Queen of the South, a wee team from Dumfries, played in the Scottish Cup Final against one of the two the wealthiest clubs in Scotland. The final score of 3-2 to Rangers points to a close game, and the sheer romance of a rural town virtually emptied as 17,000+ went to support the local team. David and Goliath it wasn't - cos the big guy won this time. What was recognisable was the sport, the human experience of competing, trying, and knowing that though there can only be one winning team - played the right way for the right reasons, everyone comes away with more than they took.
Hull City played Bristol City for the final place in the Premier League. The winning team would find its finances boosted by around £60 million. So Dean Windass, 39 year old striker with the build of a slightly out of condition rugby player, hit one of the best timed volleys of his career, and netted the club £60 million. No pressure then. With that kind of money, how many of the current squad who worked to get the team into the Premiership, will be there after the start of next season, when that kind of money is around to buy some security and success. How far should money count in a sport, in the life of a sports player?
Which brings us to Chelsea, whose owner is one of the richest men in the world, who spends millions the way the rest of us spend 10p pieces, and who has injected hundreds of millions into the Club. That explains the quite astonishing arrogance of their Chairman Bruce Buck speaking after Chelsea sacked Avram Grant:
We have had a great season," said Buck. "In the four competitions we were in, we were runners up in three of them. But we have very high expectations at Chelsea and a couple of second place finishes is just not good enough for us."
He added: "Although we never would have thought in September when Jose Mourinho left that we would be able to make it into a Champions League Final - as we did, and that is fantastic - Chelsea is here to win trophies so, although it was an excellent season, we are still disappointed."Now I'm not naive enough to think that a huge, lucrative, ego factory like top flight professional football should by some miracle show the slightest display of such human virtues as altruism, due deference to the excellence of others, fairness, or even at a push evidence of actually enjoying the game itself. But there are levels of irrational expectations behind that statement that border on religious fundamentalism rooted in worship of a God named ' Money, Dominance and the Corporate Cosmic Ego'. (Buck is pointing to said deity in this photograph - note the open mouthed worshipper on the left). The ruthless disposal of a failed manager, after 8 months having inherited a club in crisis, and on a definition that counts three runner's up places in four competitions (one of which was lost by the captain of the team slipping as he took a penalty that would otherwise have one the biggest of them all) as not good enough, is an act that betrays a truly scary worldview. Some of the most ruthless military leaders in human history would struggle to compete with such expectations after 8 months in charge. Alexander the Great took a bit longer......
All of which means what? Football is a major global industry, increasingly used as a shop window for the world's most powerful global capitalist interests, and now the sport itself has become the means and not the end. Left me wondering if my deep moral repulsion at such power seeking and financial muscle flexing in sport is only one of scale. The two Scottish teams in the final need money, and money and status are at the centre of professional sporting motivation, so they play the same game. But equally I'm quite sure players on £200,000 a week!!! is a moral issue of another order. And the sacking of a manager in such cirucmstances as Avram Grant, explained with the liturgical solemnity of a High Priest spokesman of ' Money, Dominance and the Corporate Cosmic Ego', demonstrates with brutal clarity, that when money speaks, some people hear it as the word of god (small captials intentional). They also live under the quite irrational belief in the divine right to win.
Much to ponder as a once football player, a lifelong football fan, and a follower of a different God, who speaks a different discourse, whose goals are very different, whose criteria for excellence are not centred on universal domination, and whose view of human beings is, apparently, not as ruthlessly exacting as those held by Bruce Buck. But then the God I refer to never finishes in penultimate place - indeed hear the Word of God, (capitals intentional this time): - the last shall be first and the first shall be last - no place then for the penultimate or the ultimate then. Winning isn't everything, thank goodness.