Sunday, December 4, 2022

Once more football is a shining light in the darkness

Day after day as I walk through Dublin’s city centre, I am saddened by the sight of so many homeless people. People in sleeping bags in alcoves and under awnings. People begging for change for a hostel – a particularly difficult one as the people seeking shelter far outweigh the available beds and at this time of year when it gets cold and wet it’s a real challenge for those who try and care for those in need. People who have problems with drink, drugs, or mental health who look lost and have literally nowhere to go so sit slumped in doorways as the world passes them by without trying to make eye contact.

It’s not a problem unique to Dublin, I realise. You see it in almost every major city these days. There are people in awful situations everywhere, and even with the best will in the world and a pocket full of change there isn’t enough any one of us can do on an individual basis.

What’s great, however, is that football once again is showing us the way. Teaching us how we should dig deeper and look after those who are in genuine need. Take, for example, outgoing Premier League chairman Richard Scudamore. This poor man earned a basic salary of just £900,000 per year but with bonus it came to a trifling £2,500,000 annually. He’s been replaced by a woman named Susanna Dinnage, who comes from the Discovery group and was recently head of Animal Planet. Let’s hope her experience with shark week prepares her for the new job in football, eh what?!

But back to poor Richard. After 19 year as CEO and then Executive Chairman of the Premier League during which he’s earned tens of millions of pounds and no doubt been looked after with a very nice expense account, he now finds himself down on his luck. Soon enough, he’d be shivering in a doorway, a few words scrawled on a piece of cardboard he’d found in a dumpster imploring people to help him find a bed for the night, a few morsels to eat, maybe some clean and dry clothes. Once he had that, he could get back on his feet, turn temporary accommodation in a little flat somewhere, then a part-time job and from there if he worked hard enough he could see out the remainder of his life in some small measure of comfort even if it wasn’t what he’d been accustomed to.

Yet before it could even get to that point, we saw the true heart of football. Chelsea’s Chairman Bruce Buck, a man who has helped the flow of money into the game – like a gavage of Russian oligarch’s wealth down the throat of the Premier League goose – couldn’t bear the idea of this poor wretch being discarded so heartlessly. He knew he had to do something before it was too late, before sickly Dicky ended up on the scrapheap, getting pissed on by drunken louts as he shivered under an archway on a freezing cold night, his meagre possessions beside him in a small cart he’d found down by the railroad tracks earlier that day.

So he sat at his desk and wrote a letter imploring others to help him help old Scudes:

“Can we as football club owners really stand by and watch this happen to a man who has done so much for us and our wealth? Remember, this is the man who helped negotiate the TV deals, now worth billions and from which we profit massively? Sure, they weren’t good for the fans or dare I say ‘customers’, haha, who now have to pay more every year to watch the games because we made them think more choice was good but in reality more choice = more expense to them and more ching-ching-dollar-signs for us.

“It is our duty to care for him in this time of greatest need. All I’m asking is a little stipend, just enough to keep him going, say a quarter of a million pounds from each of us. That five million pound ex gratia payment, on top of what he was sure to have received from the Premier League on his departure, will probably be sufficient to keep him going for a while and help him get back on his feet.

“There might be a bit of push back from fans who think that £250,000 from each owner could be better spent on grassroots football, community projects, investment in staff or resources or – hilariously – subsidising ticket prices so we can bring the game to the next generation of fans, but I ask you to think about who really matters here. It’s not the people who go to games every week, it’s the man who proposed Game 39, has presided over the influx of owners whose backgrounds and sources of wealth don’t matter – nor do their intentions for the clubs, and has made the Premier League the ‘best league in the world’ with an incredible no Champions League winners in the last ten years.

“Do the right thing here folks! Dig deep for our old pal Rick and save him from a miserable existence where people with more simply walk past him day in, day out.”

As we head towards Christmas, a time of year when our excesses in terms of food and drink sometimes make us take stock and consider the lives of those less fortunate, it’s great that The Scudster won’t become football’s Tiny Tim. A sickly waif, penniless and frail, but now saved from certain death by 20 Scrooges who will make sure that he gets the medicine he needs and enough rations to get him through the day. Maybe one day he’ll grow up big and strong and return the favour to someone else in similarly dire straits.

And for us, we can just bask in the warm glow of the Premier League hierarchy doing the right thing, and showing us the way.

God bless these wonderful owners and the example they set us all.

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