“Football is a cultural ritual for the working class,” Jake Campbell, a Newcastle United fan, explains. “The game was born out of industrial towns and factory workers creating teams among themselves in the 19th century. The roots of the game are embedded in working class culture. It is what we look forward to at the end of the week.”
From roaring stadiums to communities in the local boozers of post-industrial towns—football has been the bedrock of British working class culture for generations. Now, like many things, the sport is being hijacked by the upper class—multimillionaire club owners and executives reside far from where the sport began. Despite backlash from football enthusiasts across the globe, the recently announced European Super League could destroy the sport as we know it—along with its working class spirit.
Sunday 18 April saw the announcement of a new league, which has shaken the sport, the industry and its fans to the core. The league will essentially comprise 20 elitist clubs across Europe, including six from England: Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspurs.
If the plans go ahead, give a kiss goodbye to the beloved underdog club taking home the trophy. The formation of the new competition will mean that elite clubs will not be subjected to relegation or promotion—essentially putting an end to the nail-biting competition that the sport is known for.
The proposals have received widespread criticism: from domestic leagues to football federations, UEFA to supporters across the globe. Even Boris Johnson voiced his concern in an interview wearing a ridiculously oversized high-vis and hard hat only just clasping onto his head—I guess to give the illusion he’s a ‘normal’ working person.
Ironically, this is the same Boris Johnson who said inequality is “essential” to the human order, leading a society riddled with inequality—destroying working class communities through gentrification, breaking record numbers of food-banks and showing a complete disregard for those on Universal Credit.
The answer is money. Or to put it more bluntly; greed. The proposed plans have landed the founding clubs a promised grant of £3 billion by the investment bank JP Morgan. A main figure behind the proposed plan, Real Madrid’s president Florentino Perez, claims it will “save football” at a time when young people are “no longer interested” in the sport due to “a lot of poor quality games.” It has nothing to do with adding to his $2.3 billion net worth.
It’s also worth noting that a number of clubs are in considerable debt, which has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, is sacrificing a sport formed and facilitated by working class cultural tradition the price we have to pay? According to out-of-touch billionaires, the answer is yes.
The announcement of the new league is the tipping point of a feeling that’s been brewing for years. Football club owners don’t care about their fans or the communities that have supported their clubs’ growth for generations. Or at least, they don’t care about those two as much as they do for big bucks. After more than a year of empty stadiums, owners have now realised they can exist on TV income alone.
“No matter how much noise fans make, I doubt they will listen—they stopped caring about the working man long ago,” Campbell argues. “For years they have priced the average fan out of football and this is just the next step. All they care about is lining their own pockets.”
“This is a case of the rich stealing from the poor. It destroys what football was built on: genuine competition. How can the average fan be expected to travel across Europe midweek to watch their team play? The rich always aspire to be richer and that almost always comes at the expense of the poor,” he added.
Jess Cumpson, involved with the football media company GallowgateShots, hopes that the “coming together of so many fans, players and managers from different clubs will mean something.” However, she raises concern that “money talks and ignorance will win.” She continues, “it will completely destroy the game we love: it’s devaluating the history of the beautiful game whilst disregarding its future.”
Connall Pugh highlights how the sport, already riddled with corruption, could be heading for a darker future. Global banks, like JP Morgan, “are the ones bankrolling the league, consisting of the wealthiest clubs in the world. It is the perfect playground for all things shady—money laundering and tax avoidance to name a few.”
“It hurts. It feels like a big part of me has died,” Owen Prescott, a passionate Liverpool fan added. “The lack of promotion and relegation speaks volumes as to the intentions of the league. Football has been the only constant in a lot of people’s lives, including my own, and it is being taken from us. Decades of support, centuries of history, is being thrown to the wayside so that a few rich arseholes can get a bit richer. It’s genuinely sickening.”
As of now, it’s unclear whether those at the heart of the controversy will listen to the voices of fans. What’s more clear is that those across the industry, from executives to fans, are unanimously pissed off. This is yet another example of the rich and privileged exercising their power over the working class—stripping them of their culture and identity for a quick buck.
Last week, both The Guardian and The Telegraph published a series of articles shining a light on the fact that professional footballers are “three and a half times more likely to suffer from dementia and other serious neurological diseases.” Multiple concussions and repeatedly performing headers on leather footballs are stated to be the main causes of brain disease. But football has been around since the 19th century, and the Alzheimer’s Society has highlighted that 1 in 4 of us will get dementia, so the real question is what is the link between the two, and, if there is one, is anything being done to prevent or cure dementia?
First, let’s make things clear—dementia and Alzheimer’s are not the same thing. Dementia is best described as an umbrella term for a range of progressive neurological disorders, in other words, conditions affecting the brain. There is a wide range of different types of dementia, and Alzheimer’s is the most common as it accounts for two-thirds of instances. The other three most common types are vascular dementia, frontotemporal (FTD), and dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB). Unfortunately, it is not unusual to also have a combination of different types of dementia.
As some may know, the biggest risk factor with Alzheimer’s is age, as it is a progressive disease that contains three stages. However, it is important to consider that each person will experience dementia in their own way, regardless of what type they may have. Scientists have declared that most forms of dementia are not hereditary, but that in rarer types of it there may be a genetic link, although that only accounts for a small proportion of cases.
In 2017, the Alzheimer’s Society published a study examining the possible link between dementia and head injuries sustained by playing football. Studies published within the article detailed that “the brains of sportspeople after they have died have identified that a condition called Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) could be linked to high-collision sports.” The study was revealed to be particularly complicated as a vast amount of the brains that were examined showed signs of more than one form of dementia. Researchers concluded the study by stating that “based on current evidence, the risk arising from contact sports in the development of dementia remains uncertain. If such a link does exist, the contribution of concussion and milder forms of head injury to overall risk is likely to be small.”
Fast-forward two years later, a new 22-month long research study proving otherwise has sparked wide debate among the media. The statement made by the Telegraph proclaimed that for footballers, “there was a five-fold increase in the risk of Alzheimer’s, a four-fold increase in Motor Neurone disease and a two-fold increase in Parkinson’s.” The research also mentions that, “former footballers were almost five times more likely to have been prescribed dementia drugs.” Additionally, it declares that they are unable to confirm if the causes of brain disease have occurred because of concussions or constant heading of footballs. After these results, the Football Association decided to financially back the research and encourage examinations to continue.
The statistics of people living with dementia or Alzheimer’s are rapidly increasing, so many are turning to science for clarification. Progression towards curing cancer looks promising, but for dementia, it is starting to look more than plausible. Scientists have conducted a sequence of tests that have proved successful for delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s.
Social interaction is the most advised by doctors and nurses, as regular engagement has shown to spark brain connections, which can stimulate activity. Mental and physical exercise have also been tested to see if mental encouragement can slow down the Alzheimer’s, as well as slowing down cognitive declination. Both have been proven to be effective. Encouraging a person living with dementia or Alzheimer’s to keep a well-balanced diet is vital to improve their energy, as well as their memory.
Although it is not yet finalised, medical experts are on the verge of a scientific breakthrough. A mere three years ago, Alzheimer’s Research UK announced that plans for a vaccination that would delay the onset effects of Alzheimer’s were entering an early stage of clinical trials. The vaccine aims to halt, slow or reverse the disease in its tracks, and could possibly be life-changing for those who show symptoms of dementia in its early stages.
Dementia Awareness Month may have just passed by, but for families with people living with dementia or Alzheimer’s, awareness should be a daily occurrence, even though the future remains hopeful with a vaccine in sight. For anyone who wishes to improve their knowledge or understanding of dementia, inquiring at your local care home and spending some time with those living with the disorder is a good start.