Kicking Out: Capitalism over community won't serve GAA well

The generosity of JP McManus (right) towards Limerick and the GAA are not in question - but is he in effect the same as the billionaire owners pumping funds into Premier League clubs?
The generosity of JP McManus (right) towards Limerick and the GAA are not in question - but is he in effect the same as the billionaire owners pumping funds into Premier League clubs? The generosity of JP McManus (right) towards Limerick and the GAA are not in question - but is he in effect the same as the billionaire owners pumping funds into Premier League clubs?

SPORT changes all the time, but it’s rare that the tectonic plates move as they did over the weekend.

On Sunday night, UEFA released a statement calling on “all lovers of football” to join in fighting against “persistent self-interest of a few [that] has been going on for too long”.

The same UEFA who the very next day formally announced their own proposals to add 100 new games to an expanded Champions League that already has too much deadwood floating in its pre-Christmas waters.

They were planning on taking pretty much the same sledgehammer to the sport as those 12 clubs who announced they were breaking away into a new European Super League.

It will not kill football. It’s too big to die.

If football supporters had any sense of obligation to sporting competitiveness, they would have exercised it long ago.

All the vainglorious cries to boycott this or relegate that will be forgotten when Anfield is packed to capacity for the weekly visits of Europe’s biggest names.

Manchester United fans have been decrying the Glazers for almost two decades yet beyond waving a few green and yellow scarves above their heads for a while, what have they done to change the situation?

They continue packing Old Trafford, funnelling money into the owners’ pockets, for which the return is seeing their club being saddled with debt. The Glazers bought United in 2003 and there was hardly an empty seat never mind an empty stadium until the pandemic forced it.

Just as Manchester City’s supporters care not what the Crown Prince does within his own borders, or Chelsea’s fans care that Roman Abramovich was deemed by Switzerland to be a “threat to public security and a reputational risk” when the country denied him residency.

People care, but they don’t care. For those two hours at the weekend, they go along and scream at the pig’s bladder, and the next week they come back again, no matter what happens in between.

Perhaps the question for fans is less ‘what have they done?’ and more ‘what can they actually do?’

The masses are not powerless if they unite, but the clubs breaking away are betting that won’t happen, and they’d be right.

Organising large-scale boycotts doesn’t serve them because they need their fix. How many Wednesday nights do they have to sit it out to make a difference? Too many. So life will go on.

The European Super League will go ahead if it wants to.

The threat of a ban on players appearing in international football while playing in the Super League appears unlikely to stand up against competition laws.

You’ll maybe get an odd principled stand from a player, but £250,000-a-week would change most anybody’s mind.

There was a certain irony in Gary Neville’s comments being broadcast on Sky Sports, the broadcaster who became the single biggest driver of the sport’s propulsion towards obscene money.

Neville was right in all that he said, but he’s the same as the supporters – what choice or influence does he really have? It’s either work for Sky or find himself opposite Danny Murphy at 11 o’clock on a Saturday night.

The people who take the money tend not to be the ones who have forced the corruption.

They’re just living in the real world, where everything has its price.

If you can get it and make an easier life for yourself, why would you bother being principled? All that will leave you is broke and forgotten, while someone else sits in your seat.

Football was broken as a competitive sport a long time ago. Only two Premier League titles have been won by teams outside the traditional power base, but don’t bite too hard into the Blackburn and Leicester fairytales.

Jack Walker bought Blackburn in 1991 and within three years, spent £25m on new players, including breaking the British transfer record twice.

They bought their title every bit as much as Chelsea or Man City did – it’s just that the price was cheaper.

In Leicester, the Srivaddhanaprabha family, owners of $4bn duty-free company King Power, have ploughed their fortune into the club and turned them into a regular top-end team.

There’s no regulation, no upper limits, no cap on player wages, no cap on transfer fees, agents’ fees, anything.

The law is very much on the side of those who challenge such caps.

So what did UEFA expect would happen?

The Super League won’t be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. The camel’s back has never been stronger. It has been able to survive through more than a year without fans through the gate, and with a product diminished by their absence.

Fans will complain but they won’t boycott. Complaining never cost anyone a dime. Joel Glazer has been living quite happily with complaints for 20 years, getting even richer off them.

We’re in a not-too-dissimilar pickle in the GAA at the minute.

The National Leagues have helped make the strong stronger, the back door has given them protection and then the Super 8s were introduced.

Division One has become our Super League.

The more that Dublin, Mayo, Kerry, Tyrone, Galway and Donegal play against each other, the more they propel themselves beyond the rest.

In 2019, before the pandemic struck, counties had spent €30m between them on their county teams alone. That compared to €20m a decade earlier.

It’s the same economic principle as soccer – teams spending beyond their means in pursuit of a glory that tends to fall the way of those with the deepest pockets.

Take JP McManus, for instance. His generosity is not in question, but is what he’s ploughing into Limerick GAA giving them an unfair advantage? Is he, in essence, the equivalent of a billionaire owner in the Super League?

With no controls, no caps, no regulation, where does it end?

The club game is moving in the same direction.

The GAA from top to bottom is a very money-driven organisation now. Those in support of such a direction would argue that it’s just the real world.

What they’ve done, however, is foster a sense of capitalism over community in the hedges that house their hundreds of thousands of members.

I was genuinely disgusted to discover that one GAA club in the north is charging £120 for a seven-year-old child to play with their club.

That’s a culture coming up the road from Dublin, where fees are astronomical. In one club, the cheapest nursery membership for is €170. That includes an adult, but there is no option to register the child on their own.

Clubs in urban areas can charge what they want because they’re oversubscribed and anyone who doesn’t want to pay can go on out the road to wherever they like.

This is the sort of money rugby clubs often charge, but we’ve always prided ourselves on being the sport of the community and its working classes.

The idea of the GAA is that your children can go down to the local pitch and play with their friends from school. To put any financial wedge between a child and their friends is absolutely horrific.

When did we become so middle-class and so far up ourselves that this sort of stuff was deemed ok?

Nobody will step in. Will county boards, or the GAA itself, tell clubs to put a £20 limit on underage membership? No, they won’t.

Putting such a high premium on a child is just so contrary to the whole idea. Just so wrong.

The pursuit of money will not kill football, the same as it won’t kill the GAA.

Losing the competitiveness at the top end won’t drive fans away. They’ll still want to see Dublin and Kerry do battle as they’ll want to rubberneck at Liverpool v Barcelona, no matter how many times it should happen.

In time, though, the price of it all could be losing the hearts and the goodwill of our people.