1960s >> 1962 >> no-700-december-1962

A Goal for the Future

The reserves had just won their first home match of the season by four goals to one. Discussing the merits of the game, the spectators gradually drifted from the stands and terraces towards the gates. In the roadway outside the ground small knots of men conversed animatedly, moving aside only to avoid the cars wending their way gingerly between them. In the reflected glare of the half-dimmed floodlights a crowd of men and a few women stood expectantly around the office doors of the club, their faces displaying anxiety reminiscent in a very mild way of the poignant pictures of those who wait at the pit head after a mine disaster.

 

It had been announced by loud speaker during the interval that the first team, playing away that evening against the erstwhile leaders of the First Division, were losing 2—0 at half-time. This was East London’s least fashionable football team, “a rummage sale bargain outfit,” but, nevertheless, recent proud entrants into the Senior division after fifty years or more of wooden spooning in the lower divisions.

 

The full-time score would shortly be known and the fans were reluctant to depart, hoping against hope to hear that their heroes had at least forced a draw. The look of mingled concern and hope on their faces was almost pathetic and demonstrated a touching loyalty to the club which most of them had probably supported for many years.

 

Interest in sport, like that in hobbies and study, is not, in itself, an unhealthy thing. Man does not live by bread alone and it is understandable that, after a week of monotonous toil, many a worker finds refreshment and stimulation at the weekly football match, where he can give vent to his feelings and for a short time release himself from the inhibitions and frustrations of workaday life. Healthier still would be the active participation of all people, young and old, in some form of recreative sport which, no doubt, would result in producing a human race less subject to the physical and mental infirmities so rife today. But that happy state of affairs is reserved for the time when the present money-making system, in which playing fields and other sports facilities give way to the demands of more profitable undertakings, will be replaced by a sane system of society in which workers will not toil to the point of exhaustion and will have the energy to enjoy the ample leisure time that such a system would ensure.

 

Today most of us enjoy sport only as a spectacle and as a means of entertainment. Capitalism, always ready to oblige where profit may be made, has commercialised many forms of sport and hundreds of thousands of people now pay to be delighted and excited by the performance of highly skilled and well trained professional sportsmen, particularly in boxing, tennis, cricket and football, both Association and Rugby. Association football, formerly the preserve of public school and university men, has in the twentieth century been taken to the hearts of the working class. Professionalism has grown rapidly. In the early years of the century footballers’ pay was comparatively poor, but some workers were able to augment their incomes from their regular jobs by playing for the local club at weekends. Many a famous player has begun his career while working in some Scottish or South Wales mine or Lancashire mill.

 

Today full-time professionalism is the rule and despite the fall in gates at football matches during the past few years professional footballers, by resolute trade union action, have succeeded in obtaining much better rates of pay and conditions. In addition the star system has emerged by which outstanding players who attract large gates are able, by taking advantage of the competition between clubs for their services, to command much higher wages than average while club managers acquire ulcers and disburse tens of thousands of pounds in striving to capture them for their clubs. Naturally, it is the richest clubs which can pay most money, so that the tendency is for the stars to gravitate towards them. Football club profit depend upon large gates, so—woe to the manager whose team fails to draw in the paying spectators. His days are numbered.

 

Football pools are another example of profit-making applied to sport. Weekly, the proceeds of millions of small stakes are distributed among a lucky few, after the pools promoters have taken their slice. Every Saturday evening during the season millions of workers, with fingers crossed and bated breath, scan the football results in the classified editions, hoping that, at long last, the winning line has turned up to lift them out of the “affluence” of the working class into the real ease and independence of the capitalist class.

 

The knowledge of sports lore exhibited by some fans is nothing short of amazing. To listen to a discussion by such people can be very enlightening. Workers, whose memories are notoriously short about politicians’ electoral promises, are found to be highly efficient in remembering the results of matches (the names of goal-scorers thrown in for good value) and the names of winners of horse-races that took place in the far distant past. To understand and explain the complicated rules of various games seems child’s play to people who, we are told, will never be logical enough to grasp the principles of Socialism. The way many a worker effortlessly overcomes the intricacies of the back pages of the 12 o’clock editions reminds one of the graceful ease of a Grand National winner taking a hurdle and disproves any contention that working class brains are inferior. And as for loyalty and enthusiasm—well, one has only to witness an argument, between two opposing fans to see that these qualities are not lacking.

 

There is nothing to deplore in the interest that workers show in sport or in any other pleasant or useful leisure occupation. However, we cannot help thinking, when we observe the crowds of workers at football matches and other sports events, that if only a fraction of the thought and energy, loyalty and enthusiasm which are devoted to sport interests were diverted to the study and propagation of Socialist principles and ideas and the building up of a strong Socialist movement, how much nearer would be brought the day when the world would be freed from the evils of capitalism.

 

In a moneyless Socialist world in which the means of production and distribution would be owned by all in common, each would contribute to the work of Society according to ability and receive according to need. Profit-making and buying and selling would have been ended and hence money would be unnecessary. Commercialism, therefore, would cease to exist in sport just as it would disappear in every other sphere of social life. In the same way as the means of life would be produced only for use and would be free to all, so would sports be indulged in only for the fun of the game and facilities to take part in them would be available in abundance to everybody.

 

No longer would there be the need for extra monetary inducement to win games, nor the buying and selling of footballers like bullocks at a cattle market. Freed from their price-tags the better players would be valued for what they really are, not supermen, but skilful players very dependent for their success on the competence of their team mates. In a world of human co-operation and harmony the only competition would be in such activities as sport and the most highly-prized reward for the prowess of the player would be the applause and admiration of his fellowmen. How different from the petty viciousness of the commercial competition which pervades most of social life in the present profit-making system with its industrial strife, class and racial hatreds and destructive wars!

 

Fellow football fans:

 

Socialism is a goal worth working for!
“So now to the task of ending Capitalism.
UP, UP, UP -to World Socialism.”

 

(With apologies to the writer of Leyton Orient’s programme notes.)

 

Socrates.