Football has shown its true colours

Chelsea has become an emblem of the sheer, decadent pointlessness of moneyed sport
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The Independent Online

It has been a busy old time on the football transfer market, one of those moments when a sport - perhaps the idea of sport itself - is subtly redefined. Over the past month, a football club called Chelsea, neighbours and ex-rivals of the team I support, has spent more than £75m on new players. It is said to be more than all the other Premiership clubs have spent on transfers during the close season.

It has been a busy old time on the football transfer market, one of those moments when a sport - perhaps the idea of sport itself - is subtly redefined. Over the past month, a football club called Chelsea, neighbours and ex-rivals of the team I support, has spent more than £75m on new players. It is said to be more than all the other Premiership clubs have spent on transfers during the close season.

My team, meanwhile, has been more modest in its aims. Attempting to strengthen its position in the Second Division, it has approached some less fashionable, out-of-contract players. I even received a tentative overture to join the squad myself.

Briefly, I was tempted. Queens Park Rangers need a wide player, and if you think that a man in his fifties with a niggling knee injury has little to offer the game, I would ask you to take a look at Plymouth Argyle, who have just added Michael Foot to their squad as a 90th birthday present to the former Labour leader. I rather fancy my chances against Footy in defence.

In the end, as is so often the case with the modern game, the decision came down to a matter of money. I had been approached by QPR1st, the dynamic fans' organisation that is raising cash for the club by auctioning a place in the squad, and already the bidding has reached serious four figures. Unfortunately, I shall leave that place on the bench to a richer fan.

Anyone interested in why our national sport has lost its way over the past 10 years might usefully compare the differing fortunes of QPR and Chelsea, two west London clubs.

In the early 90s, when I lived in London and attended most games at Loftus Road, QPR's ground, with my son, they were in a comparable position. Chelsea were bigger, with rougher, uglier fans - David Mellor, Tony Banks, you know the type - but we were higher in the league. On one joyful occasion, we trounced them 6-0.

We went down, losing our place in the great money feast that was the Premiership, and then we went down again. We tottered on the brink of bankruptcy, sold our best players, staggered from drama to crisis. Our neighbours prospered. Chelsea grew richer, and, to make matters worse, Mohamed al-Fayed poured millions into Fulham, another rival in west London, who raced upwards in the league as we plummeted in the opposite direction.

It would be foolish to deny that, like any QPR fan, I experienced a pang of rage and jealousy as Chelsea played some flash foreign club in a big European game while we struggled against Colchester.

But now the sad and brutal truth has been revealed. In July, Chelsea were sold to a mind-bogglingly rich Russian called Roman Abramovich. Within moments of laying his money down, the new owner set about buying some of the best players from around the world. No single gesture has revealed more starkly how football has indeed become a game of two halves, with the richer, more privileged half losing more than it has gained.

Shockingly, I find that I feel sorry for Chelsea fans. The club that they support so passionately has become an emblem of the sheer, decadent pointlessness of moneyed sport. What glory is there in winning any league or cup if all that victory indicates is that the billionaire who owns your club has deeper pockets than the billionaires who own the others?

What loyalty can there be to players who, having been plucked from clubs around the world, are there only for a massive cheque? Unless you happen to very unimaginative, surely it is embarrassing to invest the true passion of an ordinary fan in an enterprise that has nothing to do with sport and everything with power, conspicuous consumption, fashion and big business?

Of course, when big-time football kicks off this week, the Garys and Trevors will dutifully intone, as they watch brilliant players performing, that the English Premiership is the best in the world, but most true fans will see how pathetic that claim is, when the majority of players are highly paid foreign mercenaries.

Some of my happiest afternoons as a father were spent taking my son, and occasionally my daughter and her friends, to see our local team play. QPR never won anything significant - the winger Wayne Fereday was once crowned England's fastest footballer, our defender Clarke Carlisle was named England's Brainiest Footballer on television - but what happened on the pitch, the rise and fall of players, the yearly battle for survival, was connected to our own lives. Were my son now back in primary school, I hope that we would choose the same team to support as we did 20 years ago.

Let Roman Abramovich and the fans of his ridiculously bloated club pursue their meaningless campaigns. The true sport, fun, excitement and passion of football will be happening elsewhere.

terblacker@aol.com

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