Barrelled Thoughts #18

Friday, September 4, 2009

“…and now there’s a breakout! Look out! Can they catch this man, Habana? He’s done it again!

Habana, from his goal line, a turn-over Australia; and the turbo-charged winger has left a trail of defenders. The Boks back in the lead.”

It’s September again.

I still remember September last year. A somewhat wonderful time it was. A new semester, new faces, new challenges. We’ve all been through the hedges this year, and I’m happy to report that we have come out on top; all guns blazing, in true foreign-student fashion.
It takes a lot of courage to study amongst students from different countries; different cultures, and it takes that extra bit of bravery to bond, unite and to co-exist with these people; and I’m loving every minute of it.

Recently, I’ve been watching rugby quite a lot. As a fanatic football supporter, I can honestly say that very few things top my love for football as a sport and as a passion. But recently, rugby’s been on my mind.

I think the reason why rugby has struck such a chord with me is because I think there are some problems with sport these days – everything is about money. I’m not saying rugby isn’t about the money, but it just doesn’t give me the same sense of enterprise-involvement that football, and many other sports, have these days.
I guess everything started off as a simple hobby and lively pastime, but as time went on, and as more and more people enjoyed watching the sport being played rather than actually playing it, it turned into ‘entertainment’.

Nowadays, a footballer’s job description is no longer to run around a green patch of grass for ninety minutes and try place a ball between two metal posts. A footballer’s job is now, and actually has been since the turn of the 21st century, to entertain the masses. He is a club spokesman and represents many brands.
Actually, football’s transition from a casual pastime to a massive global enterprise came, funnily enough, I believe, because of capitalism. Or in other words: America.

As Reagan’s America and Thatcher’s Great Britain created the biggest stalemate the world had ever seen against Stalin’s communistic and anti-capitalist Russia, small pockets of global-market enterprises sprouted up in every country’s backyard. Most noticeably were America’s NBA, MLB, NFL, NASCAR, and in the recent decade, MLS.
The National Basketball Association and one man in particular were single-handedly responsible for 30 percent of Nike’s sales in the late 90’s and early 00’s. Even to this day, more than a decade after his retirement from professional basketball, Michael Jordan’s Air Nike show-wear line is still selling like the clappers, with new designs coming out every few years or so. America, NBA, Nike, and Michael Jordan all hopped on he capitalist bandwagon and made money off not only Americans, but off the entire cosmos alike. Michael Jordan is so famous, in fact, that if NASA really did send pictorial slide-shows into space for martians to see, I’m almost 120 percent sure that they would have no choice but to include that famous ‘Air’ picture of Jordan’s dunk.
This man’s presence is appreciated in many other areas of the world as well, and not only in the field of basketball. In England, for example, David Beckham, Los Angeles Galaxy football player (now retired) and international sex symbol, grew up watching Jordan on the television, and does not make his admiration for Jordan a secret either.
After Beckham left Manchester United and his famous ‘Number 7’ shirt behind to travel to Spain for a spell at Real Madrid, he chose the number 23 shirt, in admiration for his idol, Michael Jordan, who also wore the same number. When Beckham ended his playing days with Real Madrid and headed for LA Galaxy, he still chose to don the number 23 shirt. Even during his season long load spell in Italy at AC Milan, David Beckham, over and over again, insisted on being given that specific shirt number. Although that number was already taken by another player, hence his playing with the number 32. Ha ha ha.

Don’t get me wrong, David Beckham has had his fair share of influence on the world. His stylish mohawk at the 2002 Korea-Japan FIFA World Cup made his hairstyle and his English number 7 shirt extremely famous. But football aside, David and Victoria Beckham are still earning God knows how much money on the side just by attending posh functions and representing various brands. Victoria Beckham has her own clothing-line too, by the way. There is no limit to fame. Once you’re there, you’re there for life.

David and Victoria, coming out of their prime. He as the famous Manchester United number 7 and she as Posh Spice, even though not half as famous as they were before, are still influencing fashion trends and the occasional perfume or cologne sale. Plus, Victoria still looks hot, even after three kids. Go, Vicky! Ha ha.

America’s other sports and hobbies also joined in on the act. As NBA keeps getting bigger and bigger, NASCAR and NFL have already made their way to the world stage in the pass decades. NFL’s Superbowl is a prime example of just how far American Football has progressed from not only being a national sport, but also an icon for American stamina and muscle.

MLB and MLS have always been big in the States. Taiwanese people follow Major League Baseball extremely closely because of a Taiwanese baseball player currently plays there.
The spotlight on Major League Soccer was made even brighter by the arrival of David Beckham to LA Galaxy. He currently plays alongside world class stars of the national team, such as Landon Donovan.
The money factor comes into play when talking about sponsers. Both the MLS and the MLB have major capital investment, either by television channels or big time corporations.

Thierry Henry, former Arsenal and Barcelona forward, applies his trade at New York Red Bulls, which is sponsored by…well, Red Bull.

England also followed in America’s fleeting footsteps, capitalising on the economic growth and making themselves a part of the transition from a saving-based to a spending-based market trend.

Football has been around in England for centuries. But not until Barclays Bank took over the English League 1, did it truly prosper as a fast-growing, money making machine: the Barclays Premier League.
When Barclays Bank took over the League in 2004, football in England change for good. Heavy capital investment poured into the EPL, attracting rich investors,world-class players, famous managers, you name it. The most noteworthy of them all, of course, is Chelsea FC’s Roman Abramovich. Who, in 2003, took over Chelsea FC and began pouring money into every department. Players, coaches, training, stadium renovations, etc. As of 2008, Roman Abramovich had spent £600 million on players alone; with all his money coming from his investment in Russia’s oil industry. Holy shit, I want to do that! Drown myself in one dollars bills or something.
Chelsea’s abundant resources attracted players, managers and fans, and for a few seasons, they seemed to be doing pretty well. Everyone was in on the hype. It was a new-look Chelsea; it was a new-look English Premier League, and everyone was loving it. I have to admit, even I, an avid Arsenal supporter, found myself rooting for Chelsea at times. Not because I like Chelsea as a football team, I mean, I absolutely hated them, even more than I hate Manchester United; but I absolutely loved the idea of Chelsea in the 2003/2004 season. A foreign investor means you can win the Premier League? Hell, we should try that!

(Chelsea Football Club came second only to Arsenal Football Club in the 2003/2004 season, with Arsenal going unbeaten the entire season. The season after that, Chelsea won the EPL back-to-back, but in the three years after that, Manchester United won the league three years in a row.)

Chelsea is just one small example of what capital investment can do to a sport, a league, a team, fans, players, and opponents alike. In the past few years, Manchester Untied have taken on an American foreign investor, Malcolm Blazer. Manchester City have also been taken over by Dr. Sulaiman Al Fahim, head of Arabian business group Abu Dhabi United Group for Development and Investment. Both these teams are now spending wisely and creating major shifts in the Premier League.

The rest of Europe is also slowly being taken over by sponsored investment. Such as Heineken’s major sponsorship of the UEFA Champion’s League. Football is a money making machine.

South Africa has been playing the annual Tri-Nations recently, and doing pretty well. My sense of patriotism is upwelling again as they trump Australia and New Zealand to a well-deserved win. Watching replays of the matches, I sang the national anthem with the players and I just wish I could have been there myself, cheering on the Boks, cheering on South Africa. Perhaps next year I can be in South Africa to witness the second biggest sports event in the world. Wait for me, mense! I’m coming.

My friend, Mike says he wants to go to South Africa, too, next year, from England. Perhaps we will see each other there! He says he’s planning a trip to Asia first with one of his mates, and he might stop by Taiwan. It would be wonderful to be able to take my mates around town and show them what developed Asia looks like. Maybe there will be time for some pub golf. JSF.

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