We all know that our city has been shat on repeatedly for decades by those in power. The foodbanks, like the NUFC foodbank being run by some fantastic volunteers, are just the latest outcome of this. The fact that these initiatives have to exist in one of the world’s wealthiest economies is absolutely disgusting – ignore that austerity bullshit, this country has money to spend if it wants to. How does this link to football? Recently, the never dull hierarchy at Newcastle United dropped the answer right in my lap. Unfortunately, as is often the case with our current ownership, what they dropped was another steaming pile of horseshit.
Having cleaned myself off, I can answer the question that I’m sure you are all asking. “What the fuck has this HMRC stuff got to do with foodbanks and politics?” Well, thanks for bringing that up. When we hear rumour – and for my own legal well-being, I will describe these only as rumour at the moment – of alleged tax dodging as part of transfers to and/or from our club over recent years it is just another example of a wealthy, borderline corrupt elite milking all they can off the top whilst the rest of us are left wallowing in the previously mentioned piles of manure. They float off unscathed, Marty McFly style, as we are left like Biff in a pile of dung.
Within the world of football billionaire owners dodging taxes, rake in ever expanding TV millions, and play with clubs like toys whilst the fans are expected to spend ever higher amounts of their ever shrinking income on tickets (particularly away tickets) and ever more numerous pieces of merchandise. Despite all of this, fans are still vilified at any given opportunity. We will still be described at regular intervals as delusional despite the fact that tens of thousands of us have stuck to their support through all of this.
The same discourse follows us outside of football too. Amazon, google, costa, starbucks, topshop (I’ll stop, this list could fill the full thousand words) avoid paying almost any tax. The government then praise these companies when they agree to pay some of what they owe which, in the case of Google, was a deal that equated to a 3% tax rate. At the same time, benefits for those who are genuinely in need are decimated by that same callous, wealthy group of government officials. In the interests of avoiding criticism of those at the top, the very poorest in society are demonised as ‘scroungers’. Then more tax-dodging companies like G4S and Atos are employed to chase down those ‘scroungers’ as if they are the guilty ones. And then people die. This is no exaggeration for effect, within recent years the number of individuals who have died after being declared ‘fit for work’ stretches, by some estimations, into the thousands. Official figures are kept well under wraps.
And this is where we return to foodbanks and to NUFC. For many, some sort of benefits are necessary to live and feed their families despite being in work due to the prevalence of low paid, part-time only or zero hours contract work. These are not people avoiding work, another disgusting myth that a range of media are complicit in keeping going, these people are in work but still in poverty. How can that be something that still happens? How fucking disgusting is that? Whilst our club might be ok with advertising that the foodbank are collecting, and supporting the foodbank, we have to remember that the guy at the top, with his horrific working conditions and love for zero-hours contracts is a huge part of why these things need to exist in the first place.
This is where football becomes intensely political, much as we might sometimes wish to forget that. This summer Mike Ashley might choose to give Rafa (if he stays) a huge budget. That would take some sort of road to Damascus change of attitude, but hypothetically let’s say that does happen. In the fickle world of football that kind of action could mask everything else that he does in the rest of his business empire. Even if that did happen, even if we suddenly start spending big money and competing for trophies (very unlikely I know), I believe it is important that we don’t lose sight of the kind of person Ashley is. The same would apply to any new owner that came in if the club was sold.
This kind of issue is particularly important as we move towards a general election. Each time we pass the foodbank collection point on the way in to a match we should remember that it is the actions of seven years of Tory rule that have left people relying on these charities. They have no interest in taking any serious action against the likes of Ashley and that style of business. A few vaguely awkward questions at a parliament select committee and nothing more. If we are looking for some real change within the country, real action against tax dodging, against zero-hours contracts, against the demonising of the poor, then there has to be a change. Not only can such a change help people in our city who have been forced into poverty, but it can also help shut down the kind of culture that has super-wealthy players, owners and agents dodging taxes all over the place with little to no fear of reprisal. That has to be good for football.
I must admit, in terms of a plan of action on how we can use our football support to achieve that end goal I am at a loss, but I am open to suggestions. Let’s start talking about it rather than ignoring it, and let’s take inspiration from some other openly, brashly political football clubs.