Transfer time again and we get the chance to hear about the lucrative contracts of top flight footballers. This carnival of greed feeds on the clubs’ desperation to stay in the top division as inequality in the distribution of footballing wealth means that to drop a division can be catastrophic. One of the biggest burdens on a relegated club will be the wages – and many players bought in panic in January will be hanging round the relegated clubs like a bad smell come August, doing fuck all but still taking home a huge wage.
Those who defend the current wage structure argue that the players are entertainers, who have a few short years to maximise their earning potential and they should not have to rely on running a pub after their retirement. Why not? Everyone else has to work into their sixties – and if the government gets its way into their seventies. What makes footballers so special – apart from being able to kick a ball about? According to the media, Wayne Rooney’s new contract will see him earn £300,000 per week. That figure is so large it is hard to put into context. As a comparison, someone on the current minimum wage of £6.31 per hour would have to work for OVER TWENTY-TWO YEARS to earn what Rooney will earn IN ONE WEEK! There is no justice, no fairness, no equality in this. It is just plain wrong.
Although it is not Wayne Rooney’s fault that many people struggle to earn the minimum wage, no footballer can divorce themselves from the moral context of such outrageous inequality. Supporting such high wages inevitably impacts of the cost of following the game for the supporters. For a family of four the cheapest seats at Manchester United now cost £96. Football tries to present itself as a family game – but there are not many families who could afford that every week. In that context a footballer is no better than a company director exploiting their workers. The notion of them being some example of (or even an inspiration to) plucky workers negotiating the best deal from hard-nosed management is fallacious. They are the ultimate example of divide and rule. They have a union. It is not beyond the realms of possibility that they could use their bargaining power to raise the wages of all players (and dare I say support staff) but they do not. They are advocates of the trickle-down effect – and as ever those at the top are too busy sucking everyone dry to allow anything to trickle down.
Footballers serve a useful function for capitalism. They serve as an example that anyone can make it in our “classless society” if they work hard. Of course this is nonsense. Many more kids work just as hard and never make it. Many kids work just as hard and end up with a minimum wage in the local shopping centre. They are just as deserving as the likes of Wayne Rooney, Gareth Bale and the others – but they will have to learn that capitalism only rewards the chosen few. They will have to learn to consider it a treat even to be able to see their heroes from the stands once or twice a year. Rather than tweeting about Benefits Street making the case for breeding licenses for the poor players need to remember where they came from. Everyone has a choice, albeit a choice shaped by the structures they inhabit. There is also the choice to change that structure. To make the world a better and fairer place. To value the street-sweeper, shop-assistant and nurse just as much as someone who kicks a ball about. Now that would be something worth winning!