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Saturday, 30 July 2011

Football and the Big Society

Can “The Big Society” save football?

Has top level football ever been so far removed from the common man/woman? Weekly wage packets broke the £100,000 mark a while ago and are now creeping closer to £200,000+, in the midst of a deep recession ticket prices continue to rise, owners come and go, whilst using great institutions as their play thing and games that kick off on a Saturday at 3pm are becoming the exception rather than the norm.
The recent farcical antics at FIFA have only served to underline that football is rotten. Amongst the revelations of bungs, suspensions, parliamentary enquiries and an election that would not have looked out of place in Zimbabwe, the most interesting aspect was the re-action of the British public. There was some excellent coverage and much consternation in the broadsheets but what about actual football fans? Well, as one, they simply shrugged their shoulders. There was an acceptance that this was how football operated at that level.
Top level football is broken. Is there anything we can do about it? Can we fix football?
Unfortunately I’m not sure we can, the only way FIFA and the top clubs would take any notice of us is if we stemmed the river of pounds, euros and dollars flowing into their bank accounts (and back pockets). This would take a mass mobilisation of football fans all around the world and the breaking of the tribal loyalties many fans feel toward their club. As fans we are just not prepared to starve our clubs, they rely on our blind loyalty.
So what can be done? Let’s ignore FIFA, UEFA and the (Barclays) Premier League for a while. We have allowed ourselves to forget how wonderful a force for good football can be. The economic gloom shows no sign of lifting yet football in its purest form is one of the cheapest pastimes available, an increasing obesity epidemic has the potential to pile untold misery on this country for generations to come, yet football is one of the healthiest habits you can have, tabloid headlines constantly tell us our society is broken, yet there are few things that have united people of various creeds, colours and clans throughout history as the simple joy that a game of football brings.
It may sound counter-intuitive but why can’t we use the recession to spark a change in football? The Tories are not traditionally considered a friend of the football fan but is there anything that epitomises the spirit of their flagship “Big Society” than football?
This is the time to re-claim football, make it about having fun again, celebrate its inclusiveness, focus on what made football great. People loved football long before “Super Sunday” and corporate hospitality. We don’t need the inbred “FIFA family”. Get in contact with your local council, arrange a tournament, speak to charities that are active in your area, don’t allow it to become cynical, involve your community.
Football by virtue of its popularity can lead the way to a healthier (in all senses) society, big or not.
We may never change things at the top, but we can have some fun and do some good starting from the bottom.

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