17 December 2014

Lutopia and the Living Wage

Division 4’s Luton Town (from the 1980s) recently became the first professional league football club in England to pay its staff at least a Living Wage. I’m not saying we’re creating some kind of Lower League Lutopia or anything, that’s for other people to say... 

Football clubs are more than a business
Football clubs are more than a business
Football clu...

Now I can’t detain the Glazer family or John Gurney and force them, like chubby Bart Simpsons, to scrawl these lines on the blackboard of a windowless room while Home Alone 3 and Home Alone 4 (#AgainstBadFranchiseChristmasFilms) loop one after the other at deafening volume for all eternity, much as I would like to. None of us can, that’s the tragedy. But announcements by FC United and now Luton that clubs like ours are the first to pay a Living Wage chip gently, naggingly away at their shallow version of our game.

To our Nation’s shame, for these men and owners throughout English football, our clubs are often treated as little more than an opportunity to borrow, sell and exploit. Not necessarily even for financial gain it seems, as very few turn a profit; perhaps for vanity, maybe just because they can.

While briefly in control at Luton Town in 2003, a BBC documentary team asked John Gurney whether the club were aware of some of his questionable business dealings. His answer, along with the look on his face, always stuck in my mind. The playing and non-playing staff hadn’t been paid in weeks and were ready to walk, fans were withholding season ticket money and the stadium and the land it stood on was the Council’s. Gurney’s grinning reply: “Who is the club?” 

For Gurney there was no “club” just transient assets (human or otherwise) and a soft target. The staff, the goal posts, the Club Shop(ortakabin); everything was tradable, squeezable and expendable. There was no community, no history and no family here and the supporters were just a trivial annoyance (who would definitely not chase him out of the club car park one day, booting his driver’s-side door). It’s taken a while to reinstate some sense of soul.

When the done-thing for businesses in this country is to pay some staff the minimum wage, a minimum wage that is putting less and less food on the table each year once rent is paid, a little old Football Club like ours taking the lead and committing to pay something even a little bit more dignified, while the oily TV rich of the Premier League refuse, is something to be proud of.

There is no doubt in some ways we’re having to become more commercial in order to survive, but little things like a Living Wage can go a long way towards defining this new Lutopia of ours as something more like a club than a business.

The stronger the team, as he says.

1 comment:

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