Football is ‘a cruel and shallow money trench’

Date published: Tuesday 16th May 2017 8:10

Every single week, football money is headline news. This week it was all about agents, transfer fees, wages and gambling.

Do we care how much money footballers earn? Do we care how much agents earn? Do we care how much is spent on transfers? Do we care about money and football at all? If we don’t, then should we? If we do, then why?

My heart sinks with every big money revelation and I find myself wanting to put my head in the sand to hide from such a squalid, amoral, financial dystopia.

When an agent earns £41 million on one deal it seems surreal. When a footballer loses half a million quid in a couple of hours at a casino, it seems surreal. When transfers fees are heading toward 100 million, it seems surreal. When players are routinely paid half a million a month, it seems surreal. When Ched Evans is signed by Sheffield United and reportedly paid £10,000 per week, it is surreal.

Except it’s not surreal. It’s real. It is happening. It is real money. Sometimes I just don’t know what to feel. Do we have – not just a right, but a responsibility – to take a moral stance against this? I genuinely think we do. But obviously, we’re all integrally woven into football’s wealth and in a way, we are all responsible for the current situation, simply because of our limitless thirst and demand for football. If we all walked away from the terraces and the TV, the money would soon evaporate.

Yet the uneasy, queasy feeling every time a huge transfer fee, wages or commission is mentioned just won’t go away.

You can justify the huge sums in terms of the economics of supply and demand, but it will not wash off the stain. It simply feels wrong. It feels immoral and yet it feels so distant and so well insulated that there’s nothing we as individuals can do about it. It is a wild horse running over the hill and away into the distance.

You don’t want to be churlish about a footballer earning what many feel is an obscene amount of money, be it 10 grand a week or 200 grand. He has just been lucky to be a professional footballer in this particular economic era. They are merely beneficiaries of this climate and, who knows, many might be giving away most of their bulging wage packet. You would hope so. How could you live with yourself if you didn’t?

It’s common to hear people say “if an agent can earn £41million on a deal then good luck to him” or the same about a £200,000-per-week player. There is rarely a voice to express moral judgement. A voice to say that this is wrong, this is greedy, this is real money which could achieve so much more, for so many more, if not spent in this way.

Football is part of society, not separate from it. This isn’t an argument against bettering yourself financially. It isn’t the politics of envy. It is far more philosophical than that. We all quite modestly like owning stuff. A nice jumper, a Black Crowes album, a painting of a dog. But owning stuff doesn’t really make us happy. It is at best a condiment on life’s meal. Happiness is rooted in existential things such as love, friendship, companionship, humour, comfort, decency and respect. It isn’t rooted in a £20,000 watch or £200,000 cars. Money to buy these adds nothing to your tally of content. So it’s worth asking what is the point in all these high wages and fees? Why celebrate it? Why pursue it? At its heart, materialism is vacuous.

We live in a scruffy flat in Georgian Edinburgh. We have wealthy people all around us and quite honestly none of them look happy. They won’t give you a cheerful wave. They won’t stop to pass the time of day. They can’t wait to jump into a massive Porsche Cayenne or a Maserati. Happy? No. Quite the opposite. They frequently wear the scowls of defensive paranoia, as they take delivery of their Money Week magazine, trying to work out more ways to accrue more money for absolutely no reason at all other than sheer greed born out of a cold and soulless addiction to wealth.

All studies show that once you’ve got your bills covered and a little bit in reserve, happiness doesn’t increase with wealth. Any footballer isn’t happier for his huge wealth. Indeed, I’d argue if you’re on your own in the middle of the night, dumping large amounts of cash in a casino, you are unhappy.

This is why we feel uneasy when we hear someone wants to increase their wages from 60k to 100k per week. Why don’t the voices of moderation and of morality have more traction in football? Is it because the hypnotic stare of money makes that impossible? Or does it all just feel like it’s totally beyond us, leaving us powerless?

Excessive executive pay in other industries is a real issue but in football it simply isn’t. And yet we are effectively the shareholders. What we feel is right and wrong should count for something. But it doesn’t.

But can it be right that we live in a society where a footballer has so much money spare that he can fritter away the yearly income of 20 people in a couple of hours? None of us are superior to the other. We’re all in this together, or at least we should be.

And yet I have absolutely no idea what to do about any of this. We’ve all got lives to live and work to do, good times to have. How do we fight the money monster? How do we deal with that sour, heavy despair you feel when you hear a player called ‘ambitious’ because he wants to earn 150k a week instead of 120k? How do we deal with hearing that a manager earning many millions ‘isn’t in it for the money’?

Greed has become normalised, values and morality twisted in a room full of mirrors, as football becomes what Hunter Thompson once, in a different context, called ‘a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs’.

We’ve all become co-opted into this sporting Babylon. I guess if you sleep with the devil, then you must pay.

John Nicholson

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