Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Glory glory, Sheffield United

What's this I hear on the grapevine? My beloved Sheffield United, recently relegated to the third tier of English football and generally going through a bit of a financial crisis, are going to be taken over by affluent businessmen from the Far East with millions of pounds in their back pocket? Things are looking up at Bramall Lane!

Oh no hang on a minute. It's a Channel 4 Dispatches programme, exposing a consortium of wannabes and fantasists called the London Nominees Football Fund. A group of people who describe to unknown hidden cameras how they can flout strict FA rules and buy numerous English football clubs for one owner. And who is the guinea-pig club they are planning to buy in this way first? Sheffield United. To make matters worse, the figure-head for this supposed illegal transaction was former Blades manager Bryan Robson. Oh dear.

Thankfully, as the proposed buyers were Channel 4 reporters and not Indian businessmen as they claimed, the deal of course did not go through. But the ease in which it apparently could have done, was worrying for all fans of English football.

Football clearly needs to be regulated more thoroughly, a problem that has arisen in the last 25 years with the large influx of money into the English game. It started with agents moving players from club to club in order for large signing on fees and “bungs” to managers. The problem is now even more dire.

I think the documentary showed that Bryan Robson was being ignorant to what he was figure-heading, as supposed to an out and out crook; however, he should have been sensible enough to realise he was in murky water. Likewise, I think Mr Sim was full of a lot of bravado and embellishment, in relation to the connections he had with Sir Alex Ferguson.

This does not take away the fact however that something is clearly array in the apparent ease to breach FA regulations and buy a number of clubs, milk them for all they’re worth and sell them on. It outlines the danger of the collision between the high emotion concerned with football supporters and the businessmen looking to exploit it. The talk in the documentary of stripping clubs of their assets was very disturbing and to Bryan Robson’s credit, he expressed that he did not support this. Whether that was due to his love of the game or simply to protect his name is another matter.

Most fans would of course welcome an injection of money into their football club, in order to gain promotion and success, but if it all goes wrong then these consortiums will not hesitate to discard the club into the dreaded depths of administration – as was shown at Portsmouth FC.

Robson said in the documentary that "I disagree with people when they say football is a sport... Football is a business". To a certain extent he is right; with the sponsorship, endorsements and large amounts of money in football, it is certainly entwined with business. But the vast majority of people who watch or are involved with football, see it as a sport. A sport that they love. For the people at the top with the money to treat it like a business is dangerous. And if it is going to be treated like this, then clearly the regulations need to be stricter and stronger.

As for Sheffield United, with Danny Wilson at the helm, who needs millions of pounds... ahem.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

The News of the World has gone? You are joking.

Hands up, hands up, who'd like to hear another opinion on the disbandment of the News of the World? No one?? Well you can all get stuffed, because here it comes.

Quick recap. As our friends across the pond celebrated their independence, the Guardian published a story that would rock British journalism at it's core - that the News of the World had hacked the voicemail of murder victim Milly Dowler. By the same time a week later, Britain's biggest selling Sunday newspaper had printed it's last copy; 168 years after it's first.

I was amazed at the speed this had happened. Admittedly the Guardian had been investigating the 'phone hacking' story for many years and this wasn't an overnight revelation. As far back as 2005, the News of the World had been accused of hacking. But the time period between the last nail in the coffin and it being six feet under was remarkably short.

Everyone was on board the movement. When the paper was accused of hacking the phones of royals and celebrities, people waved it past as immoral but 'hey, they could deal with it right?' Their lives are constantly under the media limelight so what do they expect?' When it became murder victims, or families of dead soldiers killed in the Middle East, or those who lost their lives in the London bombings, the public took note and the backlash was quick and brutal.

Rupert Murdoch has been described as the 'Ultimate Media Mogul' and named three times in Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People - most recently in 2010. But it was clear that even he was going to struggle to fight this corner. The story headlined every newspaper and TV news bulletin all week. Phone hacking victim Hugh Grant appeared on Question Time, damning the newspaper and News International as a whole. Steve Coogan performed a similar act on Newsnight, going toe to toe with ex-News of the World journalist Paul McMullan - a man that could not look any more like a seedy journalist if he tried.

And so, on the 10th July 2011 the last News of the World was printed, with the "heart-wrenching" headline 'Thank you and Goodbye' and packed full of so much self-righteous, blow your own trumpet, I am a scapegoat journalism that I nearly threw up on Kelly Brook's milky puddings.

Hooray! We all shouted (well the majority anyway) 1-0 to democracy and justice. Right? Well, not entirely.

The Murdoch Empire has been in the game of controversial media for far too long to let this affect it. I don't think it will be much longer before we see the 'Sun on Sunday' on the shelves. In fact News International has already bought the online domain. The proposed takeover of BSkyB may prove a little more tricky now, but it's only a matter of time. If Murdoch agrees not to takeover Sky News, then Parliament cannot stand in his way anyhow. But Mr Murdoch has not earned his fearsome reputation as a 'Media Mogul' by rolling over that easily. Oh no, he won't stop until he's got the lot.

There is only one chink I have seen in the armour of this ruthless leader however. His loyalty. All of his moves in the aftermath of the phone hacking scandal were logical. Except the loyalty he showed to Rebekah Brooks by not slinging her out into the wilderness. Not from a moral point of view (I would never accuse him of that), but from a business perspective. As editor, she has reduced the biggest selling British Sunday paper to a worthless memory and affected the price of shares for it's parent company News International, perhaps irreparably. Now if that's not bad business I don't know what is. OK, she hasn't been directly connected to the phone hacking... yet, but she was the boss; for destroying a business surely she takes the wrap?

In all this controversy however, there should be applause for the dedicated and persistent investigative journalism by the Guardian. It was excellent and served as a nice contrast of good journalism, when compared to the journalists is was 'outting' as crooks. Something tells me this won't be the end of the phone hacking saga. The Times has joined the group and before long I think media groups away from News International will be exposed too.

As for the Murdoch Empire, it remains to be seen whether these cracks in the foundations will eventually bring down the castle - but somehow, I doubt it.