How long can the top clubs go on soaking the fans?

Where will it all end? That's what we've been saying in football for, oh, months, years now, wringing our hands, tutting our tuts. Where will this mad spiral of wages lead, this obsession with commercialisation and merchandising, this treating us like idiots, exploiting and extorting money from us? Can they really put up the cost of season tickets again? Is there no limit to the players' demands? Is there no limit to the greed and selfishness of the clubs?

Having asked ourselves these deep questions, we usually turn to other things, to topics before our eyes, such as Dion Dublin: does he really put Vaseline on his head, or is it sweat?

But back to money in football. This is now becoming serious. I'm sorry. It just has to be considered, can't be ignored any longer. So the first answer, to where will it end, is you ain't seen nothing like the end yet. I can think of one trick still to come, which just shows what a new thing football agents are, almost all of them having only just arrived on the scene with no training.

Literary agents have been with us a long time. I was reading the letters of Robert Louis Stevenson, and when he went off to the USA in the 1870s he got friends back home to look after his affairs, handle his publisher, look after royalties. It's not clear if he paid them, but they got expenses. Literary agents became formalised soon after, during the 1890s, becoming a proper profession. So that's 100 years they've been around. Football agents have been with us for 30 years at most.

Which is probably why they haven't thought of residuals. You know, things like repeat fees when games or highlights or even just one goal get repeated. Agents for film or TV stars make sure their clients get a share of future showings, in whatever form, but I bet Ricky Villa gets nothing for his Spurs Cup Final goal, which will be shown for ever and ever.

Perhaps players are so powerful that they don't have to worry about such piddling spin-offs. It's quite amusing in a way, watching them make clubs and managers look foolish and craven. One minute Alex Ferguson says it's got totally out of hand, he's not paying £50,000 a week, time off for fashion shoots and changing nappies, certainly not; then next minute he's giving in.

What's not so funny is who pays. Ken Bates of Chelsea has made it clear our season tickets are going up, to pay their wages, to which he has agreed. Were we consulted? Were we buggery.

Five years ago, when clubs like Man Utd first revealed they were making more money from merchandising than through the turnstiles, I thought, foolishly, that we, the turnstile fodder, would therefore not be as important financially in future. The merchandising could be relied upon to pay the wage increases.

I also thought, equally naively, that all the mega-millions from TV rights would help. They wouldn't need to soak us any more. Wrong again. The more the clubs get from other sources, the more they want from us. That's economics, football section.

At the moment, merchandising appears to have taken a dip, judging by the latest figures from Man Utd and Newcastle. At Newcastle, those thuggish directors are being partly blamed but, as with all retail stuff, sales do not go up for ever. There is a saturation point. Parents realise their kids don't actually need or deserve five new strips a season. We all said that. Only now it is happening.

There was one thing I didn't foresee ten years ago when all this money started flooding into football. We know about the backhanders and bungs among managers, which was bound to happen, with agents talking millions. But I have been surprised and depressed by the actions of some FA and Premier League officials, pumped up by their own self-importance, throwing millions around to get favours or votes, paying "consultants" millions to do very little. It happened with the Olympics. When the going's good, and lucrative, officials turn out just as greedy for glory and power as the players are for money.

So where will it end? More clubs like Crystal Palace going bust, that's what many predict, but that will mean nothing, alas. Purely a sign of the rich having drawn away and got richer.

We, the supporters, with season tickets for a Premiership club, will go on being milked. They know we will pay, continue to pay, even when it hurts. Because we are dopey, that's the first reason. Second, because our power is abstract, our situation symbolic, our strength historic.

Let's say you wanted to create a brand new Premiership club today from scratch. You couldn't. No matter how wealthy you were. Even Rupert Murdoch couldn't do it, otherwise he wouldn't waste his time messing around trying to buy Man Utd. He could create a new TV company, just like that, or a new supermarket, a new shopping mall, and have them open for business next year. All it takes is money. To create a new top club is harder, as Paris St Germain have found in France. For a start, you need about 100 years - generations of grass-roots support, of loyalties handed down through families, of myths and traditions.

The two clubs most likely to win the title this year are Manchester Utd, born 1878, and Arsenal, born 1886. That's how long it takes. And it's us, the ordinary supporters, who have got them there. But our power was in the past. We have none today. We can only point and say we were there when it all began, we were there when times were bad. We shout pathetically, "we'll support you ever more". And mean it.

Today, they know we are trapped, that we are just here to be taken advantage of. Merchandising and television rights will rise and fall. We are here to stay. I can't see that ever ending.

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