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24 March 2023

Football was never a truly amateur game, but now even the supporting cast are raking it in

Tottenham Hotspur’s Daniel Levy currently tops the lot with a salary of £3.3m. Well done Daniel, and without kicking a ball.

By Hunter Davies

Well done Daniel Levy, the chairman of Spurs. He is the top man in the Premier League. Hasn’t he done well? Do hold on, I will tell you in a moment what it is he has done so well.

Let’s first go back to 1863, when it all began, and football wasn’t about money. Players were amateurs. Pure and honest, not interested in nasty stuff like cash. Which was a slight fantasy.

Public-school boys who played well and scored a goal found a gold sovereign in their boots. The horny handed, usually from Scotland or the north of England, once they showed a bit of talent, were tempted to one of England’s First Division clubs by a job in the chairman’s factory. A non-existent job. They never had to turn up, except on a Saturday afternoon to play.

The arrival of professional football in 1885 was supposed to do away with all that nonsense, but there were still loads of fiddles. Parents of likely lads would be offered a holiday, a car, a job, a house.

But on the whole, there was little money in football. Players were on a maximum wage of £20 a week in old money until 1961, and directors were never paid. In fact, the clubs turned their noses up at money, believing it lowered the tone.

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[See also: Football was never a truly amateur game, but now even the supporting cast are raking it in]

I still can’t believe that in the 1970s, when I spent a year with Spurs for a book, the club was still turning down all advertising in the match programme and in the ground. Arsenal were the same.

Players did have a few little perks. If they got to the cup final, they could buy Wembley tickets – most of which they would sell on to the touts.

Everything changed when the Premier League arrived in 1991. Immediately, it was loads-a-money. Broadcasters we had never heard of, such as Sky, paid millions for the television rights. The clubs got their whack, if they stayed in the Prem, soon enabling them to buy the world’s best players.

It’s only fair, of course, that the lads doing all the work, entertaining the fans, should be well paid. Today the average player at Man Utd, Man City and Chelsea is earning £7m a year, while a really top player such as Erling Haaland is earning more than £800k a week. Repeat, a week.

We the suckers, the dopey fans, are willing to pay a fortune to get our fix with season tickets and TV subscriptions. I have Sky, BT, Amazon Prime and another whose name I have forgotten. Good job I is rich.

But since all these trillions started swilling around in football, it is not only the players with their snouts in the trough. Let me count the other winners.

1) Club chairmen and chief executives. The latest accounts show Mr Levy currently tops the lot with £3.3m last year, way ahead of Man Utd’s Richard Arnold on only £1.9m. Well done Daniel, and without kicking a ball.

2) Football agents. God knows what the top ones earn. They just need five-star players on their books, from whom they take 30 per cent at least, and they will be earning more than any player.

3) Lawyers. They are currently on to a winner, especially if they are defending Man City against allegations of financial fiddles, a case that could run for five years.

4 ) TV pundits. Gary Lineker, now also a well-known political figure, gets £1.3m a year from the BBC.

5) Football hacks. Martin Samuel of the Times is, according to Private Eye, earning £400,000.

6) Commercial managers selling the sponsorships, the advertising rights, the brand rights. Raking it in.

7) Merchandising manufacturers. Have you seen the prices of repro shirts, even for away and third kits? The club does share the money, but makers earn a fortune. Man Utd has almost a billion followers around the world. Even the poorest fan in the poorest country dreams of wearing a horrible Man Utd repro shirt.

8) Estate agents. Players are craven and copy each other, wanting to live in the same area, such as Cheshire. Estate agents can sell them any old flash house, as long as it is has an indoor pool. Also, a block of flats in Florida or Dubai which they will never see. It’s an investment, innit.

9) Car dealers. Again players all want the latest swanky wanky model.

10) Smoked salmon bagels and prawn sandwich providers. A concession in one of the Premiership hospitality suites is worth £1m a year.

OK, I made that last one up. You have to laugh…

[See also: Football remains spectacular, but the trust between clubs and the public is broken]

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This article appears in the 29 Mar 2023 issue of the New Statesman, Easter Special