Blair condemns football greed

TONY Blair will take his campaign against extravagant salaries on to the football field tonight, writes Paul Routledge. The Labour leader will use a dinner at the Savoy Hotel, London, to remind top managers and players that the money for high wag es and high transfer fees comes from ordinary football supporters on the terraces and in the stands and to question the increasing commercialisation of the game.

At the dinner, held in tribute to Sir Stanley Matthews on his 80th birthday, the Labour leader will warn that the game is in danger of being "tainted by greed".

Mr Blair, shocked at the £7m paid by Manchester United to Newcastle for the striker Andy Cole, his son Nicky's football idol, will question how any player can be worth so much. Sir Stanley, the greatest name in the game, commanded only £2,500 in 1961, MrBlair will point out.

His speech will tell the clubs they cannot take fans for granted, saying: "People might begin to think there is a link between the higher prices they pay for seats and the multi-million- pound transfers and wages which Sir Stanley could only dream of."

Lamenting that money has become a dominant motivation in the game, he will continue: "Football remains the people's sport, but for many people it is becoming too costly." Tickets, travel and souvenirs have made it a very pricey pastime.

Mr Blair insists: "There is a market, certainly, but there is a community too. Football clubs are part of it."

He is particularly critical of the high cost of football strips marketed by the clubs. "There is a fine line between marketing and exploitation. Fashion cannot justify the constant change of strips which parents are then pressurised to buy."

The Labour leader, once a Newcastle fan, prefers to play tennis in private - though he has been tempted by photographers into kicking a ball around the garden of his Islington home. He is unhappy about the boosting of individual players at the expense ofteam values, and the rampant commercialisation that leaves some clubs bigger and richer while others go to the wall.

"We have to reflect on whether the sport has become tainted," he will tell the tribute dinner. "I am not saying it has. I merely observe the extent to which the game has changed, the extent to which money is so often its motivation."

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