There is celebration in the football world at Chelsea’s winning the European Champions League on Saturday night. But I notice that Chelsea’s A team features only two or three English players, the rest consisting of foreign internationals purchased courtesy of the largesse of the club’s billionaire Russian owner Roman Abramovich. Truth be told, it is no more an English club than Real Madrid or Bayern Munich.
Manchester City, meanwhile, is majority owned by a corporation from Abu Dhabi, and has even had its home ground renamed ‘the Etihad stadium’ – Etihad being the motto of the United Arab Emirates. So, it seems that all there is to celebrate is the triumph of Russian money over Arab money. I am surprised that English fans bother supporting these clubs, but then the brand names weave their magic, and supporting traditions die hard.
It is all a far cry from the days when local fans turned up to support local players – or at least home-grown players – and financed their clubs with the proceeds from the turnstiles. Brian Clough used to complain that televised matches were stealing his supporters, but nowadays, premier league clubs could not care less about their supporters. It is also a far cry from the days when English clubs with English players and English managers (along with a sprinkling of Scots, Welsh and Irish) carried off the European Cup. Remember Liverpool and Nottingham Forest? Those were the days when the nation got together and got behind the home team. It really was a national event. They were our boys and we cheered them on.
Now, could anyone give a toss whether a team owned by an American billionaire (Man Utd, Liverpool), a Thai billionaire (Leicester City), a Russian billionaire (Chelsea), or an Arab billionaire (Man City) is heading the Premier League? True, there is the odd British billionaire owner too – nice for them. But as for home-grown players, or home-grown fans, you can forget it.
We can rest assured that what has happened to our national game is part and parcel of the Global Britain phenomenon. We are in the business of attracting the brightest and the best from around the world, flogging off our assets, and maximising corporate profits abroad.
But if you must support a football club, at least be a patriot and support an English club.