It’s Hard to Have a Heart in the Football Industry

I look down at my right arm. There in black, beautiful swirly font, reads “Audere est facere.” It means “to dare is to do” and if there was a time to ever dare to do something it is now. Because we are in the middle of a global crisis, a transitional period which will define everyone’s lives going forward and right now we have the power to decide where we’re going from here.

The Coronavirus is spreading across the world, which has forced a lot of cracks in our society to be truly exposed for everyone to see on a very basic level. How, for example, people like nurses, supermarket employees, cleaners ARE in fact key workers, as they’re the people keeping our society going at the minute. How our world is still pretty skewed when it comes to feminism and we haven’t come as far as we’d like to think. How important contact and connection is for us humans. How impactful football is, and the massive hole that it’s absence leaves in society. Which doesn’t mean, however, that it just disappears into thin air, and will only reappear again once the restrictions have been lifted. Football clubs are still very much existing, as well as the footballers.

In the wake of the global crisis, there’s been mounting tension between the football community and society, as there’s been little movement from the English Premier League clubs and players regarding topics like taking wage cuts in these critical times, which has been highlighted by health secretary Matt Hancock amongst others. This has caused some footballers to speak up, like Andros Townsend who felt that footballers were “being painted as villains” and that the blame was being deflected. Wayne Rooney has also spoken up, asking “why are footballers suddenly the scapegoats?” Whereas Carlos Tevez has come out calling on his footballing colleagues to do more, pointing out the luxurious situation that footballers are in compared to many other people.

“Any footballer can live six months or a year without getting paid. We are not a good example, we might be for other things but not for this,” Tevez said.

“We don’t have the despair that others live with day after day, those that have to leave their homes at 6 a.m. and return at 7 in the afternoon in order to feed their families the next day.

“For us, it’s easy to talk from home, knowing that I have food for my children. But for those desperate people, that can’t move, that if they leave their homes they will get arrested and can’t feed their children, it’s very worrying.”

The FC Barcelona squad has already taken a 70% wage cut in order to see the club continuing to operate during this time, and Juventus have also had their players take a wage cut for the club. In Germany, Borussia Mönchengladbach‘s players was the first team to offer to give up parts of their salaries to ensure the club could continue to pay all their staff, with Borussia Dortmund following suit shortly thereafter, in mid-March. As of the 9th of April, Southampton FC has become the first Premier League club where both players and coaching staff have agreed to take a wage deferral in order to ensure the club can keep going and pay everyone’s wages.

The World Is Temporarily Closed
Picture source here and here, edit by me

Then you look at clubs like Newcastle, Bournemouth, Norwich and, of course where it hits home for me, Tottenham Hotspur, where the clubs have decided to put their non-playing on furlough, which effectively means that the clubs are putting their staff on the government relief scheme that’ll pay the staff 80% of their wages. Liverpool were going to do the same, but thanks to very loud complaints from fans, have back-tracked on their decision.

This doesn’t sit right with me for several reasons. First of all, two of these teams mentioned above were in the Champions League final last year (if you didn’t know, you get loads of money for that). Second of all, these players and the management, only have salaries because we as football fans pay the extortionate ticket prices to come and see them at the stadium, we tune in on expensive tv broadband deals to follow their success (or lack thereof … ) and we buy the ridiculously expensive authentic match shirts to feel just that bit closer to the team we call our own.

But more than anything, as a football fan I give my club two of my most valuable things – my time and my love.

It just hurts that in these times, when our communities need help and support more than ever, my club won’t give anything back to the community that is such a big part of their success. Offloading the responsibility of providing for their non-playing staff on the government, when these clubs make millions upon millions of pounds every year. Then there’s the fact that Tottenham, currently the only club to do so, will not even pay up the last 20% of the non-playing staff’s wages, which just does my nut in.

It’s hard to have a heart, sometimes, in the football industry because it is in moments like this when you realise that football is a business for these people who run the clubs. They’re only thinking of the survival of their business, and long term results. Footballers are quick to get the blame for everything and yes, they do have a lot of responsibility as role models and they do carry some weight and influence in the club, but they’re also just easy targets for the media and it’s easy for the decision-makers in the clubs, the businesses, to disappear behind this.

And it’s not “just” a business for us fans. It’s our club, it’s part of our community and we want to see our community do something for us, whether that is for the NHS or just not further adding weight to the government relief scheme and actually take a stand and take care of our own, by paying the non-playing staff their salaries. We expect more of our football club because for us it is more.

I look down at my right arm. There, in black beautiful swirly font, reads “Audere est facere.” It means “to dare is to do” and if there was a time to ever dare to do something it is now. Because we are in the middle of a global crisis, a transitional period which will define everyone’s lives going forward and right now we have the power to decide where we’re going from here. This is supposedly the motto of Tottenham, and one that I’ve been very proud to adopt and apply to my own life. But as the days in lockdown go on, the death toll only rises and there’s no tangible end in sight, I find myself asking: “what is Tottenham doing?”

There are a lot of things going through my mind in these times, and one of the things I’m grappling with the most at the moment is the shame, yes the shame, of being a Tottenham fan. A community that has given me laughter and tears, joy and pain, who’s accompanied me on my walk through all of life’s ups and downs, a love that I’ve chosen and that is not reciprocated but that’s okay because it’s more than that, it’s bigger than that – seeing the players produce that bit of magic on the pitch and stirring all of these feelings up in me is enough. But what about when the sound of the crowds fade, the lights go out and we’re all each to our own – will they still make me proud? Is that their responsibility?

I would like to think so.

I think that we can all agree that football transcends the realms of being “just” a sport. I think we all agree that football has the power to change lives, to change structures and attitudes. Because football empowers people, it empowers communities.

Why take a step back from that when the communities need it the most?

To quote a famous Scottish football coach:

“Football without fans is nothing”

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