As the bodies pile up, where is our moral line now?

Date published: Monday 14th March 2022 9:38 - John Nicholson

Roman Abramovich banner at Chelsea

Chelsea FC v Newcastle United on Sunday focused the mind on where we are in 2022. It focused the mind on how far we’ve travelled from a financially sane, morally sound sporting world into a stinking sulphurous dystopia, where everything good is smothered by stupidity and greed.

It was the battle of the deplorable owners and the in-denial fans, as some on each side continued to tie themselves in knots in trying to excuse their owners, to deny what is not deniable, to regurgitate propaganda, or to just fall back on the classic ‘what about other things that are bad?’ or the other hit single ‘you’re all hypocrites’ and its follow-up ‘you never said this about…’ even when loads of other people did.

It was ugly. And predictable.

Their horrible chants didn’t drown out the noise of war, destruction and death in Ukraine, or the cries of the 10,000 dying Yemeni children, the pointless deaths of another estimated 250,000 or make the 81 people put to death in Saudi Arabia on one day this week any more palatable.

Pretending everything is alright when it nakedly is not, only makes those doing the defending look like useful fools, as they fly their Roman Empire flag or the Saudi Arabian flag while chanting ‘We’re richer than you’. Good people looked on, horrified. This was too much to stomach for anyone with a soul or a conscience. It was a vile spectacle.

But it’s no surprise when, last week, Amanda Staveley’s defence of Roman Abramovich was breath-taking in either its simplistic naivety or its absolute callousness; take your pick. “I’m really sad that someone is going to have a football club taken away because of a relationship he may have with someone. I don’t think that’s particularly fair to be honest.” You’re playing the ‘fair’ card? Now? Urgh.

Eddie Howe is unveiled as Newcastle manager with Amanda Staveley.

Even though we’re all eventually compromised one way or another, fans indulging in whataboutery – the main form of defence, because defending the carpet bombing of Yemen or making steel for Russian tanks to invade a sovereign nation, is not something most can admit to – is ridiculous. The idea that if everything can’t be made right, we can let everything be wrong, or that you can’t write critically about one thing without writing critically about all things, is dishonest, childish and stupid. But then so much about football and our wider economic and political situation is dishonest, childish and stupid. These two examples are a couple of very bloody trees in a dense forest, bearing strange fruit, but cut them down and many others still remain. To them, that seems unfair. But get-out clauses always exist for those whose moral fibre is not strong enough to support their position.

Because fans are the lifeblood of the game and the game’s money, we are too venerated and too excused as a group. Most clubs have a sizable majority of fans that would have welcomed either of these owners too. Those who have always opposed Big Money buying into football have always been a small minority and still are. People see no other way, when other more humble, nicer ways do exist.

I remember writing pieces in opposition to Abramovich’s takeover when it happened in 2003 only to be told, not just by Chelsea fans, that I was jealous and couldn’t be morally opposed to money, because Big Money is great. Think of all the players you can buy. All the trophies you can win. Their buy-in was whole, total and complete. Money first, everything else nowhere. And look at where it has led us.

Fans are not one amorphous group who all act, think and feel the same way, though are regularly referred to as such. There are plenty of good people who understand how extreme this situation is, so, no, it’s not everyone supporting these bloody owners, but it’s enough, it’s plenty. It is their choices, their welcome, their failure to protest, their lack of moral scruples or sometimes even curiosity, as to the nature of owners and the source of their money, that is inextricably implicated in the heinous degradation of morality, that has brought about this dystopia.

Then there are the fans who simply haven’t a clue what is going on, always the ones to be vox popped outside of the ground it seems, as if the TV channel is trying to prove how f*cking stupid people who go to football are. From those who cannot see outside of themselves and their own little world, to those who think they have ‘suffered’ because they didn’t like the previous owner, when actual suffering is all too real right now, as the next thermobaric bomb explodes in the Ukraine and robs oxygen out of lungs. From the half-witted who think Staveley wearing a Valentino skirt is a tribute to Tino Asprilla (yes, really), to the morally bankrupt who don’t care about anything or anyone else, to those who only believe club propaganda, to those who can barely string a sentence together and seem to have mistaken just another capital asset in a sportswashing portfolio for its mother.

Fans point to the good, generous work done by the likes of Abramovich, unable to compute that the same person can do very bad things and very good things too. Only in movies and on social media does the bad guy have to be 100% bad 100% of the time and the good guy 100% good 100% of the time. Again, it’s dishonest, childish and stupid, just as a manager stonewalling questions about the owners and the money that is paying his wages is. Those questions will soon be the only questions asked. They are not going away, not as the blood flows, not as the bodies burn, not as those 10,000 children, such poor innocent helpless kids, are murdered.

But you can see why the moral compass has been broken. Because we can see governments doing business with oligarchs, cosying up to them and their money, flattering these appalling regimes, even going so far as to sell them the arms that kill thousands of people which they then decry as a war crime. That just excuses the fans who want an excuse and thousands upon thousands are desperate for an excuse.

When, in all other areas of life, money overrules morality, or those two things are so conflated that money is, per se, morality, why would the Premier League and its football clubs be any different, especially when a significant number of the supporters are either too ignorant, stupid, nihilistic or morally degenerate to care and a manager is morally compromised to such a degree that he cannot even talk about any of it?

We all need a moral line we will not cross. It must be drawn in the knowledge that football is not more important than human rights, not more important than a single life, not more important than a child’s tears, not more important than chemical warfare, not more important than carpet-bombing the population of a country, not more important than hundreds of thousands of innocent lives. Surely that is not a hard line to draw.

This isn’t just about Chelsea and Newcastle, it’s about all clubs. Our football ownership, especially in the top flight, needs a proper mucking-out by people with some decent, civilised values and standards, not the morally degenerate Premier League. And they can take all those fans who are happy to suck on the teat of bloody, violent, warmongering dictatorships with them. We’ve had enough. More, more, more than enough. And if not now, as the bodies pile up, then when?

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