Having written the post, ‘Greed is good…’ yesterday about the farce that is today’s English football, I suddenly remembered a quote from the legendary Bill Shankly. A staunch Socialist and without doubt one of the greatest football managers ever, he summed up both his politics and his approach to football:

“The socialism I believe in is everyone working for each other, everyone having a share of the rewards. It’s the way I see football, the way I see life”

How far away from this model of football are we today?

This is not to say that the modern game is in any way apolitical: far from it. From the signing of the first BSkyB broadcast deal 15 years ago, the Premiership is a glowing example of what a deranged and unrestricted free-market economy looks like.

The players have become commodities of consumption: a very particular way of living. Most don’t admire them, but many do aspire to their lifestyle, their wealth and their greed. So much so that at almost any kids football match up and down the country this coming Sunday, there will be at least one parent encouraging their child to ‘go for it’: not to become a great sportsperson but to have the lifestyle that they didn’t.

Premiership Socialism? Impossible…

Historically, football’s politics have tended towards the left, with most of the top clubs having their roots in either a local church or a local pub. For 100 years these clubs existed as extensions of their local community, a living example of the invalidity – as it was – to Thatcher’s notion that there is no such thing as society.

In the past twenty years, traditional football and its Socialist roots have all but disappeared. With this, so too has the relationship between the fans and the clubs also disappeared: the commodification of the game as tele-visual experience; the dilution of the locally based fan-base; the above inflationary ticket price increases; the franchising of the club ‘brand’; and the development of football as a corporate hospitality product all contributing to Socialist and traditional football’s demise.

I am old fashioned, but doesn’t Shankly’s version of the beautiful game sound a lot better?

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This work by Chris Allen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 UK: England & Wales License. Based on a work at www.chris-allen.co.uk.

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3 thoughts on “Socialism: “it’s the way I see football, it’s the way I see life…”

  1. Excellent post, I’m glad I just randomly stumbled on your blog! Some people to the left of the political spectrum would argue that football and other sports divert the attention of the general population away from more important things in society and the building of this vast sporting empire kind of keeps people occupied. So there’s endless talk on phone in shows dealing in advanced tactics etc, because its an area people are allowed a say and can come together to watch etc that is pretty much blocked off in the political realm. It’s an idea Chomsky posits in Manufacturing Consent, and I’m not sure whether I agree with it, but its interesting at least.

    Somethint that strikes me as a little odd is a comparison between the English Prem leauge and the US’ MSL. So the US is supposed to be the free market bastion of the world, but when it comes to sport, its all kind of a protected closed shop (in soccer anyway). So there are wage caps (across the board until d beckham went to LA making way for the ‘beckham rule’ which means you can break the wage cap for a couple of players), teams are protected and can’t get dumped out of the league and other such restrictions. Again, its an example of why neo-liberalism is such a poor idea when starting up an industry, whether it be textiles or football. You need to protect a base level to work from, then when its strong enough, perhaps open it up to competition as the MSL probably will.

    Sorry to ramble on, hope I haven’t gone too far off topic!

  2. Hi
    I like the last comment.
    It reminds me of the Roman quote ‘ give them bread and circuses’.
    I think that yes sport is used cynically as a distraction and many people do not see through this.
    Those of that do though can see the value of community activities such as local football teams.
    Activities that bring people together and I speak as a communist are good for society and can be used to help build working class consciousness.

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