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How Does Money Influence Football?

By Joel Lushington

When it comes to the most popular sport in the world and the “beautiful game”, as quoted by one of the greatest to play it Pele, there are many great moments created by this game and many memories have been made. However, many people believe that this same passion and love for the game is being lost by money, which continues to influence the game more and more in recent years. A more recent example of money ruining the sport includes the tragedy of Sepp Blatter.

The former FIFA President Sepp Blatter was banned for 6 years after the FA was questioned for corruption and charges related to money. This ban was imposed after he broke FIFA’s ethics code, and he was fined £780,000 for his crimes. This same organisation that is meant to be protecting the game has faced many allegations of rigging the 2018 World Cup host draw. This mostly comes after ex-football Michel Platini announced that the 1998 game was in fact rigged to provide the highest of chances for the “dream final”, between the two titans at the time France and Brazil. This influence of money to change draws for major competitions is exactly why people believe money is seriously damaging football and more importantly, the biggest and best football teams are being benefited by this. This money influence is also prevalent now, with teams lower in the football pyramid struggling financially, whilst the teams in the top European Leagues only benefit from the scale of money they obtain. 

To look further into this unfair treatment of lower divisions and “grassroots” football clubs, I sent a questionnaire to a non-league football associated account called @nonleagueshop. When asked about what makes non-league football so special, they said “it’s so unique, it connects communities and fans to football. It provides so much in every corner of the UK”. Non-league really brings the community side of football to light that isn’t seen as much in bigger clubs and is so important that it can’t be created at clubs with such many fans, rather than small communities of supporters. I asked if they thought that non-league football receives enough funding, to which they replied “No, the FA and larger clubs could do a lot more especially in cities where large clubs share the same community, as more financial support for non-League could work in the larger club’s favour in many ways”. Hearing it straight from the source of non-league football shows the damage that a lack of funds is having on these clubs, as well as how the community is shared between the big and small clubs, but the revenue made is nowhere near shared. They went on to say “Yes, money talks. They will fund the clubs where they see they get more return. When covid hit the amount of grants and support for non-league and lower League was embarrassing. Surprised more clubs didn’t go bust”. 

It is clear that COVID had a great effect on many non-league clubs, but the issue of funding wasn’t at all a problem for big clubs and the smaller clubs and communities continued to struggle, with Bury FC folding due to lack of funding when they were in league 2, that could have easily been helped by bigger clubs in the major leagues. It is also clear that clubs with a good profit margin will receive larger funding, which shows the influence of money, and the rich clubs only seem to get richer in football. The account admin also believes that the way of sorting the issue is largely through: “Media pressure, if the large papers and websites were putting more pressure on for support and further finances, they would have to do it. Look at the super League there was so much media pressure the FA had to step in”. The Super League was a perfect example of money ruining football, when the FA proposed the idea to have 20 top clubs in all leagues, purely to make as much profit as possible from the revenue of these games, which seriously threatened to take away the community and joy of supporting football that fans originally had for their clubs. The idea was eventually shut down, after fans came together to revolt against the league and the power and community of fans was too much for money to win the war.

The Premier league could also do their bit in this case, by showing its support for teams lower in the pyramid with the money they receive. Although this is unlikely to happen because the Premier League likely sees non-league football as a competitor, but when I asked the non-league page, they suggested “I think a good way would be for all Prem clubs to be assigned a non-league club from a random draw to do a friendly with pre-season and share profits. I also feel in major cities and towns larger clubs should be forced to offer local clubs loans and other opportunities”.

The COVID-19 pandemic also had catastrophic effects on football, with even less funding and even less money circulating around football, whilst fans weren’t allowed to go and see the games being played. This damaged nonleague football even more, because the games weren’t being broadcasted like they were in the Premier League, so even less money was being generated from non-league clubs across the UK. When I asked Brighton City Councillor Hannah Clare about what is being done by our local government to support teams lower in the football pitch as well as grassroots and lack of facilities in Brighton, she said “as a consequence of the pandemic there’s a labour shortage to build, maintain and restore pitches in the area. A lot of councils have had fundings cut to have rights to the pitches for the public. We have done all we can to keep everywhere open and accessible for everyone”. This truly indicates how deep the influence of money lies in football, from major leagues all the way to grassroots and the lack of rights to football pitches which stops many teams from playing at all.

The big clubs make and spend billions, whilst making huge profits to make sure their success is maintained. This is different in lower leagues, because clubs often struggle to make ends meet and often must sell their top players to bigger clubs, which seriously damages the fair play in the football pyramid. It is also important to remember that no one is necessarily at fault for this, the growth in popularity that is constant in football generates such high revenues and economic growth. Football is also more accessible than ever across the world, with the 2018 World Cup having over a billion viewers, proving its worldwide market. This also provokes arguments all over the world about whether money is ruining the game, or benefitting it? Lower divisions and grassroots football clubs often struggle to generate enough money, with little to no viewership and a lack of funding from the government. Does the problem lie in lack of funding from the government, or lack of engagement from the public for local non-league teams?

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May 2024