Football and Professionalism: Is it a Liberation or a Disease?

In today’s world, the word “Football” and “Commercialisation” have become the two sides of a coin. With the increased cash flow from various media broadcasting channels like SKY, BT, and Eleven Sports. During the sale of broadcasting rights to various media channels, there was an economic boom born out of a continued financial gain. Over time, the battle with the commercialism of the professional game of football is far deeper and complex. In this piece, we will look behind football’s first-ever crisis and battle with the “disease of professionalism” in Victorian Britain. 

To find out this disease, we have to go back to 17th Century Victorian Britain when this beautiful game was formed back in 1863. In a London-based pub, 11 schools and clubs sat together to discuss the decorums and regulations that need to be followed to avoid some controversy. Despite, after all the discussions and failing to reach a certain agreement what these institutions had in common was the socio-fabric nature of the country. The schools were independent and free whereas the clubs were publicly made. Certain clauses did not adhere to the modern-class game for working-class people.

Football then had been developed from notions of a muscular Christianity and changing people’s perspective of what a “good public school-going boy” should be. According to Martin Polley, “football can teach a man strength, loyalty, and manly powers.” Initially, the game was played with an amateurish code of conduct- just for the sake of the game and enjoyment with no financial incentives. 

Now the question is, was the idea of commercialization and the idea of introduction of money to this sport new? In early 1750, Gambling came into action. This was evident in sports like “Cricket” and “Boxing.” Perhaps, in the given climate around football, it was disappointing that gambling got associated in the late 1850s. 

However, in the 1880s, the game of football changed forever. With the introduction of the FA Cup, there was a steep rise in the flow of funds, with the introduction of gate fees and garnering of money in the game itself. Richard Holt, a famous author on sports wrote in a book “Sports and British” that, the Football Association had never anticipated the problems that commercialization would bring in. The game, though steeped in moral codes, became a means of “excluding working-class players from high-level competition.” 

Following the victory of northern professionals “Blackburn Olympic” in 1883 in the FA Cup, the association faced a lot of questions about whether to accept the clause of allowing professional teams to play or rebuffing it. The event followed a decade-long controversy in various newspapers highlighting the public ambivalence towards professionalism and commercialism. 

In Victorian England, the FA Cup became the battleground for conflicting sporting ideologies. Moreover, the question that professionalism had raised, was it fair enough for the professionals to play against amateurs?

However, it is important to note that everyone had mixed feelings. In the 1830s, the social legislation predicted that there would be a steep rise in literacy rates by the 1880s and it would be common to see arguments amongst all in the society. Professionalism was no doubt an idea, with its roots going deep and news articles in this favor can be found very easily. 

This counter-opinion served as ratification by the FA, mostly this was a victory for those who just half a century before were underprivileged and unrepresented. The working-class culture was still on a rise at that point when the Labour Party and Trade Unions came into action. However, the debate on the introduction of professionalism did not go away for the next two decades. Adding to this, the negligence of amateurism was a hot topic then. 

Much of the story of professionalism is easy to understand when the rival code was reduced. In 1885- when the professional codes were agreed upon, it accepted a notion, not as a way of submitting to the working-class players but to put a check on them and to control them. The association was sure that people would succumb to the moral nature of “amateur football” and go back to their “good old days.”

Though there was a steep fall in professionalism and a rise in amateurism in football, there was a reverse scenario with football’s sister game- Rugby. There was no such way to stop the ideology of professionalism and several print media articles described it as a “disease.” Rugby provided a clear distinction between the rural and the prosperous south and industrial north. In Rugby, The Victorian Union players managed a small victory over professionalism. 

Professionalism has left a long chequered legacy over football and sports in general. Football has grown out of the comfort zone and for the love of playing. Today a modern football club in modern Britain remains with its amateurish status – The Queen’s Park in Scotland runs with the motto, “Ludere Causa Ludendi”. 

But with the sheer growth and fame of the game enjoyed in its infancy, there is no shock that the game opened itself to commercialization and financial ventures. 

With the modern-day argument that still goes on the commercialization of football, we must understand that something that is done for the greater good always suffers in a short time. 

Football has offered us, “sense of belongingness, solidarity, team spirit, even in the face of financial might and influence.”  And it will continue to do so. 

How Commercialization has really helped Football rising to its heights?

When a certain sport reaches its top plight, a material audience will attract in huge number and there will be huge mind somewhere to make a profit out of it. We can say that football itself is now a product which is sold all over the world. For a small instance, The English Premier League is considered to be the most profitable and successful one. It garners the most audience and hence they have the ability to attract large business investors. 

Since professionalism came into football it has been a kickstart for football to be a commercialized sport. Merchandising, broadcasting, stadium naming rights, sponsorship deals all together makes football a big commercialized sport in this century. 

Revenue commercially is on a rise for football. We look at brands nowadays. For instance, Manchester United’s deal with Team Viewer and Adidas surpassed 500 Million Euros. The Champions League winners Chelsea have a sponsorship deal which is over 800 Million Euros till 2032. 

Leaving Branding and sponsorship deals, the pre-season tours also garner a lot of money. Geographical locations are now seen as a market surpassing the fanbase. The clubs work hard to improve their positions in these markets. 

Coming to the part of broadcasting and media rights, the leagues play a major role in this. The Premier League deal with their respective broadcaster runs at 1.8 Billion Pounds per year. Whereas, La Liga has its broadcasting rights sold at over 2.36 Billion Euros per year. 

All of this money has led to one specific thing, inflation. Inflation in transfer fees, wages, agent’s commission, etc. Agents were not a part of this big game until the 2000s. But today, agents like George Mendes and Mino Raiola, these agents aid the players and managers in various things like the transfer, commercials, etc. 

Compared to earlier times, money in football has been a prerequisite of success. Specific clubs always need money to build their future. However, money can always act as a backlash if not used properly. For instance, the case of AS Monaco and Malaga C.F in the early part of the decade. Although some fans may not like the involvement of money all the time, the game needs to keep up with the times and this is the only way forward. 

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: