The plan to stage Premier League matches abroad is an act of brazen greed—but may yet come to pass. Plus, why Spielberg was right to walk out on the Olympicsby Geoffrey Wheatcroft / March 28, 2008 / Leave a comment
In a league of its own
Asked why he robbed banks, Willie Sutton, replied with deathless concision, “That’s where the money is,” and Pascal Chimbonda recently gave another unarguable explanation of why he wants to transfer from Spurs to Newcastle: “It’s all about the money.” His words could be carved above the headquarters of the Premier League, or on a keepsake for Richard Scudamore, the league’s chief executive.
Ever since it was created in 1992, the Premier League seems to have been inspired by the character in an old Daily Worker cartoon whose label reads “Boss Class” and who sneers from under his silk hat as he thinks up new ways to get rich by exploiting the masses. But the proposal to stage an “international round,” or additional 39th match, abroad—in Qatar or Tokyo, America or China, Greenland, Zembla or the Lord knows where—went beyond satire. In his complacency, Scudamore clearly didn’t foresee the universal hostility and derision his wheeze would excite, from fans, from Alex Ferguson, from Australia.
More significant was the objection from Mohammed bin Hammam, the president of the Asian Football Federation, who said meiotically that, “it is not a good idea to organise domestic leagues in territories other than their own.” And most threateningly of all, Sepp Blatter has called the plan “an abuse of association football” intended only to make rich people richer. The president of Fifa added that it could endanger any bid by England to host the 2018 World Cup.
As a spectacle, English football is as exhilarating as it has ever been, and of a much higher technical standard. February saw the 50th anniversary of the Munich air disaster, which killed half of the Manchester United team. All the tributes paid, notably at the match between the two Manchester clubs, were very moving, not only for those of us old enough to have heard the terrible news as little boys but for fans not even born then.
That was before the days of televised football, and when Bobby Charlton says that Duncan Edwards was “the only player who made me feel inferior,” we have little more than his word for it: Edwards, Billy Whelan, Roger Byrne and the other dead heroes survive only on scraps of flickering film. But the truth is that the First Division as a whole was a poor thing then compared with…