Sunday, 4 January 2015

Football thoughts

Argument - the first phase of organised football coincided with full scale industrialisation. It corralled some of the people’s carnivalesque leisure into compounds (stadiums) and divided the working class along local lines. The rules and training systems matched factory systems of clocking on. All this is in contrast to some of the ways in which pre-organised, pre-rules football worked which involved a kind of mass violent carnival.

The present phase of football coincides with globalisation and extreme commodification of leisure. So, players in top teams are mostly migrants, capitalisation is international,  and the game can be segmented into many formats (highlights, great players, histories of clubs, histories of leagues etc) to be sold and re-sold many times over.

In the first phase of industrialised football, football was bought on match day, and then, to a limited extent, in other formats through newspapers, comics, annuals, cigarette cards and the like. Without running the economics on this, I suspect that these spin-offs were not crucial to the financing and existence of top flight football. Perhaps this spin-offs worked mostly as publicity which helped guarantee high audiences on match day.

In the present phase, the formats are at the highest end of technology, involving millions of pounds of investment in production and reach into the majority of homes as consumption. This is crucial to the existence of the top echelons of the sport. This consumption is more valuable than the game itself.

So, now there is the ‘game’ which actually takes place. It is not entirely predictable, but as someone admitted the other day, the position of a club in the top flight is pretty well dependent on a given club’s wage bill. (nb not necessarily dependent on the total cost of its footballing asset when bought ie the cost of buying a player). In any given season, it may well be that this league table of wage bills doesn’t exactly match the final league position but over time it evens out, as some clubs will over- or under-perform according to the wage bill criterion.

So, the game is not quite so much of a game as first appears. Therefore, part of the job of the commodification is to stress that it is a game! Otherwise, people would be less inclined to buy it in its many formats.

In the meantime, as with any form of production, immense levels of skill and co-operation are brought to bear on the matter - whether that’s skills of individual players, skills of co-operation, training, presentation, stadium-building and so on. These aren’t negated by the above comments about commodification. Players and managers show us the potential of human capabilities and aptitudes. Yet, many (not all) people involved in the game are education ‘failures’. Schooling as devised at present finds it difficult to give football ‘skills’ any great status other than when ‘the team’ makes the school look good. In terms of league tables (!) of GCSE results and the like, it’s nothing.

If we look at those skills though, in other times, we might say that they could or would have coincided with eg hunting - being able to direct an object over distance with great accuracy. Or planning for hunting ie how to outwit a moving object or objects eg a herd of animals. In the modern day, we might simply be economistic about it and say, that ‘leisure’ is an industry like any other, so why should we say that someone doing the qualifications required for law or accountancy is a more worthwhile person (in academic terms) than someone doing what’s necessary to become a footballer? Under modern capitalism, don’t the leisure industries (so-called) provide as many opportunities (albeit varying from huge salaries to small ones) as any other industry?

So why does education discriminate on this matter?

I can think of reasons why it might suit one kind of discrimination to funnel certain kinds of young people into ‘leisure’ studies and away from academic studies of science, maths and humanities.

So, my question is: how do you prevent the kind of discrimination which blocks students off from doing things, whilst giving full status to capabilities, aptitudes and skills of all kinds?