Seagulls Over Burwash Article – December 2021

Shankly, The Price of Success and an Infamous Face

Whilst appearing on the Granada TV chat show in 1981, the late great Bill Shankly uttered what was perhaps his most famous quote: “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.” Whilst this was said with a large proportion of his tongue wedged firmly in his cheek, it does beg the question of what price sportsmen and women, clubs and supporters are prepared to pay for sporting success. 

The personal dedication of certain elite athletes to their training regimes has been documented on many occasions. Similarly, the obsessive focus of coaches and managers on their respective charges has often been to the detriment of their personal lives and marriages. However, in modern football, even with such personal dedication, success cannot be achieved by hard work alone. Football clubs, first and foremost, need a healthy bank balance. Even with the application of the Financial Fair Play rules, very few clubs reach the top of the tree without the backing of exceptionally wealthy benefactors or investment organisations. During the 1980s, Chelsea were ricocheting between the top two divisions and in the 90s and early 2000s were never serious contenders for the Premier League title. Then along came Russian billionaire oligarch, Roman Abramovic. He bought the club in June 2003 and immediately spent £110 million on players, a huge amount for the time. The following season Chelsea were Premier League runners up and in the 2004-2005 season they won their first championship for 50 years. Since then, Abramovic has spent over £2 billion on transfer fees to maintain their success. In a similar manner, Manchester City rose from being United’s underachieving ‘noisy neighbours’ to perennial challengers for the title. This followed the takeover of the club in September 2008 by the United Arab Emirates-based Abu Dhabi United Group, led by Sheikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan. With the help of over £1.5 billion worth of players, City have since won five Premier League titles, two FA Cups and six League Cups. 

The latest club to be bought out by uber-rich investors is Newcastle United who currently sit second from bottom of the Premier League. They have recently been purchased by the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF) who will make Newcastle the richest club in the world and are promising a huge investment in the club’s playing staff. PIF is the equivalent to the savings account of Saudi Arabia and the PIF chairman is none other than Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, known ‘affectionately’ as MBS. MBS is effectively running Saudi Arabia and is thought to have personally authorised the murder of Saudi-critic journalist Jamal Khashoggi after luring him to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. As their leader, he is also ultimately responsible for the litany of human rights abuses that Saudi Arabia is accused of, including the targeting and killing of civilians in Yemen, political assassinations, persecution of homosexuals and archaic discrimination against women to name but a few.  Saudi Arabia’s investment in Newcastle United is seen by many as ‘sports-washing’, i.e. using popular, high profile sport to enhance the country’s image and distract from it less pleasant side.

When the take-over of Newcastle United was announced, there was great glee and celebrations outside their St James’ Park ground with their fans anticipating great football success in the future. But will that success be tainted by the source of money that financed it? Will the potential cups and titles be worth the cost of the lives that have been lost due to MSB’s regime? Will the family of Jamal Khashoggi be cheering? I am sure there will be plenty of Newcastle supporters that are uncomfortable with their new owners and some may prefer to let other local teams such as South Shield FC or Yarrow FC have their ticket money but, for the majority, the source of their millions is irrelevant and success on the pitch is the be-all and end-all. 

Newcastle United is by no means the only club with decidedly dodgy owners. The aforementioned Mr Abramovic has a murky background and made his money in the aftermath of the fall of the Soviet Union. Similarly, the United Arab Emirates, whose money funds Manchester City, does not have a great human rights record. Even Brighton and Hove Albion’s owner and Chairman, Tony Bloom, made a sizable proportion of this wealth from a gambling business which some may see as an exploitative industry. However, the recent furore over the Premier League’s sanctioning of the Newcastle United take-over, and the list of serious accusations against the owner company’s Chairman does bring the integrity of the Premier League into question. Was Mr Shankly right? Is football today really more important than life and death?

On a more cheery note, at least for Albion supporters, the Seagulls’ good start to the season has continued with a great performance at Liverpool. After trailing 2-0 after 25 minutes, a spectacular long-range goal from new signing Enoch Mwepu and a well worked team effort put away by Leandro Trossard had Brighton on level terms and Liverpool hanging on for a point. Despite the frustrating 1-1 draw the following game against Newcastle, a tally of 17 points after 11 games is very good and most supporters would have bitten your hand off if you offered them that at the beginning of the season.

It is worth reminding anyone that is going to a match at the Amex in the foreseeable future that the Covid 19 rules introduced at the beginning season still apply. To gain access to the stadium anyone over 18 years of age will need to carry an NHS digital pass demonstrating double vaccination or an NHS digital pass demonstrating a negative lateral flow test as well as photographic ID. There will be random spot-checks at the stadium entry points and anyone failing to produce the required passes will not be permitted to enter.

For further information on joining Seagulls Over Burwash and details of forthcoming events, meetings or coach travel, please visit our website at www.seagullsoverburwash.co.uk or email me at simon.forster@seagullsoverburwash.co.uk. Alternatively, please feel free to contact our Chairman, Mr Teskey O’Neil, on 01435 884344 or tesbar80@btinternet.com. Yet again Teskey has been ‘the face of SOB’ as he not only got his uniquely recognisable boat race on to sports pages of the Argus newspaper, but he also made the front page. This was after he was interviewed live on Radio Norfolk before the Norwich game. “What are the chances of him getting so much media exposure?” I hear you ask. Well, not so unlikely as you may imagine. You see, our Teskey is addicted to the lime-light! Yes, as soon as a camera appears or a microphone is revealed our Chairman is there, pushing women and children aside to make his weekly appearance. They say the most dangerous thing to do in Africa is to get between a hippopotamus and the water but that is nothing compared to the risk you take by inadvertently getting between Teskey and BHA club photographer Paul Hazelwood!

Simon Forster