From the album ‘The Legendary Skatalites’ (1976)
When it comes to current events the immediate attention of most lies elsewhere.
Dwelling on it all too long, that we have the most craven self-interested government imaginable in charge for this situation, one that’s courted and grasped Russian wealth so enthusiastically that it’s reluctant to impose tougher sanctions, only promotes a sense of helplessness. This is a point on which I’ll return to.
Anyway, before Putin’s latest vainglorious display of authoritarianism, I was doing my usual, listening to music on YouTube. Discovering new music is one of the few things it’s good for these days, the others being Limmy, this fascinating channel that explores the human condition, and this fantastic dog grooming channel (I accept your judgement without any fucks given), but for some reason in the up next queue on the right side of the page a video titled “Kathleen Stock discusses gender identity with Iain Dale” appeared.
This raised many questions, primarily – why did the YouTube algorithm suggest this to me?
The only cogent theory this mediocre can muster is that it’s linked to a recent search for a song I heard on NTS radio, with the intent of finding it and adding it to a music playlist I have saved on YouTube. The tinfoil hat theory is that YouTube is pushing gender politics. Anyway, the song is 1983’s Transformation by Nona Hendryx (no relation to Jimi Hendrix). It’s a sweet synth-pop offering with a kicking funk baseline, and of greatest relevance here: lyrics which refer to people changing gender and having cosmetic surgery. The topic of gender fluidity was a burgeoning topic back then thanks to Prince’s unashamedly effeminate flourishes, garish garb and high vocal pitch and cosmetic surgery thanks to Michael Jackson’s facial features becoming more ‘defined’.
Still, that link seems a somewhat tenuous. That said, YouTube didn’t force me to watch the Kathleen Stock interview, which I began to. Curiosity, eh?
A couple of weeks later I mostly regret satiating it. And I’m questioning my sanity by trying to write on this subject, when the surrounding debate has become an intractable gristly stew of sniping, mostly between some very sad fanatics. Being a cis adult male (does anyone else loathe the term cis?), preferred pro-nouns in the workplace aside, this topic just hadn’t piqued my interest or affected me.
That’s because trans-people are a miniscule demographic, but the fervour of the trans-rights advocates on their behalf certainly doesn’t give that impression. Just an observation, but I was struck by the vast majority of the trans-activists not being trans-folk, perhaps that just proves the scarcity. I’m far more interested in hearing what actual transgender folk’s life experiences and perspectives are than what their advocates or opponents think.
Of all the viewpoints I encountered, Helen Joyce, who has written a well-received book on the subject, offered the most comprehensive and persuasive stance on each strand. It was rational, logical, balanced, and she’s done her research. She rightly stated that progress has traditionally been carried out by empowering oppressed, marginalised or minority groups, so there’s a certain prevailing inclination from many in Western culture (which, being the secular liberal sort, I share) to apply the same treatment to trans-people. This partly explains the ‘progress’ we’ve seen to date limiting discrimination against them, particularly when seeking employment, and quite right too.
That invariably leads to the question of what progress is? Egalitarianism? But part of achieving egalitarianism is determining what’s fair, and how do you determine that? These tend to be the kinds of questions that should always be asked when change is sought or considered.
I always understood the process to be this – if you want change, the onus is on you to argue for it. I may think Scottish Independence is the best way forward for Scotland, but deploying tactics that railroad, obfuscate and shame others into supporting my position likely won’t bring the sustainable change I’d like to see.
I’m sympathetic to trans-people and those who suffer from gender dysphoria, but I came away distinctly unimpressed, in fact worried for those that suffer from it, by the justifications for the use of transitioning as a blanket solution for the various kinds of gender dysphoria people experience. Everyone is different, and so every case is.
This issue is problematic for many reasons, starting with the disingenuous conflating of gender and sex as one entity when they clearly aren’t the same thing, and attempts to place the characteristic of gender above all others, including someone’s sex. The vast majority of people want clarity on the terminology and for it align with the biology, and so there is inevitably going to be some pushback and confusion when it doesn’t. Most of us have been brought up on the facts; men are men, women are women (and they’re different and that’s okay) and pro-nouns (gender) are a personal preference, which anyone with a modicum of decency will happily cater to.
But attempting to render biological facts as inconsequential is nigh on impossible without resorting to dishonesty, so it’s little wonder tactics to cancel or silence are deployed against those who dare to object against self-declared gender being placed above biological sex, and that those who do, no matter how calmly they make their point, must be Terfs arguing against trans-people and trans-rights (see JK Rowling). Not to go all Jordan “piety” Peterson on this, but I also find the attempts to control the language on this topic with definitive statements; “trans-women are women” or “only women have uteruses” and the debate’s starting point being firmly rooted in identity politics to be unhelpful and irrelevant.
Certain logistical concerns, which seem to pre-occupy most women, are problematic too. Allowing male bodied people (who self-ID as women) in women’s changing rooms, bathrooms and prisons doesn’t strike me as sensible or fair to anyone. This can be solved with pragmatic accommodations, say separate spaces or facilities, and this would help ensure the safety of trans-people. That won’t satisfy the trans-rights hardliners, whose dogma and vanity has made them too intolerant to accept a compromise, or any kind of discussion.
There are some ghastly figures on the opposite side too. Siding with Graham Linehan – writer of Father Ted (any excuse to post the above) and Black Books – on this subject would make any reasonable person feel uneasy. There’s something decidedly off-putting about him, his pious tone, a crusading, obsessive counter-balance to the other side of the divide. Part of my unease is he’s offering the trans-rights fanatics straw man takes that keeps the debate on a hysterical terrain. Here he compares performing gender reassignment operations on children and giving them puberty blockers to the Nazis experimenting on Gypsys and Jews at Auchwitz. Comparing those who opt for something, even if they are under legal age, with people who didn’t sign up to become Holocaust victims, is not clever.
I’m certainly not against hormone treatments or gender reassignment surgery, for adults. Once someone turns sixteen, in the eyes of the law they’re an adult, their body, their choice. It’s that simple. No exceptions.
But it’s on this point that the extreme wing of the trans-rights body reveals itself as completely unhinged, they’re advocating circumventing child safe-guarding to allow puberty blockers to be given to pre-pubescent kids. They’re also campaigning to remove the current legal impediments and layers of medical bureaucracy that exist in certain countries that are preventing this. There’s lots we don’t know about gender dysphoria, and more specifically what causes it, but what we do know is that giving puberty blockers to children prevents their sexual organs from developing adequately, and makes them sterile, which can lead to serious health risks, especially in girls.
This is an unspoken scandal. The practice has now been banned by a hospital in Sweden, yes, Sweden, of all places. Check out the cultish dialogue of this very creepy Australian woman trying to justify it with sweeping generalisations. People of her ilk are a danger to psychologically vulnerable children, who may not understand the consequences of taking said medication. Essentially ten to twelve year olds, at an emotionally volatile age, are making life altering decisions that most adults who transition struggle with. This becomes doubly concerning when an uncomfortably high number of kids with gender dysphoria feel suicidal, and there’s no clear data or consistent evidence that giving them puberty blockers truly alleviates their depression or anxiety about the sex of their body. Then there’s a growing number of testimonies by those who reached a mature age and felt regret, realising that what they felt at the time was ‘just a phase’ (hey, we all have them), that they’re just gay (mostly) and choose to de-transition.
The trans debate is so problematic because it introduces a conflict between two traditional characteristics of all stable western democracies, the progressive sense of fair play, which drives the push to construct as inclusive a society as possible, and creating public policy and laws based on evidence and common sense. Ideally, both elements support the same conclusion, as they did legalising homosexuality and giving women the vote.
We often conflate what’s fair with what’s right. And that’s where the moral discomfort comes in, there’s no easy or obvious solution to some of the issues surrounding how we treat trans-people and under age people who want to transition. It’s a mess because we may have to acknowledge there is no optimal solution. Just as there isn’t in the Ukraine right now.
Maybe you think I’m a transphobe for stating that (I’m too old to be arsed if you do). I’ll end with this – trans-people should have as many rights as we can possibly give them, but in a way that’s fair and not at the expense of the safety of others or themselves. That seems fair to me.
From the album ‘Logic’ (1983)
From the single ‘Big Car’ (1974)
It’s fitting that a significant section of society and its institutions should begin to emulate the behaviour of the government it elected. Still, while too many did, most didn’t vote for Boris Johnson. And no wonder, even before being elected Tory leader enough saw him for what he was – a man who’ll do anything, say anything (especially if he thinks you want to hear it) and fuck over anyone, just to maintain and or improve his position.
Johnson is a toff, so “the footer” is played with the incorrectly shaped ball (which gives me an excuse to link this), but even he must envy the effectiveness of the Premier League’s PR in normalising its dysfunction. It’s the Boris Johnson lead Tory government of sporting institutions; selfish, greedy, completely without shame and oblivious to its staggering short-sightedness. But then the latter characteristic is somewhat understandable when you keep getting away with it.
So, why bring up the cockmonkey currently smearing his own faeces on the walls of Ten Downing Street? Well, Boris Johnson eased Coronavirus restrictions, despite a spike in Omricon cases, a populist move, motivated, partly, you suspect, to obfuscate his wee act of rank hypocrisy from May 2020. Ultimately, his day of reckoning will come. When the Premier League’s will arrive, however, is unclear.
As Boris Johnson will attest, life comes at you fast when you’re winging it. In January alone we had Chris Wood going to Newcastle for £25m (just to repeat – Chris Wood, out of contract in the summer and having scored three goals in the league this season, being signed for twenty-fucking-five million British pounds), Derby County on the precipice of going bust because their owner’s a grasping cunt, and then Manchester City winning their umpteenth league game in a row (and seemingly on their way to a fourth title in five seasons) by suffocating oligarch owned Chelsea, one of their supposed rivals for the league title, with such ruthless ease that the game was exceedingly dull, partly because the outcome wasn’t in doubt. All are a legacy of the Premier League resisting regulation, only being answerable to its own members (when it chooses) and football in general falling prey to the free market.
Being reactionary for the sake of it tends not to solve anything. Removing Boris Johnson will still see this disgustingly incompetent Tory government remain in charge, for a period. However, and carrying on with the journalese clichés, it’s better to do something than nothing, and something has to be done about state of the Premier League today and more importantly the direction it’s heading in.
To repel the European Super League breakaway last year, a suitably opportunistic mobilisation of bingo wings flapped for reform. While it didn’t elide it, not enough focus was aimed at the biggest issue, the Premier League can’t be trusted to self-regulate (can anything?) and the Football League lacks the legal authority to ensure its members are ran sustainably. Unchecked, this laissez-faire attitude to sporting integrity and sustainability, that anyone can own its clubs, that they can be purchased via leveraged buy-outs, bankrolled with dangerous levels of excess borrowing or sugar daddy injections of capital, has already started to erode the keystone of the Premier League’s growth – competitiveness and unpredictability – that have made it the most watched league in the world.
Some would argue that introducing another sovereign wealth fund to break up the financial and sporting monopoly Manchester City currently enjoy is a virtue, but it’s a lousy solution, and doesn’t change the inevitable course the Premier League has unintentionally set, where it’s now in serious jeopardy of being cannibalised by a pissing contest between two sovereign wealth funds, with one owning one of the worst human rights records on the planet.
But didn’t Leicester City win the title five years ago not long after being promoted? Didn’t Liverpool win the league two years ago spending far less than Manchester City? In both instances you’d be correct. These things did happen. The question is how likely are they to happen again?
And so a game of what if. Perhaps Arsenal and Manchester United sort themselves out. Maybe Liverpool overcome the odds again. Will Spurs stop being Spurs. Chelsea might just get their striker recruitment right one of these summers. Then there’s the rest, Villa are spending a lot of cash to be mid-table, Everton even more to be even worse. It’s not that it’s impossible some of these clubs may be able to compete with Manchester City one of these years if circumstances align favourably, or inevitably Newcastle United in time, it’s how likely and consistently they will be able to. The last four years have shown it’s more a case of Manchester City having to seriously underachieve rather than the other’s succeeding. In this context Liverpool’s league title win in 2019-20 is an outlier, and Leicester’s a complete aberration.
The fact remains, that not even Chelsea, owned by one of the wealthiest oligarchs, and who is prepared to underwrite the yearly operating debts the club incurs, have gotten close to City over the past five years. Liverpool’s recent two year challenge seems an aberration, especially given they’ve spent so little relative to others, rather than a realistic goal to emulate.
A competition is only interesting if it’s competitive. Here are few proposals to encourage that, but not totally enforce it – let’s not be fucking Commie about this – there should be scope for a club to improve its financial income organically and fairly and reap the benefits of doing so. But there should be expenditure limits for sporting integrity and to safeguard clubs from going bust by borrowing too much (or being ripped off). I’ve also included a few other changes I’d like to see implemented that aren’t related to sports-washing, financial doping and sustainability, because, if you’re going to boring, you may as well be thorough.
Proposal number one:
Introduce a wage cap.
The question then becomes how to determine the limit. Allow no club to spend more than sixty percent of its revenue on player wages would be start, but is that going far enough? It would still heavily favour the top clubs who generate far more income than the also-rans. I say base it on the average revenue (commercial, television and matchday) of all Premier League clubs over a three year period.
It’s unlikely such a draconian change would ever be implemented. More likely is a wage cap based on an arbitrary figure that cannot be exceeded, but which is high enough that the majority of clubs likely wouldn’t approach it by choice or their own limitations. You could also exempt the salaries of players, or a percentage of their salaries, who you bring through your own youth system, from counting against this cap. The FA have always sought ways to get more clubs, particularly the top clubs playing European football, to play more English players (even if their talent doesn’t warrant it). Well, the over twenty-one foreign player squad quota of seventeen hasn’t had a real effect. You could meet the clubs halfway on this one, and make all players who come through the system exempt from the cap, domestic and foreign – though I’ll concede this could be abused. Chelsea for instance have twenty players on loan every season – and FIFA’s new rules to stop player hoarding don’t quite go far enough.
Proposal number two:
Actually enforce financial fair play in relation to club expenditure.
“Fuck you and your tough talk”. It certainly hasn’t deterred Manchester City from spending and likely won’t Newcastle United. They’ve sussed that the threat of sanctions is a totally hollow one. Limit the amount of money an owner can spend, over and above the club’s revenue on transfers, agents fees and wages per season.
Clubs should be rewarded for sustainability, and generating revenue through fair and open means, while still benefitting from having consistent success over years and decades. For instance it’s only fair that Manchester United should be able to spend more money on players than Watford and Burnley. They earn more, because they used to make smart decisions.
It would also help prevent clubs from self-harming, or possibly make them think about what they’re doing before acting impulsively. Take Everton, their misguided forays into the transfer market under Farhad Moshiri have left them with a wage to turnover ratio of nearly 90%, this on top of cycling through six managers and spending over £500m on players during the last five years, only to currently be sitting sixteenth. Everton can do this because Moshiri is prepared to underwrite that debt and by converting his loans to the club into an increased shareholding. But just how is his incompetence benefitting Everton?
Proposal number three:
Increase the number of Premier League teams relegated from three to four.
Clearly my long held belief that the quality of the Premier League would increase with contraction from twenty teams to sixteen is a pipe dream. None of these clubs, regardless of their place in the food chain, are voting for less games and less money, and for most of the clubs their chances of relegation increasing exponentially every season.
One of the desired reforms is to distribute more money down the football pyramid. Well, one way to do that is to provide greater access to the top flight’s immense capital. Making Premier League survival less of a certainty instigates a greater churn of clubs taking part in the Premier League, year to year. You could even go a step further and introduce a parachute payment, say three years, that increases the longer a club relegated from the Premier League remains in the Championship. This also prevent clubs from being cravenly beholden to a ‘we must survive at all costs’ cycle, to the point where they ‘break the glass’ and employ the anachronistic methods of Tony Pulis or Sam Allardyce in a state of desperation, inflicting pure misery on us all.
As a bonus amendment to this: make the club who finishes sixteenth face a relegation playoff with the Championship club who finishes runner up in the Championship playoff final. In this theoretical reform will the ridiculously branded Championship playoff winner still receive a trophy, for essentially finishing fourth? Is this the most ridiculous trophy currently in existence? And none of this two legged bullshit they have in Germany where the club who finishes third from bottom of the Bundesliga plays home and away against the club who finishes third in the Bundesliga 2. Make it a one off match. Not only is it a money spinner, a therefore a winner, but, staying on point about spreading the wealth around, the losing side could get a bonus payment for losing out on Premier League revenue.
Proposal number four:
Have an independent body audit each club’s finances, income, expenditure and how much money is paid to agents, playing and coaching staff, including intercompany loans, offshore accounts, holding companies as well as scrutinising the bidding of all commercial agreements each club enters in to. Then publish these results so everyone can see who’s paid what and how the clubs spend their money.
Yes, HMRC will investigate if there’s tax fraud and avoidance, but it’s still quite possible to pay all the taxes and still evade the laughably lax domestic financial fair play rules that currently exist.
For instance, does anyone really believe that Manchester City’s wage bill is what it’s reported to be, or that their sponsorships deals from companies, originating from the same nation as their owners, were subject to fair and open tendering? That without such manipulations City’s reported turnover for the last financial year would be greater than Manchester United’s?
If proposal one is to have any chance of working, this needs to be implemented and the penalties for transgressing severe enough to discourage it. No fines, no point deductions, straight to relegation. The Italians did this over decade ago with the match fixing scandal when they relegated Juventus. Cheating is cheating, and the penalties for it should be severe.
Right now we have the crazy situation where clubs are penalised with a points deduction for going into administration due to financial mismanagement, yet the financially doped clubs escape punishment. You’ll note that this is a hallmark of Boris’s Britain. Cheating is fine if you’re rich, but if you’re poor and can’t pay, well, we’re coming for everything that isn’t nailed down.
Clearly, we know that the Premier League is utterly incapable of policing this, and is clearly unwilling to, so it has to be made to.
Proposal number five:
Make all games available on television, including three o’clock kick-offs on Saturday.
Covid-19 has been as fun as passing a whole pineapple covered in Siriacha sauce, unless you’re a masochist who’s in to being degraded and shredding your prostate. For most of us, one benefit of no fans in the ground was having all the matches spread across several channels, whether it be free-to-air or IPTV, Sky or your subscription TV provider of choice.
The Premier League should be concerned with kyboshing the bigger clubs desire to individually sell the rights to broadcast their own games domestically and abroad. And let’s face it, there’s a massive incentive for the likes of Manchester United and Liverpool to do this, famous clubs, with global followings, as it would represent a means of remaining competitive if Manchester City and Newcastle United were allowed to continue to spend unchecked.
Proposal number six:
Mic up the refs.
Seeing as we’re looking to increase accountability across the board, let’s do so here too. This works in virtually every other sport, including the NFL, both rugby codes and cricket. No more hiding. This also ties in with VAR too. VAR should work perfectly, but it will continue to be undermined if not coupled with transparency of how and why a decision was reached in real time. If those using it can continue to make decisions in silent then conceivably they can do what they want, with little to no chance of ever being held accountable by PGMOL chief and professional sycophant Mike Riley. This is how corruption becomes possible and unfounded suspicions arise.
As a Brucie Bonus, we’ll also catch players in the act of abusing the referee or possibly abusing each other based on race or ethnicity. If the world made any sense the FA should be all for this, given their reputation as pious Jobsworth cunts who love to look tough on racism and sexism, implementing this could continue to help divert attention away from them being one of whitest male institutions around and their resistance to changing that.
Proposal number seven:
Issue shares to fans.
Look, nobody expects the German model to be implemented – the so called 50% plus one share rule – meaning all clubs are owned by the fans, therefore ensuring German football clubs are protected from disgusting leveraged buyout venture capitalist cunts like the Glazer family, George Gillett and Tom Hicks, repulsive cheapskate cunts like Mike Ashley and other forms of paper rich cyphers, such as Alexandre Gaydamak, who gut clubs for their own profit.
Having fan representation at board level is one of the best forms of accountability I can think of for owners of football clubs. Even though I despise the notion that most of these owners view fans as customers (or consumers), in this instance it can be a benefit, as the customer is always right. And while an owner might be able to take the wider public with some good PR, having to justify poor financial or sporting performance directly to shareholders with a vested interest is never an easy task. Here the fans truly become shareholders of ‘their’ business. If football clubs are to be seen and ran as businesses, it’s only right the club should be ran for the shareholders benefit.
Will any of these proposals be implemented, or some version of them? The optimist in me believes that if Boris Johnson remains in situ he may enforce regulations on football if reforms gain enough popularity that it will rehabilitate his. The pessimist in me thinks that’s as likely as Boris Johnson resigning, as increased regulation is in ideological opposition to one of the few core beliefs we can be certain he has. The Fatalist in me believes it may already be too late, and as with the handling of Coronavirus, we got bored of common sense, rejected altruism, prioritised tribalism, ignored the experts and ended up with the worst possible leadership at the wrong time.