Skip to main content

"If you want some accessible but informative insight into football then I suggest you couldn't do better than the Political Economy of Football website, which is not only intelligible but comes with the added bonus of being written by Addicks fan Wyn Grant."
Ben Hayes - Charlton Athletic programme

Football is returning to its upper class origins


The Financial Times is a leading global business newspaper, but it also publishes some quite left leaning articles.  Indeed, before Labour turned to the left, it recommended voting Labour in its editorials.

Simon Kuper is one of the most perceptive and provocative football writers around.  In the weekend edition of the Pink 'Un, he argues that football is returning to its 19th century origins as an upper class game.  That reading of history is a little contentious: certainly, military regiments and public schools were prominent in the game's early days.   However, the regiments were not the elite ones (Royal Engineers rather than the Household divisions) and there were plenty of working class teams in the Midlands and the north of England.

Anyway, Kuper argues that we are now seeing the plutocratisation of sport.   This is not because football clubs are big businesses themselves, but football (and sport more generally) is now a venue where big business meets.    Thus, if you want to meet Nicolas Sarkozy (no thanks), head for one of the VIP saloons at Paris Saint-Germain.  The richest 1 per cent 'displays an international class solidarity that Marx could only have dreamt of.'

Kuper believes that sports chatter helps smooth the awkwardness of elite networking.   It also facilitates elite interactions with the public, hence Dave Cameron's declared support for West Ham Villa, or was it Aston United?

Kuper refers to the ticket price protests at the Arsenal - Bayern Munich match last week.  He argues that Arsenal's tickets are 'probably the most expensive in global football, partly because the club is close to the City of London.'

I doubt that.   The club has always had plutocratic ambitions which is one reason why it moved from unfashionable Woolwich (curiously the club has a 'Woolwich Suite') to North London and built the famous marble halls of Highbury.   Three clubs stand out for me for hearing very posh accents: Arsenal, Fulham and Oxford United (when they played in Headington).

Kuper points out 'that football still sells its nostalgia for a working-class past.'   This still works after a fashion because many football supporters are first generation middle class, coming from a working class background.   Kuper notes, 'The game cannot become unabashedly 1 per cent, like the luxury travel sector, because that would clash with its "brand values"'.

Rugby union was strongly associated with the upper middle class but, as it becomes more popular, is broadening its appeal, particularly among women.   However, most supporters are relatively prosperous.   Rugby league had authentic northern working class origins, which is why the two codes were kept so rigidly apart.    The competition has been 'modernised', but it still retains some of its authenticity.

I used to have a season ticket at ice hockey and the crowd there seemed to me to be more blue collar than at football,  There's a dissertation in this somewhere.