Hospital ward

You may think that over the last couple of years transfer fees in football have grown ridiculously large. As a young boy I believed that they had quite rightly grown with the game and the revenue it attracted. In recent years I have changed my view. The role of the media encourages this trend. The sports pages are the most avidly read of any daily newspaper and “Match of the Day” the most obsessively watched TV programme around. Liverpool’s and other team’s European successes have also increased football’s appeal.

My Grandfather was offered a contract by Chelsea Football Club in the 1930’s but declined this to become a teacher. Footballer’s wages were so bad that people became teachers rather than footballers. Of course teaching was the higher status job and the one that guaranteed regular employment. Nowadays footballers are earning 60,000 a week, which is twice as much as most teachers earn in a year. In the 1930’s the transfer fee was virtually non-existent as there was hardly any money in the game. By the 1960’s all this had changed: players such as Jimmy Greaves, who transferred from Chelsea to Milan for the then huge sum of 80,000. Today the world record transfer fee is 47,000,000 – for Zinedine Zidane’s transfer to Real Madrid from Juventus. A fee of over 10,000,000 is fairly usual between top division clubs.

Why the huge increase in transfer fees? Football clubs want two things – success and money. Thus they are willing to spend vast sums of money on players, whether from England or abroad, if they believe that they can recoup it. They hope to re-coup the money with success in the top European competitions, as by reaching a late stage of these, clubs can earn themselves millions of pounds in prize money, extra television coverage and gate fees. An alternative route to success and wealth is illustrated by the case of the Japanese footballers, Hidetoshi Nakata and Jun-Ichi Inamoto, recent signings by Parma and Arsenal respectively. Football merchandise printed with these names will sell like wildfire to the Japanese fans. Television rights and increased ticket prices also play a big part in recouping money spent on expensive big names as many more people want to see them. The club’s greater appeal will attract more TV coverage. Notice how Liverpool’s airtime has increased since Michael Owen shot to fame!

It goes without saying that the more humble clubs cannot compete with this amount of spending. Many clubs today have gone bankrupt by spending too much on players. Even such established and successful clubs as Real Madrid and Fiorentina are only staying afloat because of huge bank loans. It may appal you that football clubs frequently make mega-million deals when in Third World countries people are dying for the sake of a few pounds. Real Madrid paid 47,000,000 for one player last year. Just consider how else this might have been spent. It could have paid for half a million wells to ease the suffering of those in the third world, or for the vaccinations of ten million children against killer diseases. If you prefer to spend the money closer to home, you could build two new hospitals or five new schools to improve the life chances of ordinary people. It could even cover the yearly wage bill for two thousand nurses or teachers or six hundred doctors.

Some people might consider that the excitement football brings to everyday lives, as demonstrated by the fabulous atmosphere when England beat Germany five goals to nil last autumn is worth this vast squandering of money. The entire nation’s spirits were raised. The roar of the crowd, the elation, the cheers, the chanting – all could be seen as lifting the mood of the country. The elderly man in his mean hospital ward, suffering untold hardship under the NHS, might be reinvigorated by the news that his team had won by a mighty margin.

But on reflection I am forced to conclude along with most other rational and humane people that the vast amount of money spent on transfer fees in football could be put to better use. It would be better spent on decent care for that elderly man in a better hospital, rather than relying on a goal from a multi-million signing to kick-start him back into life. In my opinion the whole scale of wages and transfer fees should be reduced by guidelines from FIFA. This could involve sums of money involved in the transfer being passed across to help ordinary people.

I hope you’ll agree with me that this is the right view. Two top class Liverpool Football Managers have contributed to the debate: Bill Shankley said that football was more important than life and death; Gerard Houllier’s recent illness and its impact on his team has demonstrated that nothing is more important than health.

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David from Healtheappointments:

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