MARTIN SAMUEL: Football is not meant to pay the bills

MARTIN SAMUEL: Football is a ray of sunlight that offers fans an escape and it is a mark of the Premier League’s success that clubs could spend £2bn on players this summer… but apparently it is the sport’s job to sort out your utility bills

  • Premier League clubs were criticised for spending over £2billion in the summer
  • The amount was deemed obscene by some in light of the cost of living crisis
  • Football gives people enjoyment and makes their lives more interesting  

Premier League clubs spent £2billion in the transfer window. And there is a word for that.

Success. Not obscene, not outrageous, not scandalous. Success. It makes our game more interesting. So if you like football, it makes your life more interesting, too. That is why everyone watches it, across the world.

English football is better for Antony, Erling Haaland, Darwin Nunez, Brenden Aaronson, Alexander Isak, all of the players that have come to our game. They make the competition tighter, fiercer, harder. Football is about community, civic pride and belonging, yes.

Big money signings such as Erling Haaland bring joy to fans of the Premier League

But it is also about very rich people investing in an industry that amuses the working classes.

In the days when the establishment resisted supposedly revolutionary ideas that seem mundane now — names on shirts, an additional substitute — Arsenal director David Dein regularly clashed with Bill Fox, chairman of Blackburn and the Football League.

‘If football was a public company, what sector would we be in?’ Dein asked one day.

‘We’d be in the entertainment sector,’ he said, answering his own question. ‘You go there to be entertained.’

And nothing has changed. Except now there is a movement to turn football into a branch of accountancy, to wrap it in red tape and government regulation, as if a tidy balance sheet is the goal, not glory, not fun.

So how did politicians react to football’s spending this summer? ‘Football needs to be brought down to earth,’ said Ian Mearns, chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group of Football Supporters, and Labour MP for Gateshead.

Clive Efford, MP for Eltham and a member of the digital, culture, media and sport committee, went further. ‘It is pretty obscene at a time like this,’ he said. ‘Clubs should take a hard look at themselves. They should feel ashamed. Football as a whole should come together and provide some sort of fund to assist people at this time.

‘When this happens during a cost-of-living crisis, when there is inflation for food and energy, costs are so high, it underlines the madness.’ He stopped short of screaming ‘nurses’ but give it time.

Some might blame the economic crisis in this country on the Government, and on an opposition — of which Mearns and Efford are members — so utterly useless that they have not laid a glove on them in four elections. But apparently it is football’s job to sort out your utility bills. That is why the game needs a government regulator, so it can be properly policed as happens in the fields of energy and water by OFGEM and OFWAT.

Let’s see if Mearns, for instance, wishes to campaign in Gateshead for Newcastle to stop buying players. To speak out on the purchase of Isak, when the club could have waited for Callum Wilson to return from his latest hamstring injury while sticking with the goal-averse Chris Wood. It is a grim winter ahead.

It does not pay the bills but signings such as Alexander Isak can be a ray of sunshine

It does not pay the bills, but the one ray of sunshine for some in the North East right now is that they finally have a football team going places. And while that may seem trite, it is true.

Documentaries have been made about how important the success of Liverpool and Everton was to a depressed Merseyside region in the 1970s and 1980s. Alan Hudson called his autobiography The Working Class Ballet.

If you are a Manchester United fan struggling with the cost of living, United not spending £82million on Antony does not solve that for you.

That you now support a coherent football club, however, might bring some much-needed cheer into your life. If defeat can cause a rise in domestic abuse — and studies show it can — is it so far-fetched that having a good team, a winning team or merely an exciting team might actually make people happy?

So why is this a cause for shame? Why is it obscene? We are scolded for failing to talk up this country even while we bathe in sewage and contemplate living in darkness, yet one industry that is genuinely successful is placed under constant attack.

Government regulation has solved no part of this cost of living crisis and yet it is argued as the way forward for football.

Meanwhile, a competition that will actually bring fun and entertainment to millions this winter, that is a genuine world leader, not some politician’s crummy soundbite, is under siege.

Do not let Westminster anywhere near our game. They would not know what real success looked like, most of them.


Serena Williams made no mention of Margaret Court when she retired from tennis in New York last week. Few reference Court if they can help it, even if her 24 Grand Slams remain the record.

Court has outspoken Christian views that frown on gay marriage and fly in the face of tennis’s inclusivity. Some even think her name should be removed from the arena in Melbourne, home of the Australian Open.

Court says that when she came to Wimbledon for the centenary celebrations this summer, she was shunned by her fellow greats. Intolerance is a vicious circle.

And she has a point, that some of her finest achievements are airbrushed from history. Williams is given enormous credit for returning after giving birth to her daughter in 2017, but never won another Slam.

Few reference Margaret Court if they can help it, even if her 24 Grand Slams remain the record

Court’s first son Daniel was born in 1972 and she won the Australian, French and US Open singles and doubles titles in 1973.

Court’s supreme athleticism, then, should at least be noted. As should the fact that 11 of her singles titles, 10 doubles and seven mixed doubles did occur in the open era.

An asterisk goes beside her 13 singles titles that predated 1968, and that almost half her Slams came in Australia which wasn’t the major event it is now, with many significant players missing. Even so, it remains quite the record.

With all factors considered, Court isn’t the greatest of all time; Williams is. But she’s better than a great many of those who wish her excised from history.

If Wilson’s in the mix for England, why isn’t Toney?

Give n the fuss that was made over Callum Wilson and England earlier in the season, what price Brentford striker Ivan Toney?

Wilson’s injury issues are well-documented and, indeed, look set to keep him out of England’s final matches before Qatar, against Italy and Germany.

Toney, meanwhile, now has five goals in six Premier League games after his hat-trick against Leeds. Chances are, England’s third striker won’t feature anyway. If 

Harry Kane is the undoubtedfirst-choice, and Tammy Abraham his deputy, Gareth Southgate can pick the third man on form and confidence. Right now, that’s Toney. Wilson might not even start for Newcastle when he returns, having signed Alexander Isak.

Ivan Toney has five goals in six Premier League games after his hat-trick against Leeds

Useless referees are using VAR as a blunt tool to bludgeon the fun out of the game  

It would appear we have run out of useless officials in England and now have to import them from Australia.

Jarred Gillett was the VAR at Chelsea on Saturday who summoned the equally inadequate Andy Madley — not even the best referee in his family, let alone the country — to the pitchside monitor to double up on the incompetence, when West Ham equalised late in the game.

Gillett was wrong yet Madley did not have the confidence to make that plain, so went with the invention of a foul. Until Graeme Souness spoke up on Monday morning, there was not one single professional who agreed.

Danny Murphy, Tony Pulis, Alan Shearer, Robbie Earle, Chris Sutton, Fara Williams and Glenn Murray all looked at the call for various media outlets and were united in their condemnation. Even the PGMOL confirmed a mistake, plus another in the Newcastle game.

The VAR on both occasions was, as ever, programmed to spot fouls by the attacking team but not by defenders.

So Lee Mason saw Joe Willock crashing into Crystal Palace goalkeeper Vincente Guaita, but not the push from Tyrick Mitchell that caused him to do this. Mitchell then deflected the ball into his own net which was justice, but VAR made sure it wasn’t done.

Jarred Gillett was the VAR at Chelsea who summoned the equally inadequate Andy Madley

As usual, VAR fails because, the moment a goal is scored, it is the job of an official to find a way of disallowing it. In the hands of the poorest referees it has become a blunt instrument to bludgeon the fun out of the game. Referees are, by definition, officious types. They do not need further encouragement in that area. The brief is all wrong. Benefit of doubt to the attacking side. That was a good rule.

Before the intervention of technology, linesmen were told in the tightest calls to favour the side going forward. Now, football has been turned on its head.

If it’s not a Newcastle goal, then it’s a Newcastle penalty, because Mitchell fouled Willock. But, no, both referee Michael Salisbury and VAR Mason ignore this and instead punish Newcastle twice. Once by disallowing, a second time for not recognising the first foul, by a Crystal Palace defender on a Newcastle forward, in the penalty area.

And yes, standards are a problem. Too many referees are weak, too many over-promoted. Yet it is wrong to say there is no issue with VAR itself when the premise is: how can we cancel this goal?

Lewis Hamilton apologised for a sweary outburst after rotten tactics by Mercedes cost him the chance of victory in Sunday’s Dutch Grand Prix. 

Not for the first time, he was left a sitting duck on the wrong tyres after the deployment of a safety car. Race director Michael Masi took the blame when this happened to cost Hamilton the title in Abu Dhabi, but if it keeps occurring, questions will come Mercedes’ way. 

It would have been huge for Hamilton to win Max Verstappen’s home Grand Prix. That’s two strikes now.

Lewis Hamilton apologised for a sweary outburst after rotten tactics by Mercedes cost him

Edouard Mendy has not been at his best for Chelsea of late, but calls for him to be replaced by Kepa Arrizabalaga suggest memory loss. Mendy has, mostly, been outstanding for Chelsea, Arrizabalaga was a liability before the switch was made. Chelsea would have sold him this summer, but couldn’t. That’s a clue.


IF Leicester sacked Claudio Ranieri not even a season after performing the most unimaginable feat in football history, they will not be sticking with Brendan Rodgers for long if results do not improve. 

Ranieri won the Premier League against all odds and expectations, Leicester sold his best player — N’Golo Kante to Chelsea — and were shocked that results deteriorated.

It’s similar for Rodgers. In the middle of a slump, Leicester took Chelsea’s money for Wesley Fofana — and sold Kasper Schmeichel to Nice — and against Brighton the club were a shambles defensively.

Lack of investment has seen them lose ground on their rivals and this is the consequence. Yet that simple fact rebounds on the board and they won’t want that, so they’ll sack the manager. As if it’s his fault.


Sad news arrives that the oldest football publication in the world may cease to be after over three centuries of publishing.

What is now the Nationwide Football Annual began in 1887 as The Athletic News Football Supplement and Club Directory, just 16 pages and no little gamble given the first Football League season wasn’t until 1888. Yet it endured. It became The Sunday Chronicle Annual in 1946, The Empire News Annual in 1956, The News of the World Annual in 1965 and carried Nationwide’s name from 2008.

It’s a Football Yearbook that can be kept in the pocket; four by six inches and now over 500 pages, carrying fixtures, squads, records, international caps, a whole plethora of information. And, yes, the internet has probably done for it. But excuse the nostalgia.

Anyone with a copy of the 1984-85 edition may see a name they recognise as that year’s editor.

I had just started at Hayters Sports Agency and it fell on me to put together what was then The News of the World Football Annual. It involved long days at a printing house in Dorking, where it was being compiled. A lot of responsibility for a 21-year-old but, thankfully, there was a template.

Many of the pages in books of records don’t change. The list of England matches won’t alter apart from a dozen or so games at the end. Same with the roll of title winners, or FA Cup holders. So you copy over from the previous year, but add a new line here or there.

And while the fixtures change, the format in which they appear doesn’t. So you copy that, too.

This is how the fixtures for the 1984-85 season in the 1984-85 annual — which were correct — came to be published beneath the headline FIXTURES 1983-84.

It’s a miracle, really, this journalism career of mine. Anyway, budding publishers should contact Randall Northam at [email protected] if they fancy becoming part of football history.

And don’t worry, I’m not offering to edit.

Share this article

Source: Read Full Article