Thursday, March 23, 2006

Osama Buys the Yankees!

Commentary by Martin Kelly
July 21, 2004

You could see the headlines spinning towards you, like a montage from a newsroom movie of the ‘40’s. Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Osama buys the Yankees! Take me out at the ball game! Extra! Extra!

Now before CK Rairden and Glenn Rabney suffer a collective stroke over at the Sports Bar, it’s nonsense, of course. But its equivalent may be about to happen in England, where on July 17th, it was reported by the Channel 4 News that Muammar Gaddafi may be poised to take control of London Premiership soccer club Crystal Palace, providing another ugly twist for the beautiful game.

It’s been a pretty ugly year for soccer. Europe’s premier competition, the European Championships, was won for the first time by Greece. Although they were worthy winners (yawn) they play soccer like a Sunday league pub side from Dundee, very physically and very defensively. As a result, the winners turned out to be the game’s worst possible advert in the year’s most watched tournament.

In recent years, doping scandals have been far more prevalent. Indeed, one of England’s potential stars, defender Rio Ferdinand, didn’t make it much past the middle of the season before being slapped with an eight-month global ban for failing to take a dope test. Ferdinand’s absence was one of the main reasons cited by English commentators for their early bath, rather on focussing on the unpleasant home truth that England’s national coaches seem to be obdurately opposed to training for penalty shoot-outs.

But the Gaddafi purchase would take soccer’s corruption to a whole new level. And the father of the feast, the man who started the whole ball rolling, was one Keith Rupert Murdoch.

In 1993, the old English First Division re-formed into the Premiership. Murdoch came along, offered the Premiership a massive wedge of cash for rights to broadcast matches on his Sky Television satellite station and the ‘well-known local businessmen’ who ran England’s top clubs at the time grabbed it with both hands. As a result, even 11 years later, even with falling TV revenues, the amount of money sloshing about English top-flight soccer is staggering, and that sadistic little djinn from Tripoli, sorry, our new partner in peace and prosperity, wants a piece of it.

He’ll probably get it, of course. Tony’s shaken his hand. That will make it all right. It might not make it right for all the Northern Ireland folk who were killed and maimed by the weapons and explosives that Gaddafi provided to the IRA in the ‘80’s, the vast bulk of which haven’t yet been decommissioned by those human rights loving volunteers. It might not be all right for the family of WPC Yvonne Fletcher, murdered by a bullet shot from the windows of the Libyan Embassy in 1984. It might not be all right for the townsfolk of Lockerbie, killed in their beds by the pious and humble Abdelbaset Al-Megrahi, sometime Libyan Chief Spook on Malta. But we’ll get used to it, because that’s business and business is more important than lives so you’ll just get used to it and shut up about it.

The Italians have had to get used to it. Gaddafi now owns 7.5% of the mighty Juventus of Turin. Juventus were once wholly owned by Fiat Auto, making them the world’s most exclusive factory team. However, its owners, the plutocratic Agnellis, decided that there might be some advantage to them in letting little Muammar join the game. This is not by any manner of means Gaddafi's first foray into Italian soccer – his son, Saad al-Gaddafi, is a pretty useful player, and has been a registered professional at both Perugia and Lazio. At the very least, if he takes over the national team there should be no need for him to have to use Uday Hussein’s training methods.

It’s all lunatic. After Yvonne Fletcher’s murder, letting Gaddafi buy Crystal Palace would be like Osama purchasing the Yankees. It shouldn’t happen, but it will, because the people we vote for seem to love people with money more than they love principle or honour. And that says more about the people who lead us, and by extension us ourselves, than it could ever say about Gaddafi. Which is, like, frightening.