Shirt-pulling, tripping, elbowing, foot-stamping, punching, kicking, holding, cheating, studs-up leg attacks, racial abuse – and that’s only on the pitch! Now ‘biting’ has been added to the ‘professional fouls’ incorporated into the self-styled beautiful game. Off the pitch, punching, racist and sexist abuse and kicking are supplemented by bottling and stabbing among some of the fans. Under the modern ‘capitalisation’ of sport, the outcomes of trying to steer a ball into the opposing sides net are clearly so high as to witness such unsporting actions – as par for the course.

Now it seems anything goes – not just so that your team wins – but that the media income continues in order to keep the ‘club‘ from bankruptcy. Instead of fouls being a rarity it is now genuine sporting gestures which are the rarity on the field of professional play. Hone your skills so you can weave around a defender and then expect your shorts to be grabbed as you pass or your legs smacked from under you by a late tackle from an incoming human projectile. Survive this and if your shot only just goes over the goal line – but none of the officials see this – expect that all the other side will deny you have scored.

What used to be a working class sport, played for working class wages, has over the years, been elevated to an arbitraged investment opportunity for billionaire owners, with players paid millions even when sat on the bench doing nothing. It is no accident that the de-regulation of industry and finance, under Thatcher was accompanied by the market financialisation of football. What used to be a relatively cheap and good-natured male-dominated afternoon out with your mates has become an extremely expensive obsession for the dedicated – some of whom have become rabid fanatics.

What used to count as ‘fair-play’ among workmates and the town and city teams of working-class communities, has disappeared along with the economic welfare of those same communities. What used to be a relatively parochial concern for the majority has become a patriarchal form of tribal warfare for a minority. The mild disappointment of your team loosing and admiration for the opposing sides skills has for many been replaced by a form of existential anger and derision – if not downright hatred for the ‘other‘.

In many ways what has happened to sport under the neo-liberal capitalist system has mirrored the capitalist mode of production itself. In the case of football, the ‘constant-capital’ of the stadium etc., has increased astronomically, so too has the circulating-capital (labour and raw and auxiliary materials) but the process is exactly the same. The capital investment (M) is used to produce the commodity (the match) which is exchanged for money (M+) where the + is the surplus value.

Therefore, the same phenomena has occurred as elsewhere under capitalism. The product has been over-developed using borrowed money to such a degree, that football clubs have begun operating primarily in debt. The income from gate takings, miscellaneous sales and TV receipts are becoming insufficient to pay for the costs of production plus a surplus. Instead of one or two, many football clubs are now nudging closer to the status of bankruptcy. The elite skilled workers (the variable-capital investment) of this male-dominated industry have left the ranks of the working class and entered the realms of the celebrity tax-dodging super-rich, living off the wages and salaries of their supporters and former neighbours.

The self-proclaimed ‘beautiful game’ has become in fact a sordid stage of the relative-overproduction of ‘sports’ capital everywhere. As such football shares the same fate as all capitalist forms of production; a shrinking consumer base along with increased competition and costs. The pressures caused by capital in its present crisis stage will continue to intensify the struggle between clubs and despite ‘trophy’ buyouts by international billionaire’s the present escalating-cost model will prove economically unsustainable.

These pressures will continue to find their way onto the pitch where the elite workers will be urged to do whatever it takes! But there are also other pressures. It is also morally unjustifiable that some people are paid millions for kicking, cueing, clubing or racketing a ball about, whilst millions are barely scraping a living on the margins of the capitalist mode of production. Sooner or later under regimes of austerity that will become obvious to more people. Capitalist control of sport disfigures and distorts human relationships – on the field of play and off it – as it does in the rest of society. This has been amply demonstrated over the past few years and now again over the past week, particularly in the case of premier class football.

Roy Ratcliffe (April 2013)

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