Political Promise

Ju Shardlow On… The Demise of “FOOTBALL”

In Ju Shardlow on June 7, 2010 at 3:16 pm

As part of my annual sticky summer madness, I like to sit on my roof drinking punch and shouting at the Today program. It only takes a brief ill-tuning of the radio to bring up 5 live, though. “Rio Ferdinand hobbles into the ambulance”. Football? The world just got too hot…where’s the punch? PUNCH! Oh my god…football…FOOTBALL! I hastily call Chris. “FOOTBALL!” “Football?” “Yes, Football!”

I immediately look directly into the sun so I don’t have to work for the next 4 weeks.

Where has football been? Our build-up has been surprisingly mellow this year. Perhaps the Election, Gaza or BP have been keeping it out of the news. Sky’s enraged subtitle ejaculation at the Rio news was the closest we got to a ‘wave’ of soccer headlines. I can only pray that the FA’s done a scaled-down send off this year due to our bad international showings in the past, erm, 40 odd years. Take soccer jerseys for example, I haven’t seen a single person wearing one, and that’s normally the tattoo de jour in E2. To be fair, I tried to buy one and nearly melted again at the online price. $79.99? For a t-shirt? It’s not like it wasn’t made by teeny tiny England fans in Bangladesh.

Similar to how Euro 2008 severely bruised the pride of ’66, the crunch has bruised supporter’s ability to travel or buy mass amounts of merchandise. Let’s leave out the numbers of men who were too ‘scared’ to go to South Africa. These were probably the same men who were too xenophobic to go to Germany, or couldn’t find Korea on a map. The thousands who were expected to travel didn’t due to massive airline prices and demand for hotels.

But no matter, travelers will come in later years. Or…not. Experts point to the Olympic effect – the misguided hope that international contests boost future tourist numbers. Athens, Sydney, Japan…neither city has reaped the economic rewards. And what’s worse for South Africa- they’ve gone massively over-budget (to the tune of $3.5bn) with Fifa making most of the money back from sponsorship, media rights and ticket sales. The Association’s initial loan looks like a drop in the ocean now to a country juggling existing infrastructure problems, poverty and crime with this lump sum. And what does the host nation do in this fear? Wisely save most of the tickets for its own fans and insure the contest for $9m. Nice.

I don’t blame South African football officials. The SA people will be buoyed with the happy, sweaty soccer glow for years to come. Even if the stadiums turn into white elephants, upgrading airports and inner city transport is a price worth paying. But I will put a nice bit of shame upon Association officials (step forward England FA Chairman Lord Triesman). Somewhere between Spain, Russia and Melissa Jacobs, the integrity of hosting a major world tournament got lost. Why? Because we could actually picture Spanish Officials trying to bribe referees. That’s the beauty of the world cup. For once it takes the shift off the players and on to just how corrupt management can be.

The men behind Man U ended the season on spectacularly sleazy form, too. Not only did we have Sir Al tip-toeing racist media accusations when defending Park Ji Sung (“I didn’t only buy him to sell shirts in Asia”), but the Glazers finally revealed how in debt they were. Except they didn’t. Panorama did. Apparently, the Glazers have borrowed against shopping malls and their American National Football League team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That’ll make the fans happy- selling and not replacing players like Ronaldo for £80m when your company has debts of $2bn.

Perhaps that’s why i want to hear more people on their roofs screaming “Football” and rubbing pineapple zealously in their friends’ face. We’re used to hearing so much of the sleaze from players and not from the backers or the builders. Perhaps Bridge, Defoe et al are terrified of getting injured before the tournament begins, so are staying out of the limelight. At least that means we can look forward to a Cup of honest, sticky sweat-drenched playing.

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