My favourite moment in the crisis engulfing football’s governing body, Fifa, came with the intervention of a man called Manuel Nascimento Lopes. Manuel is the Fifa delegate from Guinea-Bissau, an African country which occupies 130th place in the Fifa world rankings but which, far more importantly in this context, punches well above its weight when it comes to institutionalised corruption. Thirteenth in the world, according to the organisation Transparency International — not a bad showing for a smallish sub-Saharan rathole which has been almost permanently engulfed in civil war since the Portuguese got the hell out.
Manuel suggested that to vote against Sepp Blatter remaining as boss of Fifa would be ‘blasphemy’ and added the following observation: ‘If you point three fingers at someone, there is always one you point at yourself.’ I find this a difficult concept to fathom. Why would you point three fingers at anyone? Wouldn’t just one do? And how come one of those fingers is actually pointing at you — isn’t that physically impossible, unless it has been broken by some government thug in a Bissau torture chamber (of which there are plenty, according to Amnesty International)? As for ‘blasphemy’, well, it would not be blasphemous for Manuel and his African brethren to have voted against the hilariously appalling Sepp Blatter. They would instead be ‘pissing on their chips’, to use a phrase which I believe originated in Port Talbot.
Fifa, under Blatter, poured an awful lot of money into the pockets of African delegates, much as it has done with the delegates from the equally corrupt — and in a footballing sense, similarly useless Concacaf nations (that’s North and Central America and the Caribbean). Add to those two another continent which is spectacularly bad at football, but often quite good at corruption, Asia, and you can see how Sepp got his votes. Only one country from the whole of Asia, Concacaf and Africa ranks in the Fifa top 20 for football, and that’s the over-rated Costa Rica. No country from any of these blocs has ever won a World Cup, or is ever likely to. But together, under Blatter’s voting system, they called the tune, no matter what the two blocs who are very good at football — South America and Europe — might want. These last two agglomerations currently provide 19 of the 20 top Fifa footballing countries and have produced every single World Cup-winning nation. And yet they effectively have no say at all in the running of the game. They are outvoted by the likes of Lopes, with his strange three-fingers allusion and room-temperature IQ. (It is true, incidentally, that the BBC, among others, tell us that Africa is absolutely brilliant at football and the coming power. But this is the usual bien pensant wishful thinking which afflicts the Beeb whenever it deals with Africa, be the subject economic growth, human rights or genocide. The continent is arguably poorer at football now than it was a quarter of a century ago.)
So, Sepp wins his vote but resigns a few days later, just as the police are nosing around closer and closer to his throne. Maybe he was the right man, though. There is a very good case for saying that football gets the administration it richly deserves. At the top level the game is foul, corrupt, greedy and amoral — in Europe every bit as much as in Africa or Haiti. The players, in the main, show not a shred of loyalty or commitment to either their clubs or their national teams. They and their horrible, grasping agents are motivated by one thing alone — ever more obscene amounts of money. The gulf between the players and the supporters is now unbridgeable; the players are a different species, and act that way. Pampered, misogynistic, foul-spirited and — it has to be said, overvalued and over-adored.
A formidable proportion of our own clubs are run by egomaniacs and others who have no interest in the traditional supporters. Our football authorities level a ‘fit and proper’ test on prospective owners. To judge by the way that test seems to be applied, the Kray twins, Torquemada, Al Capone and Adolf Hitler would have passed with flying colours. Only the money matters, regardless of how it was ‘earned’ or to where it will shortly disappear.
Only the money matters. The Football Association and the Premier League will rail against Fifa’s manifest and documented corruption, but neither organisation will do anything meaningful about it. The Premier League’s sole worry about the 2022 World Cup being held in a homophobic slave-state — Qatar — was that a winter World Cup would disrupt the domestic programme and thus have an impact upon the dosh they get. Meanwhile, Greg Dyke, chairman of the FA, has said that nothing would be gained by England simply pulling out of the World Cup, by itself. Except, Greg — might it not be the right thing to do? You know, on a point of principle — that we shouldn’t be a party to an organisation in which a whole bunch of the senior officials are out on bail and which has been serially corrupt for at least two decades?
The supporters all the while get short shrift. Ludicrous charges for their weekly tickets and treated, when they arrive at the ground, with grave suspicion and opprobrium; lectured about the rude songs they sing, forced to watch games at inconvenient times in order to keep the TV companies happy, smacked around by the old bill from time to time with impunity, disenfranchised and alienated from the players on the field. All of this stuff is one reason I wasn’t too cut up about my own club being relegated this season. The lower you go — the further away from Manuel and Fifa and the Premier League and carpeted ‘stadia’ and Ronaldo and Messi et al — the pleasanter experience it is to watch football. You can even kid yourself you’re not part of the same repulsive circus.
This is an extract from this week’s issue of The Spectator, available from tomorrow. Subscribe here.