Own goals galore

by David Conn, Chris Green, Richard McIlroy and Kevin Mousley
BBC, £6.99, pp. 256, ISBN 0563488581

By chance I picked up Tom Bower’s Broken Dreams shortly after putting down a paperback reissue of Selina Hastings’ biography of Nancy Mitford. Curiously there was a solitary point of contact. This was the description applied by Lady Redesdale, Nancy’s mother, to the collection of preening Oxford aesthetes that her daughter invited to the house for weekends: ‘What a set!’ Invited to meet the 20 chairmen of the Premiership, bidden to dine with the Football Association or inspect the assorted riff-raff operating as ‘agents’, Lady Redesdale, you fear, would have expressed her disdain in rather similar terms.

Driven by the need for instant results, and with much of its money coming in the shape of cash receipts, professional football has always incorporated a hulking sleaze factor. There was a famous match-fixing scandal as far back as 1962, involving the England international Peter Swan, and several of the saintlier managerial figures of soccer legend are thought to have trousered brown envelopes in obscure corners of the grandstand. The exponential heave was administered by satellite television. By 1997 Sky’s offer for four years’ worth of TV rights weighed in at an unheard-of £743 million. Football, previously a game into which quixotically minded businessmen had put money, had become a game from which their rather less quixotically minded successors had determined to take money out.

To any armchair sports fan who affects to believe in the idea of the ‘beautiful game’ (if such a quaintly exotic figure still exists) Bower’s exposZ and the equally enlightening volume produced by the BBC Radio Five Live team will come as a deeply disillusioning experience.

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