You can pinpoint the moment football stopped being a sport and became a multi-million pound business as the moment the Premier League was created and the Sky contracts were signed. From that moment the notion of the larger clubs sharing their television income with the league’s smaller clubs was dead. Now the Premier League clubs would keep their own pots of gold, and the others would start to scrabble around in an all too smaller pond.
The bigger clubs paid the biggest wages, attracted the best players, and started to establish a self-contained elite which would become increasingly difficult for others to break into. That is why Hull’s explosion this year has been so welcome… Hull ain’t little, but in football terms they have had a meteoric raise. The money men, from home and abroad, saw the millions being made and thought they would take a punt on it too. The players, remember them, decided if there was a larger cake, they too wanted their enormous slice. There can’t be many businesses with a turnover of 30-40 million pound who pay a dozen or so employees over a million pound a year.
Anyway… the point of this rant is to say that on Saturday this week we will be able to identify a similar moment in cricketing history, and it is splendidly covered in today’s Guardian, It’s all over now, the day cricket loses its soul.
The match is a disgrace at almost every level, and not just because its Texas billionaire backer, Sir Allen Stanford, has spent the past week on a dollar-driven ego trip, parading around his private ground, hogging the limelight and cavorting with the England players’ wives. The key charge against the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), which sanctioned the game, is that it is has sold its soul for the Stanford millions (the ECB gets 3.5m dollars regardless of the result).
When 11 players involved in a single 20-20 slog-it match can earn a million pounds for a night’s work, what chance is there for teamwork amongst those who don’t make the cut playing alongside those who do for a 3 months Ashes tour for a few thousand quid. Or those same caviar billionaires playing the same game as the bread-and-butter stock bowlers plodding uphill into the wind on a cold April morning in Blackpool. Two different games… played by two different animals, using two different codes of what we once called cricket.
The thin end of a very fat wedge, I suspect.