Republican News · Thursday 5 October 1999

[An Phoblacht]

Who's game is it anyway?

By Mick Derrig

If, like me, you grew up supporting a soccer team that was on your doorstep, then this new Europe is a far off country of which we know little.

I was born & reared three and a half miles from Celtic Park in Glasgow.

There are - I am convinced - people in Patagonia who cannot pronounce ``U-ni-ted'' who happily tuck up under a David Beckam-duvet cover each night
By the time I went to St.Bridget's primary school I wore the hoops like a cultural skin. I have never shed that skin, I never will. I am a Celtic supporter from Irish Glasgow. The Barcelona of Scotland - they define the community that gave me my early lessons in politics, Irishness & republicanism.

Standing in the Jungle during the late sixties & early seventies at a crèche barrier, this wee boy learned a lot.

When Celtic won the European Cup in 1967 it was like our community in Scotland was, finally, winning the war against discrimination against our grim-faced Scottish neighbours. The same type of people who were running Stormont.

Now around Europe young boys are wearing replica kits of soccer teams in countries they will never visit and stadia they will never be in.

This is Maastricht Soccer.

The creation of a European economy - as a necessary precursor to a European State - has had its effect on association football. Soccer is a business and any business wants to expand its market.

The market for the soccer product used to be within the stadium only. The event of the pitch, of course, and basic merchandise and - very basic - catering. Now the soccer product is a 7/24/365 carousel of merchandising that, it would appear, runs like a mouse in a wheel to keep up with the insatiable demand for merchandising.

In this new Euroland I fear that sport - and what it means to working class communities - will be relegated
Like all economic sectors, there will be one company that sets the benchmark, whether it is in product or in marketing.

There is, currently, an international expedition into the last untouched part of the planet. It is a forested swamp in Zaire. Scientists think that there could be previously extinct species alive and well in there - the place is about the size of Wales and peoples on the periphery say, in their oral traditions, that they have NEVER been into its dark interior.

It is believed by anthropologists on the team that there may be genuine stone age peoples living in there, oblivious to the rest of the planet.

It will be exciting for these scientists to encounter a group of humans living as our earliest ancestors did, in the Riff Valley millennia ago.

It should surprise them that these Stone Age peoples will, in all likelihood, be wearing the latest Man Utd top!

The success of United on the pitch cannot be dis-severed from the way in which they have built up a global merchandising outfit.

There are - I am convinced - people in Patagonia who cannot pronounce ``U-ni-ted'' who happily tuck up under a David Beckam-duvet cover each night.

This global soccer economy needs bigger & bigger `Domestic' competitions. The world cup is every four years, so is the European championships. Man Utd taking on Oxford in the Coca-Cola Cup isn't what the marketing spin-doctor ordered. United's withdrawal from that competition, then from - heresy - the FA cup itself, so that they could play in a world club championship in South America, is the way that things are going.

It is part of the globalization of the economy and it also marks out association football as the planet's main sport.

Within this new globalisation the smallest possible `domestic' scenario for the big European clubs is a European league.

Like the creation of the European State itself it has been achieved gradually and, largely by stealth, oiled by lots of Euro gravy.

The competition that Celtic won in 1967 is over. It was cup competition for the champions of each competing country. What exactly are Arsenal champions of?

Also, like all cup competitions, the European Cup in 1967 was a knock out competition home and away. Now the `Champions League' has two mini leagues then a knock out phase.

This is the Common Agricultural Policy model of a soccer competition. You can get rodgered in your first two games and still win the trophy. It isn't a cup competition - it is a league. It has been genetically modified to squeeze the maximum games and the maximum advertising breaks out of the whole exercise.

This is good - if expensive - for Ford & Amstel. It is clear that in two or three years the top teams in Europe will not play competitive soccer in their own countries. For Scotland that could mean the end of professional soccer in cities like Perth & Dundee.

Across Europe the local soccer product will wither as the couch potatoes all over Euroland gorge themselves on Barca V Juventus.

The Old Lady herself started the trend by playing away from her stadium. One season in the Serie A they upped sticks and did a Harlem Globetrotters-job up and down the Italian peninsula. Reason? They knew that if they went on tour away from their Old City State home in the North, they would sell more merchandise in Rome & Naples.

A few weeks ago I was in the Creggan and I saw a wee lad dander up the road decked out in a Juve shirt and Barca baseball cap. Tuesday night Celtic came over the hill in the Brandywell and rescued Derry City from bankruptcy. If a city with the collective identity of Derry cannot sustain their local soccer team, then what hope is there?

The economic forces that produced association football as the game of the European urban working classes, 100 years ago, are now reverting on that very sport.

If this is progress then don't ask me to cheer it on. I think something special will be lost of when the sense of place and belonging in soccer goes.

It almost certainly will happen and the boardrooms across Europe are rubbing their fleshy hands at the prospect. It is the end of something important for soccer and its role in working class life. It is more atomised, more televisual, more rollerball than football.

My team, who did what no team had done before from these islands, were working-class heroes plucked from the communities who supported that same team. Pub Teams have had wider catchment areas.

They won for a community.

The vanquished manager of Inter Milan, Herera, once said `it was victory for sport'. In this new Euroland I fear that sport - and what it means to working class communities - will be relegated.

But will any of us on our couches notice what is happening outside the door in our communities?

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