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Money stinks up the Premier League, but there's still no sport like English football

As England's top footballing tier returns for the new season, let's try to separate the good from the bad.

In these Brexit days of racism, myopia and rampant arsegobbery, reliable British exports are hard to find. But the Premier League – which restarts tonight – is one, a global icon unaffected by our official regression to the state of nature.

This is because there is no sport on earth quite like English football. As the country is small, supporters can watch their teams away as well as at home, something hard or impossible to achieve in other countries with elite leagues. This fosters a unique atmosphere and immersive culture – both general and specific – of small groups assimilated into one large group containing hundreds of people on nodding terms or more who will, at some point, spontaneously embrace and cavort.

Thus thousands of lives are furnished with an addictive, contagious routine involving ridiculous stories, rowdy friendships, petty rivalry and civic pride which manifests both in the stands and on the pitch.

The nature of the game itself is also particular to England. Of course, what constitutes excitement is subjective, and there is a thrill in, say, watching the kind aesthetic destructions or technical, cerebral battles more common elsewhere. But for those of us who expect football to agitate the elements of our psyche which, for the good of humanity, lie dormant in real life, then the artistry and intensity of English football is incomparable.

Its harem-scarem nature means that no league is less predictable – especially now, when the standard at the top is not so high but the standard just below has never been higher. We are drawn to sport, in significant part, because we don't know what’s going to happen, which is why the Premier League is so magnificently alluring.

In the last five seasons we have seen four different champions; at this point a year ago, Chelsea were only deemed fourth most likely by the bookmakers. Indeed, in the 25 editions since the division was formed, the pre-season favourites have taken the title on just ten occasions, a statistic all the more telling given that the same club won 13 of them.

Currently, the expectation is that Manchester City will be celebrating come May – and yet the centre of their defence is dodgy and their manager unproven in the league. Meanwhile, Manchester United look short of goals, Liverpool lack elite quality, Chelsea have barely strengthened, Tottenham are playing home games at Wembley and Arsenal are Arsenal. Our certainty these teams will comprise the top six may be misplaced, but at least we are forced to accept it is impossible to predict in what order. 

The challenge of such uncertainty was crucial in persuading managers as charismatic as José Mourinho, Pep Guardiola, Antonio Conte and Jürgen Klopp to work in England. The intermeshing of their personalities adds yet another layer of intrigue and edge. Nor are the unknowns limited to the top of the table. Last season, Burnley were overwhelming favourites to go down but did not, and almost half the table was involved as the battle to stay up reached its denouement.

While it would be dishonest not to note that the Premier League is followed worldwide because of the excesses of Empire, it also boasts a surfeit of famous clubs, with well-defined identities, seminal players and contemporary achievements. Manchester United and Liverpool have enjoyed success across 60 years and lifted the Champions League this century, as have Chelsea. Arsenal have reached a final. The sovereign wealth of Abu Dhabi makes Manchester City an unignorable presence.

Naturally there are downsides to all of this, and most revolve around the folding green. As Bob Dylan noted, “money doesn’t talk, it swears”. Thanks to avaricious authorities and apathetic governments, clubs are legally owned by an assortment of gangsters, carpetbaggers, human rights abusers and morons, while supporters, their moral owners, are exploited.

For this reason it is far too expensive to watch Premier League football, whether on telly or in the flesh, and as such, the ability to stream foreign coverage for free is the best thing to happen to supporters in decades. Our clubs exist because generations of supporters have invested their time, money, effort and emotion, and as such they and their descendants are entitled to watch them. You cannot steal that which is yours.

Money's encroachment into football is especially evident in close-season. The richest clubs hawk themselves around the world to, depending on your bent, "grow their brand” or "snaffle as much money as possible”, not necessarily conducive to starting the season well, yet absolutely conducive to signing better players – so, swings and roundabouts.

Either way, these matches bring English football to people who cannot otherwise enjoy it live. This does not grant the matches legitimacy – a friendly played in Houston between Manchester United v Manchester City means nothing and is not a  “Manchester derby”. But 67,401 people enjoying a precious pleasure is not the worst thing in the world, nor even the worst thing in football. It’s easy – mandatory, even – to take the piss, but a global game with a global language is increasingly hard to hate in an ever-more fractured world.

And then there are transfer fees, the sums exchanged both horrifying and terrifying – all the more so given the Brexit-shaped turd flaming on our doorsteps. Yet any signing which works quickly looks a bargain, and for now at least, the majority of clubs can afford their failures. Which is not to say things should not change. Money earned at the top of the game must be more equitably redistributed, while a salary cap and transfer cap would restore some competitive integrity. The game is not success but glory, and that can never be achieved by brute wealth.

But instead, people and papers choose to rail at what individuals earn – even though our society prizes football highly, those who are best at it sacrifice for their status, and money not disbursed to them would simply disappear into suit pockets. Strangely, far less vitriol is directed at tennis players, actors and the family Windsor, which is to say that carping about the wealth of working-class players says more about the carpers than it does the players.

If we are to take issue with how football clubs pay their employees, then our focus ought to be on how little they give those who do less heralded jobs, rather than on how much they give those whose jobs are among the most heralded on the planet.

So, as another season starts, a suggested resolution: separate that which seems infuriating from that which is actually infuriating and retain accordant fury, but never allow it to encroach on joy. Have a good one. 

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Our union backed Brexit, but that doesn't mean scrapping freedom of movement

We can only improve the lives of our members, like those planning stike action at McDonalds, through solidarity.

The campaign to defend and extend free movement – highlighted by the launch of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement this month – is being seen in some circles as a back door strategy to re-run the EU referendum. If that was truly the case, then I don't think Unions like mine (the BFAWU) would be involved, especially as we campaigned to leave the EU ourselves.

In stark contrast to the rhetoric used by many sections of the Leave campaign, our argument wasn’t driven by fear and paranoia about migrant workers. A good number of the BFAWU’s membership is made up of workers not just from the EU, but from all corners of the world. They make a positive contribution to the industry that we represent. These people make a far larger and important contribution to our society and our communities than the wealthy Brexiteers, who sought to do nothing other than de-humanise them, cheered along by a rabid, right-wing press. 

Those who are calling for end to freedom of movement fail to realise that it’s people, rather than land and borders that makes the world we live in. Division works only in the interest of those that want to hold power, control, influence and wealth. Unfortunately, despite a rich history in terms of where division leads us, a good chunk of the UK population still falls for it. We believe that those who live and work here or in other countries should have their skills recognised and enjoy the same rights as those born in that country, including the democratic right to vote. 

Workers born outside of the UK contribute more than £328 million to the UK economy every day. Our NHS depends on their labour in order to keep it running; the leisure and hospitality industries depend on them in order to function; the food industry (including farming to a degree) is often propped up by their work.

The real architects of our misery and hardship reside in Westminster. It is they who introduced legislation designed to allow bosses to act with impunity and pay poverty wages. The only way we can really improve our lives is not as some would have you believe, by blaming other poor workers from other countries, it is through standing together in solidarity. By organising and combining that we become stronger as our fabulous members are showing through their decision to ballot for strike action in McDonalds.

Our members in McDonalds are both born in the UK and outside the UK, and where the bosses have separated groups of workers by pitting certain nationalities against each other, the workers organised have stood together and fought to win change for all, even organising themed social events to welcome each other in the face of the bosses ‘attempts to create divisions in the workplace.

Our union has held the long term view that we should have a planned economy with an ability to own and control the means of production. Our members saw the EU as a gravy train, working in the interests of wealthy elites and industrial scale tax avoidance. They felt that leaving the EU would give the UK the best opportunity to renationalise our key industries and begin a programme of manufacturing on a scale that would allow us to be self-sufficient and independent while enjoying solid trading relationships with other countries. Obviously, a key component in terms of facilitating this is continued freedom of movement.

Many of our members come from communities that voted to leave the EU. They are a reflection of real life that the movers and shakers in both the Leave and Remain campaigns took for granted. We weren’t surprised by the outcome of the EU referendum; after decades of politicians heaping blame on the EU for everything from the shape of fruit to personal hardship, what else could we possibly expect? However, we cannot allow migrant labour to remain as a political football to give succour to the prejudices of the uninformed. Given the same rights and freedoms as UK citizens, foreign workers have the ability to ensure that the UK actually makes a success of Brexit, one that benefits the many, rather than the few.

Ian Hodon is President of the Bakers and Allied Food Workers Union and founding signatory of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement.