I am a football fan. There is a romance to me of everything connected with the game. For me the natural place to finish in Wolverhampton was outside Molineux Park home of Wolverhampton Wanderers and in front of the legendary England player and captain–Billy Wright. Billy Wright still holds the record for the number of times any player has captained England–90 times. Only a handful of players have ever played for their country 90 times never mined captained them.
Billy Wright was at his peak playing in the fifties when Wolverhampton Wanderers and my home team Newcastle United were like Chelsea and Manchester United today competing for the league titles and challenging in major cup competitions. Football was in a different era then. All the revenues were generated through the admission tickets to games.
Fans knew the players because most of them couldn’t make a living just by playing football so needed to have second jobs. They lived in the same terraced streets as the fans not in security protected gated communities. The thought of players at the top of their game like Sir Bobby Robson having to work as an electrician to make ends meet despite playing for England seem a million miles away from the £200,000 per week premiership salaries we have today as a result of the latest £8 billion tv deal.
Another thing that has changed was that most of the players were local to the team. Billy Wright was born and raised in Ironbridge in Shropshire and Wolves would have been his local team. Wolves are in the Championship, so the second division in England but still only 11 of the 33 players in the current team are from England–seven are from Portugal as is the Manager (there could be a connection there) and six players are from Africa. Newcastle only have eight English players out of 45 in the squad and their manager is Spanish.
Despite all the money floating around football many clubs struggle financially as they try to buy in successful players to produce instant success rather than grow talented players in their own youth academies. Wolves fell to the same logic and the club was sold in 2007 for £10–yes a tenner. There then followed a period of relative success and the club was sold last year to a Chinese conglomerate, Fosun who paid £45 million for the entire club which might be regarded as not a bad deal given that £45 million is less than Chelsea, Manchester United and Manchester City have been paying out for a single player in recent weeks (Lukaku–£85 million; Morata £65.5 million; Walker £51 million). Although for the first time this year the spending by the Chinese Super League was greater than that of the English Premier League.
As I walked out of Molineux Stadium and up Waterloo Road in the direction of Stafford and the A449 I reflected on what this all means. Am I really saying that we should turn the clock back to the fifties to be standing on cramped terraces in run down stadiums? I don’t think so the quality of the experience you get in watching some of the best players in the world, not just your town, playing in magnificent stadiums.
Do I resent that the British Premier League is now up there with the Royal Family and the BBC as the things people around the world think positively about Britain? In don’t think so. Do I have a problem with players from a dozen different countries coming together and forming a single team, playing by the same rules and for the same aims? Not a bit of it. Do I object that instead of going out in the freezing driving rain I can sit in the comfort of my home where the only ice is on the beer and watch every pass of the game in ultra high definition with expert commentary and analysis of every move? No way. Do I want players to go back to being exploiting by club owners and having to run two jobs just to survive rather than sharing in the success of the spectacle they are contributing to? Nope.
So what’s the problem? I don’t have a problem really I am just observing how sport is globalising just as society is. Football and the culture around it are certainly different from seventy years ago but so are we. We are wealthier and have more leisure time than previous generations. That said every now and again its good to look back and count not just what we have gained but what we have lost along the way in case we want to make any adjustments going forward. I was grateful for Billy Wright and football for reminding of that.