As far as I can gather, Gordon Taylor has never properly explained how it ever came to pass that he decided he was doing such a commendable job as the chief executive at the Professional Footballers’ Association it was time for a pay rise that would multiply his earnings almost three fold, from £1.13m a year to £3.37m after bonuses, and mean he earns more than, among others, Joachim Löw, manager of the last World Cup-winning side.
Taylor was not doing too shabbily anyway, bearing in mind he was already reputed to be the highest-paid union official on the planet and the same goes for the PFA as a whole given what I hear about the organisation going upmarket and moving its London operation into new offices, costing £5.2m, at roughly the same time as the new television riches arrive later this year.
The PFA’s current share of the pot is £17.5m a year but it is fair to assume it will be anticipating a much bigger wedge now the Premier League has a deal that comes in at £8.3bn over three years – and in the cases of Sky and BT Sport, an increase of 71% from the current arrangement.
Sky will be paying the equivalent of £10.2m per game. For BT, it will be £7.6m. The rich are getting richer and, though the £30 cap on away tickets has rightly been acclaimed, let’s not think for one second it is anything more than a drop in the ocean.
From next season, the Premier League will be so awash with money the club that finishes bottom will earn more from television revenue, £99.5m, than Bayern Munich or Paris Saint-Germain received last year. Every single team from England’s top division is expected to figure in Deloitte’s list of the 30 richest clubs in the world. The first £500,000-a-week footballer cannot be too far away. Players, managers, executives, agents, hangers-on – the list of people who will be quids in is almost endless. Anyone with even a vague connection to the Premier League must be looking forward to the tills ringing.
It does make me wonder, however, whether this is an appropriate time to ask if the relevant authorities might spare a thought for Kick It Out and, specifically, the financial considerations that are holding it back from becoming the organisation everyone wants it to be.
Yes, the top-division clubs have finally recognised that fans are turning away from the sport because of the costs of following teams at the highest level. Yet it is nothing short of disgraceful, with all the riches available, that the Premier League puts in no more than £125,000 every year to keep Kick It Out ticking over. The Football Association and the PFA chip in the same – and the Football League, having not contributed a penny for years, finally agreed to start contributing a couple of seasons ago.
In total, that means the sport’s most prominent anti-racism group receives core funding of £500,000 a year, from which it must budget for everything, including the salaries of the 13 members of staff who, strangely enough, regularly face allegations that their organisation is not powerful enough within the industry. More than once, this small operation has had to be bailed out financially. It needs help and, when there is so much money floating around, isn’t it time the people with the power to do something about it stopped looking the other way?
It certainly feels strange that everyone agrees Kick It Out needs to be beefed up but nobody seems to take issue with the fact the Premier League’s annual contribution would work out as roughly 0.0004% of its new television income. It plainly isn’t enough, or even close, and that leaves one key question. We all know the money is there – but do the relevant people think it is important enough?
On that count, perhaps they should watch the video that appeared on the internet a few days ago of a group of Arsenal supporters, including one middle-aged woman, chanting antisemitic songs on a packed underground train on the way to Spurs – a charming little ditty that goes: “I’ve got a foreskin, haven’t you? Fucking Jews.”
These incidents don’t always make national headlines but they are still happening. In fact, if you look through Kick It Out’s last annual report you will find its chairman, Herman Ouseley, noting “a considerable increase in reported hate-related incidents in football”. Last season, 393 were reported to Kick It Out, compared to 77 two years earlier.
The organisation, in other words, is busier than it has ever been. “There is a fragility and vulnerability of football to become the target for such abusive and unacceptable behaviour,” Lord Ouseley writes. “There is already a solid tranche of training and awareness-raising in the game to counter the worst excesses. However, it does require a new, substantial and coherent approach, and there is urgency needed to address this threat.”
Unfortunately, not everyone in football is a Kick It Out sympathiser – sometimes, it seems, for no other reasons than the organisation not having a more powerful status. You might remember Rio Ferdinand’s book and subsequent newspaper serialisation when he made the damaging but unfounded accusation that the group refused to attend John Terry’s trial for alleged racial abuse towards Anton Ferdinand, Rio’s younger brother. In reality, a representative attended every minute, sitting beside Ferdinand’s parents, Julian and Janice, on all five days until the not-guilty verdict came in and Terry’s supporters celebrated with pink cava in the public gallery. And Rio would have known this if he had attended himself.
Then there is the story of another ex-professional – a rich guy with a London mansion and all the other accessories – who positioned himself as a campaigning voice and was invited to one Kick It Out event, not a huge distance from where he lives, only to opt out because it meant paying his own train fare.
The bottom line is that the organisation gets a raw deal, operating on a meagre budget from an unpretentious fourth-floor office above the Clerkenwell branch of Pizza Express. There are more people downstairs putting on the tomato and mozzarella and it feels like a tragicomedy that, strictly speaking, Kick It Out is actually better off than it has ever been. Two years ago its core funding was even less, at £300,000.
Is football as serious about tackling racism as it says? We will probably know more when the television riches arrive later this year and the money is divided up. It is pretty obvious what needs to be done and it is a strange world, to say the least, when the PFA pays its chief executive roughly seven times more than the entire sport gives its most visible anti-racism group every year.
Forest legends rooting for Foxes
As brilliant as Leicester City’s achievements have been this season, it is worth taking notice of the way Alan Birchenall, a man who could arguably be described as Mr Leicester, declined to join the bandwagon led by Gary Lineker and Robbie Savage, as well as Tony Pulis and various members of my own profession who have been trying to make a case that if they win the league it would constitute the greatest football miracle there has ever been in England’s top division.
Perhaps I could be accused of bias here as the author of a book charting Nottingham Forest’s successes from 1977 to 1980, starting off with promotion to the First Division, the league championship and the two European Cups when they knocked Liverpool off their perch long before Alex Ferguson thought of the expression.
Birchenall could have leaned the other way, you might assume, given his connection with Leicester goes back to the early 1970s and his unstoppable enthusiasm when he addresses the crowd before every game. He is a fine ambassador for the club but it was intriguing to see him in conversation with John McGovern, Forest’s captain from their glory years, and his acknowledgement that Leicester’s story was magical enough without needing to apply unnecessary top-spin.
Forest, to recap, won the league in year one, having gone up with the fifth lowest points for any promoted side in history, and had to take on a Liverpool side that was in the process of winning back-to-back European Cups and was rated by Alan Hansen and Graeme Souness, among others, as the greatest team ever to pull on the club’s colours. Yes, the financial imbalance is greater these days, but Leicester are in their second season and, if the argument is based on money, Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United have spent fortunes only to go backwards.
The team assembled by Brian Clough and Peter Taylor also won two League Cups and a European Super Cup against Barcelona where the home fans clapped them out of the Camp Nou, as well as going 42 league matches unbeaten, a record that lasted almost a quarter of a century. On that basis, Birchenall’s acceptance that a Leicester title, glorious as it would be, would not be “a patch” on Clough’s overall success felt like a clear-headed judgment amid some over-excited hyperbole.
None of this, of course, lessens Leicester’s achievement. It would be one of the more sensational stories of any football age – and certainly the greatest of the Premier League era – and it probably sums up the beauty of what Leicester have done that several of the players from that great Forest team have told me they are rooting for them to do it.
Incidentally, BBC Radio Leicester have aired my apology for being among the many people who imagined a relegation battle for Claudio Ranieri’s team. Leicester have made fools of all of us – and there is no evidence whatsoever that they will blow it. It must be something in the east Midlands water.
Van Gaal’s problem called Di María
Laurent Blanc was trying to find the right words to describe Ángel Di María’s contribution to another victorious night for Paris Saint-Germain at the expense of Chelsea. “He gave them a problem from start to finish,” he said. “They never knew where he was.”
Unfortunately for Manchester United, those words could also be applied in a different context to Di María’s spell at Old Trafford. He must surely rank, alongside Radamel Falcao, as the most disappointing and expensive failure in the club’s transfer-market history and it does not reflect well on Louis van Gaal that both have been on his watch. “You live in the past,” Van Gaal told us, when someone asked whether it was galling for United and Liverpool, English football’s biggest and most successful clubs, to be in the Europa League. Maybe so, but there is also a pile of evidence that the same could be said of anyone who still regards him among the greats of his profession.
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