By CandH’s top blogger Allen Cummings
Most of us are aware it was just before the turn of the last century that industrialist Arnold Hills was instrumental in beginning the football club we now know as West Ham United.
He gave his blessing and financial support for the formation of the Thames Ironworks football team, a football club formed for the benefit, recreation and well being his workers – to provide a welcome departure from the grind of daily lives in those tough, forbidding times.
In those early days games were played mainly for enjoyment. Of course there were winners and losers – that is the whole ethos of competitive sport and there were prizes – although far from the lucrative returns of today.
As time went on the prizes for success, and the cost of failure increased as different divisions were introduced. But despite that football, the game, remained at the heart as a distraction for the masses.
Football fans were key to the game. There was passion and rivalry amongst supporters of different teams – and bragging rights often out-weighed the financial gains on offer.
Much later, in the 1970’s and 1980’s supporter rivalry went too far, and an unwelcome hooliganism element threatened to suffocate the game. Thankfully that has now virtually disappeared completely. But that particular unwelcome guest has now been replaced by an even bigger threat to the original concept of Arnold Hills, and others like him.
The threat of ‘greed’ – and the pursuit of money, money, money. The insatiable urge of so-called big clubs to get even bigger, swatting aside the smaller clubs and looking to dominate the landscape even more. There are, or course, still trophies to be won – but it’s no longer the actual silverware that matters – it’s the pots of gold that come with them.
The days when lifting that magnificent trophy on a sunlit Wembley day in May was all that mattered to the cheering fans has long gone. Captains still lift cups of course – league trophies and European trophies are still out there. But while the footballers and the fans celebrate, the owners and accountants are feverishly clicking away on calculators in the background working out just how much more their bank accounts will grow.
Why do I mention all of this? Because that’s what the current buzz word ‘Project Restart’ is all about. Why there is a split developing between the so-called big boys, the top four or six clubs, and the rest of the Premier League. Those elite clubs are driven solely by their desire to fulfil the obligations of their paymasters. The lucrative contracts they have based on success, on European qualification, on a top-four finish.
Project Restart isn’t about up-lifting the nation, helping to restore some form of normality to the millions of lives left traumatised, and the thousands left heartbroken, by this awful virus. It’s about the ‘haves’ wanting even more. The desperation of maybe not being able to cash in on those lucrative contracts that require certain goals before they pay out.
That’s why football seems hell bent on taking the kind of risks with people’s lives and families that the rest of the country find incomprehensible. Now we hear talk of a threat to those who could scupper the ‘Project Restart’ plan. Do as we say or we will relegate you anyway. It’s the language of bullies.
Many football fans have become disillusioned with football in recent years – many more are becoming disillusioned by the day. Just how low, I wonder, is the game we loved, prepared to sink?