With Red Sox principal owner John Henry leading an attempt to wrest ownership of Liverpool F.C. from the universally reviled Tom Hicks and George Gillett, David Mitchell aka Peep Show’s Mark Corrigan (above), considers a system that allowed Hicks & Gillett to stake a claim to Anfield in the first place (“football’s market-friendly approach has allowed the club to be bought and loaded with debt by two American businessmen for whom its purchase was no more than a punt “ and one which, like a lot of their punts, looks unlikely to pay off…they’re shit foreign tycoons: their aims are reprehensible and they’re not even up to achieving them.”) From Sunday’s Observer :
People say it’s the inevitable consequence of the “free market” and the “modern world”. English football is now an environment in which players are millionaires, football clubs are plcs, valued in the hundreds of millions but paradoxically on the verge of insolvency, and fans can’t even afford to watch their teams on TV.
Those responsible for this state of affairs would probably say that Liverpool’s crisis is the regrettable counterbalance to all the advantages that the money flowing through football has brought. But what are these advantages that apparently compensate for a successful and venerable institution being put beyond the help of its millions of fans and left to the tender mercies of either two incompetent investors or the official representative of their creditors? In this case, the money has flown through the club with such pace and abrasion that it’s taken the paint off the walls.
The answer, I suppose, is investment. In my view, only two basic types invest in football clubs. Liverpool is suffering from the first: speculators out to make money from clubs which were never constituted for that purpose. They see that, in its name, fan base, players or the location of its ground, a club has assets to be monetised and they buy in to do so. Sporting glory is only ever a means to their financial end just as, in seeking the investment, the club’s talk of profit was once a means to its sporting one. Ultimately the two ends will be irreconcilable and, if the club had the latent strengths to attract an investor, it would have been better off finding independent ways of exploiting them.
The second sort of investor, like Roman Abramovich at Chelsea and Sheikh Mansour at Manchester City, are people so rich they can make a football club a loss-making vanity project. To me, this feels tantamount to cheating. Who’s to say what club a random trillionaire might suddenly form an attachment to or have rabidly supported as a child? It’s unfair on all the other clubs that one should be able to win the lottery, even if it pays for its luck with the indignity of becoming a tycoon’s plaything.
And what would have happened without any of this investment? Would top flight football have stopped? Would tickets to matches be even more expensive? Or would Wayne Rooney just have had to settle for cheaper whores?