THERE have been many books on the state of football and how the game needs to reinvent itself to meet the challenges of an uncertain future. Some are politically motivated and lack real objectivity, others suffer from the brush strokes being too broadly applied.
Mark Gregory is a veteran from the City of London and comes at football from a slightly different direction. He’s a Stoke City fan, hence the opening gambit of his book, More than a game: Saving football from itself, asks about the point is of clubs like the Potters. His book is a decent chronicle of how football got this far, its explosive commercial growth and its shortcomings.
How right Gregory is when he recalls how football was once taboo in the City, the sports that were acceptable for water cooler discussions were rugby (Union, not League) and cricket, but football was, essentially, a yobs’ game. Fast forward 30 years and all the major banks and professional firms were climbing over each other to have executive boxes to provide entertainment at the “ball game”.
Football has become an industry sector, but it is still relatively small compared to other areas of global business. But it is an industry that is generally badly managed, hence wages have grown beyond all reality. Gregory points to wages as a contributor to the imbalances in the game, but is also informed enough to know change is hard to executive.
While fans call for a German ownership model, the hallowed 50+1, Gregory correctly believes the implementation of such a structure when clubs are owned by wealthy business people who usually get their own way, just might not be possible in the United Kingdom. Regardless, he calls for a more sustainable game, one that is better regulated and managed.
There may not be any revelations in this book, but it offers cause, effect and some remedies. We really all know the problems with football, but we are all part of the problem – clubs may be gravy trains to some, churning out merchandise, high ticket prices and being champions of conspicuous consumerism, but fans feed the machine relentlessly. Nobody forces anyone to buy replica shirts. The solutions to football’s problems, which have been cruelly exposed during the pandemic, are in our own hands. Like Gregory, we should all believe in something better.
More than a game: Saving football from itself by Mark Gregory is published by Yellow Jersey.