“Living in England,” the Screaming Jets assured us back in 1992, “I don’t have to act like I’m having fun”.
Strangely, the most English thing about the song was the couple of bars of Rule Britannia at the start and the fact it is easily the Newcastle reprobates’ most punk ditty. The lyrics were mainly about New Orleans and the movie Angel Heart.
Nonetheless, since I now live in England I often find myself playing the song on YouTube or Spotify, searching for new meaning.
It turns out that when you live in England you may not have to act like you’re having fun, but you do have to act like sport is still pure.
Saracens rugby union club has been relegated after blatant, calculated salary cap breaches involving investments from owner Nigel Wray. Their fines totalled more than £5 million (A$9.5 million). Yet you have people arguing there should be no salary cap anyway because there isn’t in soccer.
The change in management at Saracens will mean a plan for the Toronto Wolfpack to play their home game against St Helens at Allianz Park on 29 February will fall through, with a triple-header at London Broncos’ Trailfinders Ground now the most likely substitute.
As touched on before, the Wolfpack are at the San Andreas Fault between British sporting tradition and how things work in the rest of the world. In rugby league you still get British people arguing there should be no play-offs because there isn’t in soccer. There should be no overseas teams in Super League because there isn’t in soccer.
Now that they have the video referee in soccer there is enormous opposition because it goes against ‘the spirit’ of sport.
I encounter many who argue the Wolfpack shouldn’t be full of foreigners because – hang on, why exactly? Some 61 per cent of players in the Premier League are from overseas; a recent study found it to be the European league third most reliant on foreigners.
There is no salary cap and no draft; the team with the deepest pockets should win. Yet in a spectacular feat of doublethink, the entire nation equates this grotesque capitalism with the sanctity and nobility of sport, while applying US-style socialism to sports leagues is perceived as artificial and uncouth!
As long as they are wearing the same shirts, these are still medieval townsfolk kicking around a severed head and nothing should be done to sully their integrity – except pay the townsfolk £10,000 a week and import them from the four corners of the clearly still flat earth.
Nowhere is sport reduced more to commerce than where it is merely a battle of rich men, surely?
Yet this simple truth – like the one in the Folau column I wrote: God simply does not exist – about sport being a business in the entertainment sector sends thousands of my friends and readers running for the nearest hill with their hands over their ears.
They will point to years of history and colours and iconic stadia. They will cite the recent outpourings of support for Rob Burrow, the Leeds stalwart diagnosed with motor neurone disease, and for Mose Mosoe, the Samoan prop who suffered a career-ending spinal injury.
But other entertainers – musicians, actors, artists – would benefit from similar outpourings. If you’re in a public-facing industry, your circle of acquaintances, including those who are aquatinted with you even if you’ve never met them, is exponentially greater.
And, yes, because sport is volunteer-driven at the bottom – unlike, say, Hollywood – there is a greater sense of community.
Thank God for that too – pro sport would not be able to afford to operate if it had to pay everyone who feeds its machine. Imagine the same number of credits at the end of a Friday night footy game as a Hollywood blockbuster, listing every junior coach and jumper-washer. In Hollywood everyone in that credit list gets paid; in sport only about five per cent would be rewarded for their contribution to what you have just seen.
Sport is a pastime that keeps kids off the street, and as such the stars of tomorrow – who will one day sell pay television subscriptions, season tickets, cars, booze and merchandise to the masses – can be developed at minimal expense to people who don’t get paid with the help of government grants!
People who think sport can’t be a business because it is full of uncertainty, bravery and skill aren’t overestimating sport; they’re underestimating business. Those qualities exist in many other things that are sold – art, music, film – and even in the process of selling them.
It’s okay to admit that the jersey you cherish is just a piece of material, your seat at the ground is just a chunk of plastic and your favourite player from the seventies is just a bloke like your grandad.
That’s all they were when your grandad followed the team too. Your sense of nostalgia surrounding a sporting team is no different to your sense of nostalgia surrounding an old couch or a bird that nests in the backyard the same time of the year.
If you feel the magic, if it seems like more than the sum of its parts to you, that’s all that matters.
That sense of nostalgia, that belief that a seat or a shirt or a date have some transcendent value, that is product that is being peddled here.
Your belief that sport is more than business is exactly the thing the business of sport is selling you.