Sport: Book of the Week: Revolutionary rant misses the target

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The Independent Online
Moving the Goalposts: Football's Exploitation

Ed Horton (Mainstream, hardback, pounds 14.99)

Only last Thursday, members of football's elite came up with the latest proposals intended to make the game more profitable and less recognisable. At least the Football League had the good grace to recognise the absurdity of their venture by naming each "Option" after a planet (Option Pluto: all small clubs banished to the outer limits of the solar system. No promotion; no relegation. No light. No heat. No cash).

As an Oxford United fan, Ed Horton, the author of Moving the Goalposts, has had more reason than most to protest at the club he follows being messed about with by capitalist running dogs with no intrinsic love for football beyond what profit and PR they can extract from it. Accordingly, the bile and bitterness are sustained throughout the course of a 189-page rant against the latterday evil-doers. Ticket prices, share issues, all- seater stadiums, television, Manchester United and everything they stand for - little escapes Horton's righteous anger.

Unfortunately, a lot of it is ranting in the wind, because, admirable though Horton's views are (any right-thinking footballer lover can do little but agree with almost everything he says), he fails to comprehend the nature of the enemy. In his mind, there was some Edenic era when clubs loved the fans as much as the fans loved the teams, no one was ripped off and even the homeliest little club could aspire to life with the giants.

Of course, that's all rubbish. Though pork butchers made little or no money out of the clubs whose affairs they managed, they delighted in wielding power and reinforcing class divides - players addressed by their surname, supporters not addressed at all. Administrators, for their part, occupied a footballing Jurassic Park. The chief executives and bureaucrats who have replaced these dinosaurs may be venal, money-grabbing and power-crazed, but they are simply continuing a rich tradition. They may exploit the fans, extorting more money than could ever have been dreamed of in the old days, but that's simply because they have better tools at their disposal. If the pork butchers had had recourse to replica shirts, stock market flotations and satellite television rights, would they have behaved any more decently than the present keepers of football's eternal flame? Don't be silly. Fat cats have always got the cream - it's just that the cream is so much richer these days. Blame capitalism.

For Horton, the answer is Government intervention, and although he displays a touching faith in Labour's fonder regard for football than the other lot, he recognises that we're unlikely to get much intervention from Tony Blair. Horton wants a revolution in football. The answer to all his complaints is a revolution in society. Which means, one imagines, that we are stuck with the game we've got. Except that it can always get worse - and probably will.

- Chris Maume

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