It’s fairly rare that the London Review of Books features an article on football, but it’s perhaps unsurprising that the World Cup in South Africa has prompted one, by R.W. Johnson, a Cape Town resident and apparently a Liverpool supporter. The first half of the article is an excellent local rejoinder to all the hype of the World Cup we will be immersed in over the next six months, reminding us the preparation of the stadia has taken place with little apparent concern for the social needs of the population:
The new Mbombela stadium in Nelspruit, on the edge of the Kruger National Park, is a 43,500-seater suitable only for first and second round matches. Its chief feature is 18 giant roof support columns all built in the shape of giraffes. It’s neat, you could say: the soaring necks hold up the roof while advertising the delights of a quick safari in the park between matches. This stadium, which cost more than £100 million, is cheek-by-jowl with a large settlement of shacks. Despite 15 years of ANC governments that have repeatedly promised them houses, jobs and services, the inhabitants of this squatter camp enjoy close to 100 per cent unemployment, have no electricity and lack any provision for sewage or tapped water. Every time they look at the vast new stadium it tells them that it was not thought worth spending on them even a fraction of the money spent on that.
Worse, when the Franco-South African consortium arrived to construct this monstrosity, they said they needed one or two modern buildings (i.e. buildings with electricity and air conditioning, for it gets unpleasantly hot in the lowveld in summer) to house their accounts, architecture and surveying departments. The only two such buildings available were the local schools, so these were taken over and the children booted out. New schools were promised but meanwhile the children were supposed to attend lessons inside empty containers which had neither windows nor air conditioning. Two years later, there is no sign of new schools being built and latterly this has produced violent protests and rioting by the angry residents. It is highly unlikely that any of them will attend games in the stadium but certain that all manner of international celebrities will, mingling with well-heeled locals.
The rest of the article unhinges itself from the quality one expects of the LRB with chatter about fixed World Cup draws and apparent bemusement that the World Cup doesn’t just feature the world’s 32 highest-ranked teams (thank god, if we’re depending on FIFA’s system), but the first half is certainly worth a read to consider the broader social context of the World Cup as a potential white elephant.
- It looks like Setanta is done for in the United States: it has admirably staggered on with its Premier League, rugby and gaelic football offerings since the collapse of its bigger brother on the other side of the Atlantic, but it looks likely to now be acquired by Fox. EPL Talk speculates that this could mean reduced offerings of soccer (and even more so, rugby and gaelic football) for fans in the United States, as Fox is more likely to cherrypick the best of Setanta’s rights and show them on Fox Soccer Channel than keep Setanta’s two channels going. Or might Fox sublicense more offerings to ESPN for the remainder of the season, especially with college football no longer around for the next few months?
- Notts County have been served another winding-up order, but their executive chairman Peter Trembling says it’s nothing to worry about. Sven, meanwhile, argues all the club needs is the money that always seems to be around the corner from Trembling: “The project to get Notts County in to the Premier League in five years is on hold unfortunately for the moment because things went bad,” Sven said. “But hopefully in just a couple of weeks it will take off again. That’s what we are hoping and that’s what we are working very, very hard for. I still believe it’s possible. What is needed is funding. It’s money. It’s very easy if you want to reach the Premier League from the position we are in: you need money of course.” Unfortunately, Notts County are currently £1.5m in debt.
- Freezing conditions have led to the postponement of more than the usual number of games over the Christmas period in England, leaving many lower league clubs strapped for cash. There is still little talk about a winter break; the Christmas period, after all, does usually bring bumper crowds to stadiums, but unfortunately many clubs are in such a perilous financial condition that one bad winter more-or-less threatens their existence.
- The MLS Cup Final is to be played at a neutral site again in 2010, with many (who I don’t remember saying much about it until it was raised as a possibility recently) now up in arms about it — Sam Stejskal at Fire Confidential says “Hate. It. I’m starting to think the people who run this league are idiots (cue Apart from allowing teams/media to make travel arrangements in advance, I see no positives to playing the game at a neutral site. It makes it hard (and costly) for fans to get there. As a result atmosphere suffers. The coveted “casual fan” (whatever that means…) watching on TV sees the bad atmosphere and their perception of the league is affected negatively. This is not rocket science. Play the cup in the home stadium of the higher side. It’s better for everyone.” MLS did give the move serious condition, so obviously it wouldn’t have been better for everyone. . .
The Sweeper appears every weekday, and once at the weekend. For more rambling and links throughout the day every day, follow your editor Tom Dunmore @pitchinvasion on Twitter.