Soccer star Carbone gets £30,000 a week - not bad for Bradford

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The Independent Online

Beni works in the inner city. Tomorrow will be his first Monday morning in a new job. On the way there he will drive through terraced streets where houses are for sale at £30,000 - which is more or less what he earns in a week.

Beni works in the inner city. Tomorrow will be his first Monday morning in a new job. On the way there he will drive through terraced streets where houses are for sale at £30,000 - which is more or less what he earns in a week.

Football fans have grown used to such anomalies but the signing of Italian forward Benito Carbone for Bradford City has provoked the first real signs that even die-hard fans are beginning to question the money madness gripping their sport.

Carbone's arrival in West Yorkshire dominated the local media last Thursday, overshadowing news that two men had been arrested in connection with a series of shootings in the troubled area around the City stadium. In the past three weeks alone that part of Bradford has seen street battles, gangs throwing stones and bottles at police, beatings, and five people shot.

"It is incredible that a club in inner-city Manningham, one of the most deprived areas of Britain, is paying a bloke in a week three times what some of the people on the terraces earn in a year," says David Pendleton, editor of the Bradford City fanzine The City Gent. "It's becoming obscene. Where's their social conscience?"

For the first time at any Premiership side, the signing of an expensive foreign star has provoked scepticism from the beginning - an omen to chill hearts at clubs that have taken similar gambles in the run-up to the new season which starts with the Charity Shield game today.

Those who play and run football at the highest level currently enjoy astronomic wages, but many secretly fear what will happen if fans turn their back on the game - in disgust, or because they just can't afford to watch it any more.

The Bradford chairman Geoffrey Richmond is hoping his new star attraction will keep Bradford in the Premiership - and persuade fans to buy more season tickets. At £220 they are still the Premiership's cheapest, says Mr Richmond, although they are still expensive "in what is undoubtedly a low-wage city".

The average weekly wage in Bradford is £354.20 - about 84 times less than Carbone is getting. Unemployment in Manningham is 16 per cent.

In the past the arrivals of the Brazilian Juninho at Middlesbrough and the Colombian Tino Asprilla at Newcastle caused a stampede for replica shirts with their names printed on the back, helping those clubs recover their investment. No such demand was visible in the club shop at Bradford on Thursday night, when only 4,500 were prepared to pay £12 to watch Carbone's debut in a friendly against the Italian club Fiorentina.

Afterwards, outside the ground, there were many fans prepared to voice their reservations. "He's a mercenary, isn't he?" said Andy, a factory worker in a Bradford home shirt. "We'll see what he does for us. Is he worth it? I'm not convinced."

In May 1985 a fire in the main stand at Bradford killed 56 spectators. Since then Bradford has risen through the leagues while developing closer links to its community than almost any other top-ranking club. All first-team members are required to play their part. But Benito Carbone has a reputation for being difficult, walking out on Shef-field Wednesday minutes before a game just because he had been named as a substitute.

"If a club is successful fans will let them get away with bloody murder," says David Pendleton, who has been going to watch Bradford City since he was six. "You don't connect the money with the man on the pitch. If it goes wrong - and I hope it doesn't - if he decides to go at half pace or show a poor attitude, he'll be ripped to pieces. The backlash would be vicious - and, I have to say, rightly so."

The amount of money being spent on wages by a club more used to employing hard-working but more prosaic English players is "frightening", he says. "This is not a criticism of Bradford City football club or the chairman - that's what you have to do to keep your nose in the trough - but it is a criticism of the way football is going."

Danny Kelly, publishing director of the internet service Football 365, says the dissent has been growing more vocal in all clubs. "The relationship between fans and players has changed. In the past at Spurs we might have had someone who couldn't play and people would just groan. Now they say, 'You bastard, you're earning £25,000 a week, you're getting money under false pretences.'

"The trouble is there is nothing they can do about it, short of staying away. To the average fan that thought is anathema."

The sums do add up for Bradford, says Mr Kelly. "They get £8m just for staying in the Premiership. This season they'll pay Carbone £2m at most, when his wages and signing-on fee are taken into account. If he is the difference between staying up and going down, the economics are very good."

The market is being driven by Italian clubs whose presidents use football as a vehicle for their political ambitions. Here the price will be paid by the lower league clubs, which Mr Kelly believes will inevitably become semi-professional in the future.

Bradford was one of those lowly sides until recently, and the fans have not forgotten it. Seeing their side in the Premiership is like a fantasy come true, and paying fantastic wages to stay there is part of that. "I have been coming for 30 years and seen Bradford rise from the old Fourth Division," says Talib Hussain Pothi. "When you remember what it was like in those days, everything that is happening now seems to be a dream."