Andrew Travers

Andrew Travers is a designer and researcher. He’s the author of Interviewing for research.

Money talks

Posted on 19 May 2019

It’s a long time since Arsene Wenger used the phrase financial doping to describe the unsustainable, irresponsible spending of football clubs. But this season has perhaps seen its apotheosis in Manchester City’s dominant, if unloveable, domestic treble.

What City have achieved has at times had real beauty on the pitch, but it’s no fairytale even, I suspect, for many City fans deep down. They spend more than anyone else, they win more than anyone else.

City may yet experience the unfamiliar feeling of losing when the Financial Fair Play judgement comes, though I think few in football are holding their breath.

Manchester City’s money is more problematic than most but we’ve collectively got to start demanding better of our own clubs, where their money comes from, and stop giving our football clubs the benefit of our selective amnesia when it comes to the decisions made in boardrooms.

It’s as much ethical as financial fair play, and recognising that the game is sustained by money from often dubious sources - whether that’s the ownership or the sponsors that clubs allow their names to be associated with - that are furthering inequality, societal problems, and yes, human rights issues.

For Arsenal, my own club, it’s sponsorship – our owners are incompetent rather than despots.

Arsenal Supporters Trust estimates that the club will take in around £55 million per annum from its 3 main sponsorship sources: Emirates Airlines, Visit Rwanda and a new shirt deal with Adidas.

One of the things that I feel proudest of in Arsenal is that it is a reflection of the very best bits of London: home to a (relatively) diverse, (relatively) liberal, anti-racist, anti-sexist, tolerant fan base. And yes, that is not to ignore a still shaming, if fading, strain of Tottenham-related anti-semitism amongst some fans that won’t quite go away.

I don’t want a club like Arsenal, from a city like London, to associate with Emirates and the UAE - on its shirts, in the name of its stadium, or to normalise a country that acts in the way Rwanda does.

The United Arab Emirates and Rwanda are not reflective of the values I think my club believes itself to have.

For your club, it might be the gambling firms on your shirt and in your ground while problem gambling soars in the UK amongst the very demographic that football is out to attract and retain. It might be your club continuing to take sponsorship from a cider company when your city has a legendary alcohol problem, or the tax avoidance schemes your club used to attract players it couldn't afford.

It’s easy for football supporters to feel powerless in the face of the economics, easy to want to just bail out. And yet, from Dulwich Hamlet to Liverpool, from Portsmouth to Wimbledon, fans - and the values they project - can make a difference.

If you don’t like the way your club is being run, or being funded, or the choices it makes, do one thing between now and the beginning of a new season: join your team’s supporters trust. I’ve just rejoined mine. It takes more than one singer’s voice to make a football chant heard.