Football is now a business – not sport


The real sadness of this week’s football television expose was not that it revealed clandestine attempts on behalf of would-be owners - apparently advised by Bryan Robson - to flout FA roles over dual club ownership.

Nothing should surprise us in that regard.

No, the real shame was listening to the former England captain spell out that football was no longer a sport, it was just big business.

Sadder still, we all know that this is absolutely true - whatever the rights and wrongs of the headline allegations. But it is hearing it from an iconic figure, our old Captain Marvel, that makes it so shocking.

And also seeing so clearly that Robson - for extra wealth, presumably - is happy to peddle a trend that lines pockets and strips the glory from the game.

Which is why there was only very hollow encouragement about hearing afresh the massive appeal of Sheffield’s two clubs, both earmarked as investment goldmines by the football investment group stung by Channel 4’s Dispatches programme. We know that is true as well. There is nothing new in Sheffield United’s pursuit of backers, nor did the Blades do anything knowingly wrong in meeting with the group, London Nominees Football Fund, who were secretly filmed in the programme offering to give undercover reporters a way to buy into more than one club simultaneously.

United have naturally distanced themselves from these individuals, including one-time manager Robson. But, of course, the hunt will continue. Wednesday, for once, are seemingly more stable after the Milan Mandaric buy-out that removed them from the clutches of businessmen advised by Robson that the Owls represented the best potential purchase outside the Premiership.

Mandaric has cause to celebrate and capitalise on his acquisition, knowing that his £12m outlay will multiply in value if he revives the club.

So in one sense fans at both ends of the city have cause to be jumping up and down with glee at seeing their clubs projected in such glossy terms.

But you detect no great rejoicing - for the simple reason that the bigger the prey the bigger the vulture it can attract.

People are in football for all sorts of reasons from ego to making a fast buck, often both. Nothing wrong in that necessarily. Football needs to be more businesslike - providing those who run it have the game at heart.

Unlike Mandaric, whose love of football is genuine, too many owners are in it for the wrong reasons. And too many of them, as the Football League freely admit, are impossible to identify as they cloak themselves in trust funds and sit anonymously behind front men.

Much as you can understand Kevin McCabe’s desire to shed at least some of the load of Sheffield United, he will be conscious of attracting the right sort of investor.

Without that, Bramall Lane fans are better off relying on a man who actually cares for the club, however stretched his resources may have become. We are talking here about the heart and soul of the game. Robson suggests football has already sold at least one of those things - its soul. How long before the customers lose their heart for it? But the greater wonder is that almost everywhere - here in a depressed city especially - fans still support the “sport” in such vast numbers.