So is the Pope going to buy Everton?

The only way to compete is to be bought by someone even richer, like the Thai PM

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For some time, football's Premier League has become more and more pointless. Next season, all the chairmen should sit round a table in August, and put all their money in front of them. Then a referee could work out the order of who had the most, going down to who had the least, and that should be the final league positions, saving all the inconvenience of playing the games.

For some time, football's Premier League has become more and more pointless. Next season, all the chairmen should sit round a table in August, and put all their money in front of them. Then a referee could work out the order of who had the most, going down to who had the least, and that should be the final league positions, saving all the inconvenience of playing the games.

There would still be a few thrills, with commentators shrieking: "And just when it looked as if Newcastle were going to miss out on a European place, their board produces a stunning £40m investment from a dodgy Far East pharmaceuticals outfit."

It's so openly seedy that no one can be surprised by Alex Ferguson's peculiar practice of paying £13m to agents, including his son, for no apparent reason. Nor would anyone be surprised if it turned out he'd signed his wife as a goalkeeper for £25m.

The only way to compete with these clubs is to be bought by someone even richer, like Roman Abramovich, or the Thai Prime Minister. This suits the rich person, as, however unpalatable their past, this is forgotten and they're accepted into the Premier League fraternity. By the end of next year, Aston Villa will be owned by the Queen, the Pope will have a controlling share in Everton, and Newcastle will be under the control of Osama bin Laden.

You have to wonder how anyone with a soul can support Chelsea. Maybe Abramovich will buy every single player in the world, then Chelsea will win the league because the opposing teams are all made up of farmyard animals. And Chelsea fans will still roar: "Graze when you're winning, you only graze when you're winning".

Next season, Chelsea's opponents will be worried that if they're winning at half-time, Abramovich will buy their ground and erect a shopping mall in front of their goal before the second half starts. And the football establishment would go along with it. The commentary on Sky would just go: "Charlton need to be much more inventive if they're to find a way round the highly effective defence provided by World of Leather."

Genuine Chelsea fans must feel at least uneasy about their club becoming the plaything of an oil billionaire. It no more represents success than if you were disappointed with how your kids were doing at school, so you got rid of them, replaced them with a couple of posh ones from Eton and boasted to the neighbours how your son was on course to be a High Court judge.

Which is why most football fans I know are not envious of clubs bought by characters such as Abramovich or Al Fayed, but feel quite sorry for them. But the rule of money in football is having a worrying effect on our psyche. For example, in my local Toys R Us store, despite the fact that most people in the area support Crystal Palace, there's a pile of Manchester United stuff for sale and nothing from the local team. When I asked their spokesman about this, I was told it was national policy to stock only merchandise from the "big European clubs" and none from local teams. So, bit by bit, kids feel reluctant to support any team other than the huge ones, in case it labels them a failure, which is a dreadful attitude to encourage. You might as well replace support for football teams with supporting numbers. Then some kids can sneer: "Ha ha, you only support 26, but I support 43 and that beats your number every time."

Which brings me to Crystal Palace's play-off final against West Ham this Saturday, the winner of which will be promoted to the Premier League. The dominance of money in modern football was illustrated when a 12-year-old told me: "If we're promoted it will be fantastic, 'cos we'll get 20 million quid."

Perhaps young fans today lie in bed dreaming that, one day, they'll be picked to trade their club's shares, and be a hero for pushing them up nine points in the FT index, in front of a swarm of fans singing: "Can you hear the Glaxo sing - wo-o wo-o!"

Following a team that isn't a multinational corporation ought to teach you to live for the moment. The excitement of getting to a final should remain as an exhilarating memory, regardless of whether the final itself is won or lost. And anyway, isn't it better to enjoy the camaraderie between clubs and fans that exists in the Nationwide League rather than be part of a Premier League infected with the grubbiness of Ferguson, Abramovich and the rest? Except, supporting a football team is an irrational business, so for every moment every supporter will be screaming in the hope that their shriek will tilt the balance in making their team win.

Just as, the last time I went to a play-off final in 1997, Palace won with a goal in the last minute against Sheffield United. And as our fans vaulted over each other, drowning in red and blue balloons, I looked across to the United fans, forlornly shuffling down the Wembley steps in disbelief and anguish, as we had done the year before when Palace lost to Leicester, and for a moment I forgot the celebrations and felt sorry for them. Then I thought, "Oh bollocks to them", and got absolutely paralytic.

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