I've been thinking about how bloody dreadful going to the football was when I was young: the leery crowds, the lack of adequate safety measures, the simmering mood of aberrant masculinity, the pig pens of stadia. I did go, nonetheless, and got various kinds of joy from it, not all of which I care to confess to at this distance in time.
It was seen as a game irredeemable tainted with hooliganism, racism and misogyny; a sport played in dangerous, antediluvian premises. All too often, it really was like that. As Heysel, Hillsborough and the Bradford fire revealed.
This was well before the days of When Saturday Comes and the Mark Perryman Liberation Front (aka Philosophy Football) you understand. Football was not cool. It was seen as the sporting analogy of those old nineteenth century smokestack industries Mrs. Thatcher was busy closing down - a survival of a less attractive, class bound past. The future, surely, was individualised, participative sporting activity (going to the gym, jogging and so on) involving choice, not attendance at ritualised mass events? Especially not mass events so overwhelmingly dominated by men, and often uncouth young white men at that.
It didn't turn out like that did it? Sure, a lot more people go to the gym than they did in the 1980s (although I seem to see fewer joggers these days). But football is still a mass spectator sport of choice - indeed, the mass sport. It's just that its now advertised on the telly with multi-racial families moving sofas to the edge of a pitch and running onto to comfort 'dad' when he gets tackled. A sanitised - and to a degree, de-misogynised - version of the old 'mass' entertainment has been sold back to us as 'niche' entertainment. How did this happen?
First, Mrs.Thatcher cleared the ground with her imposition of all-seater stadia and other safety measures. Secondly, Europe, in the form of the UEFA ban on English clubs after Heysel, economically forced a degree of painful change as well. Thirdly, and probably most important, was football's discovery that it could form a symbiotic relationship with an emerging and socially disruptive new technology, satellite TV. TV made English football rich. Football, with movies (another survival of mass entertainment from the pre-WW2 years), acted as the cutting edge which allowed 'niche' satellite TV to disrupt the old oligarchical, 'top-down' system of public broadcasting. So football made Murdoch and co very rich as well.
Now my hunch is that all this may have already peaked. English football is deeply indebted, and even Abramovich is facing something of a financial pinch. But that's not my major concern at the moment. What I want to tease out is the potential for a metaphor.
The global crisis means something is going to have to change in our national economic structure. The government needs to sweep away the dangerous aspects of our banking system just as Thatcher swept away those old death-trap stadia. This has to mean, at the very least, a return to 'pre-big Bang' division between retail and merchant banking and quite possibly a version of Richard Murphy's 'network banking' idea. International co-ordination is necessary to enforce a cultural change in world finance, just as the UEFA ban after Heysel was intended to do in English football. & the remains of our manufacturing base needs to be energised to engage with emerging technologies, especially green technologies, to provide a way forward in terms of employment and sustainable wealth creation.