The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution

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The Independent Online

A nondescript middle-aged executive speaks of “rebuilding trust” with football fans before the England team becomes an irrelevance. A wealthy player defies social convention and assumptions of apathy to do something about it.

The difference between the empty words uttered by Alex Horne, the FA’s startlingly over-rewarded general secretary, and the compassionate actions of Steven Naismith, the Everton striker who has purchased season tickets for unemployed supporters, is telling.

Horne, whose mastery of bureaucratic obfuscation is deemed worthy of an annual salary of £532,000, was responding to the impending embarrassment of Wednesday’s friendless friendly against Norway, when tumbleweed will blow through deserted stands and suites at Wembley.

If the FA had any affinity with the supporters they so blithely patronise, they would have ignored the profit motive and established a maximum ticket price of £10. If they had any foresight, they would be seeking to sell a controlling interest in the stadium which symbolises institutionalised incompetence, and take the England team on the road.

To use Naismith’s pungent phrase, “we are losing the spine of what football is all about”. Traditional supporters are tired of being alienated, economically and spiritually, by the game’s exploitation of the laws of supply and demand.

A new breed of tourist may be able to  afford the “value judgement”, so smugly promoted by Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore, but too many modern grounds have been transformed into Disneylands for dullards.

Notions of a shared heritage and a sense of community, so central to football long-term welfare, have been cheapened, so they are merely elements on a TV director’s storyboard. The cloying sentimentality of the latest sponsor’s advertisement for the Premier League, which purports to highlight “all that’s great with the beautiful game” is demeaning.

Supporters groups, increasingly more strategic in their approach, see through such clichéd pap. But nothing will change unless they take the next logical step in their protests about ticket prices, and exploit football’s reliance on corporate income.

It was significant, then, that the joint statement issued on Friday by the Spirit of Shankly and Blue Union groups, representing Liverpool and Everton fans, spoke of turning their fire on the game’s principal backers.

“We will take this opportunity to effect change by going after the wealth in the game,” they promised. “Sponsors and broadcasters, part of the football cartel, pump in millions in sponsorship and media deals. They do not do this to help clubs pay inflated transfer fees or telephone-number salaries, but to try to turn us supporters into their customers.

“They pay football’s going rate to sell us their goods and services through piggy- backing on to our club loyalties. So it’s time for supporters to take our share of that. It’s time for the sponsors to tell the clubs that they can no longer take supporter ‘affinity’ for granted, that for club sponsorship to be an effective ‘route to market’, the people who make up that market can no longer be exploited and taken for granted.”

Direct action, rather than damning rhetoric, will take time to work through the system, but if commercial associations become toxic, and fans begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard.

Reason doesn’t work in football. It’s time for revolution.

Shaun of the Deadline day

The schoolboy fantasists who peddle fiction from their bedrooms are ready to spontaneously combust on social media. A TV hack and his fragrant assistant will waft briefly into the national consciousness and believe they are the stars of the show.

Yes, tomorrow is Transfer Deadline Day, the biannual orgy of witlessness and manufactured drama in which training grounds appear to have been colonised by extras from Shaun of the Dead. It is celebrated when it should be regarded as a source of shame.

Transfer rumours are the crack cocaine of modern sport: once consumed they create dependence and distort reality. The market they fuel is massively overheated and prone to manipulation because of its lack of transparency.

Third-party ownership, which recycles footballers as the goods and chattels of anonymous businessmen, is prohibited in England following West Ham’s signing of Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano, but is becoming endemic.

Traffic Sports, a Brazilian company which operates three funds worth in excess of $100m (£60m), made $7.7m in eight months when striker Keirrison was sold to Barcelona for $19million. He was granted a free transfer last month, without playing a first-team game.

Little wonder, then, that Jochen Loesch, Traffic’s head of international business, warns that legislation from Uefa and Fifa would be “widely ignored by the market”. Money will continue to flood out of the game, because such funds have a vested interest in encouraging clubs to sell.

What we will be watching, as the clock ticks down to 11pm on Monday night, is a suicide pact between individuals who know the price of everything and the value of nothing. Enjoy it while it lasts.

F1’s Sooty and Sweep show

Bernie Ecclestone is in his element, eulogising his new best friend Vladimir Putin (“Nice guy. Super guy. Trustworthy”) and planning to stage a Mediterranean Grand Prix in Greece (“We will have to find out if they have got any money”).

Following that unfortunate fuss over a bribery case in a German court, Ecclestone now has the gift of a playground spat between Lewis Hamilton and his semi-detached teammate Nico Rosberg.

Despite the German’s stage-managed apology for crashing into Hamilton in Belgium last weekend their rivalry is being billed as Senna v Prost revisited. In reality it is Sooty v Sweep, repeated ad nauseam.

Cellino Leeds to disaster

Leeds United belong in the Champions League, according to their ardent admirers. Their form suggests a spell in the Conference is more likely. While the excesses of owner Massimo Cellino are glorified as an amusing diversion, the club will continue to make a mockery of their threadbare traditions.

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