The Conservatives Have Failed Football Fans | James Middleton


Myopia is a fundamental law of politics. Short-sighted policymaking, whether by promoting vacuous causes or tiptoeing around crucial ones, is an inevitable consequence of democracy. We put up with this because, by and large, we accept that politicians are forced to compromise with the electorate (and one another) to move the Overton window in the direction of our ideas and values. It’s unfortunate, but we can’t reasonably ask for more.

Yet we must not ask for less. And less is precisely what we’ve been getting, as the last week of football news has thrown into sharp relief. The Super League was revolting to football fans and the uninterested alike, as well it should be. But the road here has been long, and conservatives have had ample opportunity to fulfil William F Buckley’s call to “stand athwart history, yelling stop!”. 

Why is it, for example, that the amputation of Wimbledon FC and it’s subsequent disfigurement into MK Dons was met with so little response from the government? Ah, but they’re a British business owned by a British businessman after all. This is the market at work! Who are we to interfere?

Chelsea is a bit more awkward, of course. All that money expropriated from the Russian people in the catastrophe of the Yeltsin years, flooding into West London and doping a good-but-not-spectacular team into the juggernaut that finally brought the Champion’s League to London. It’s not great, but it certainly isn’t evil either. Abramovich isn’t old money, that’s all. Why would you have a problem with upturning the United/Arsenal/Liverpool old guard?

United themselves are a headache, having floated on the New York Stock Exchange in 2012, but their local rivals represent the low point of regulation in this sport. Manchester City was sold to a foreign government, transforming an average team at the heart of a dedicated local fanbase into a propaganda mouthpiece for a regime which imprisons rape victims and executes apostates. The house of al-Nahyan has secured for itself a dedicated legion of online fans to aid them in whitewashing their reputation, for the spare change between the cushions of the treasury sofa.

All of which is to say that while these former community assets’ disregard for their fans is shocking, it shouldn’t be surprising. Market forces are tools like any other, to be deployed carefully and discriminately. But the British right has for too long had only one tool in its Arsenal, and to the man with a hammer everything looks like a nail. 

It would be wrong to believe that turning on capitalism and enterprise would present a solution. The fact is that competitive sports could not exist in any recognisable way without the innovations of the market, and dissatisfaction with failings should always be tempered by gratitude for what we have. It’s also worth noting that most of the above took place under Labour governments, evidence if you needed it that the planners are no more to be trusted than the marketeers with the things we hold most dear.

Our market fetishism has led our football culture to decline and it would be naive to believe the rot stops there. The Super League will resurface in time and football’s aristocracy will find new and exciting ways to bleed their communities’ coffers before abandoning them entirely for foreign markets. Presuming, of course, that they are allowed to do so. Presuming nobody stands athwart them, yelling “stop!”.


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