricatures, grate at times, French's style is breezy and his conclusions, based on his extensive interviews, are both pertinent and interesting.

French offers us a potted history of the commercialisation of football starting with the formation of the world's oldest club, Sheffield FC. He identifies several key moments in the game's commercial history including the introduction of the maximum wage in 1901, its repeal in the early 1960s, the invention of television in the 1920s, the development of European football and, of course, the formation of the Premiership.

Within the narrative, French weaves the story of how football is now a bigger financial game led by chairmen and boards of directors of questionable motives, played by greedy young men and perverted by unscrupulous agents. The people who provide the financial wherewithal for all this madness, the fans, are treated with contempt by all.

French is particularly good at describing some of the more crass commercial occurrences. When businessman Mike Harris offered Llansantffraid FC of the Welsh League £250,000 over five years if they changed their name to that of his company, the board of directors hardly broke sweat in order get their hands on the money. The legend of Total Network Solutions FC was born.

One chapter, entitled the 'A to Z of Evil', runs through a list of all the people and organisations whom French feels have had a hand in turning football into a laughing stock and created a widening gap between the haves and have nots. Here, his turn of phrase raises more than a wry smile: Peter Kenyon is described as "a slap-headed cash gremlin", Nike are "more evil than Evil Knievel" and new middle class fans are called "Hornbys" after the author of 'Fever Pitch'.

By far the best chapter, however, deals with football in the USA. The rise and demise of the North American Soccer League is handled with aplomb. The World Cup in 1994 left a legacy which has allowed the game to develop there at its own pace, yet with Malcolm Glazer owning Manchester United and Randy Lerner taking over at Aston Villa, America is likely to be hugely influential in the game's future.

French does hold out some hope for the future of football. He uses AFC Wimbledon and FC United of Manchester as examples of the fans fighting back against corporate takeover. Several clubs are now wholly owned by the supporters and the development of Supporters' Trusts, which have major stakes in a growing number of clubs, are starting to take football back to the fans.

In conclusion, French suggests that Premiership clubs are playing a dangerous game. Already, some have shown that like Icarus, they have flown too near the sun and come crashing down. There are signs that others could melt in similar fashion.


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