Football’s Shadow Line

Note: I started writing this at 1.48pm, on Thursday 7th July 2011.

We interrupt our usual diet of light-hearted reminiscence and fluff for a serious consideration of an issue which, taken to its ultimate possibility, could end Premier League football as we currently know it.

Firstly, use of the phrase “shadow line” is intentional. I hope that many of you enjoyed Hugo Blick’s superb psychological drama of Police corruption which was recently broadcast by the BBC.

It ended with Gatehouse, the best TV bogeyman for years, murmuring to his grinning psychopathic puppets, Ratten and Rallatack; “You are the threads. I am the rope”.

Over the last couple of days I’ve given this a great deal of thought in relation to the current scandal which threatens to engulf the Murdoch empire, and has ramifications for the Premiership.

When some stories break it is very difficult to get a sense that we are living through historic times. Thus it was with last year’s general election which resulted in a Coalition government.

Yes, you knew it was big and important that the LibDems got into bed with the Cons, but for all but the most politically active the feeling was a bit “pfffft”, or, as I believe the latest usage is, “meh”.

The biggest stories are usually accompanied by an iconic photographic image which becomes seared on the public consciousness. The planes striking the Twin Towers. The bombed bus in Tavistock Square. The tunnel at the Pont l’Alma in Paris.

But we now find ourselves in the middle of a maelstrom which may radically alter media ownership in Britain, has left the Metropolitan Police open to allegations of corruption, and at the least leave the country with a lame duck Prime Minister and at the worst bring the government down.

For a number of years now the tabloid media has crept ever further into the lives of those in the public eye. I’m sure that I wasn’t the only one who expressed surprise last winter that pictures of John Terry and his family attending Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland appeared in the press.

What, after all, did that have to do with the public interest? And how did they find out he was going to be there in the first place? The answer became apparent during his trial for speeding last month, when it was revealed in Court that when the Police swept his vehicle, they found a bugging device.

For many people, this would have been the first indication of the lengths to which the press were prepared to go to get a story. News International have spent most of this year “co-operating” with the investigation
into Operation Weeting, the Police investigation into allegations of phone hacking.

This co-operation appears to have taken the form of hanging Glenn Mulcaire, the private investigator previously employed by the News of the World, and who has already served a term of imprisonment for his activities, even further out to dry.

As far as News International are concerned, the buck certainly stops with him. But of course it can’t. Others at the highest level, apart from the paper’s former Royal editor, Clive Goodman (an appallingly misnamed individual), also jailed in connection with the original enquiry, must have been involved.

However, matters took a disturbingly sinister turn at the start of the week with the revelation that the phone of the missing teenager, Milly Dowler, had been hacked into following her disappearance leading to an outburst of justified public revulsion.

Further stories swiftly emerged linking the NoTW to the hacking of phones belonging to Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, victims of the 7/7 bombings, and now families of servicemen killed in Afghanistan.

There are allegations that corrupt Police officers have accepted money for information (and when you’ve seen stories about footballers being arrested, it’s been easy to ask yourself how the press found out) and pressure for a public enquiry with a demand for heads to roll at the top of News International.

Given David Cameron’s proximity to what has been dubbed “the Chipping Norton Set” (pretty much in the way that Sadie Frost, Daisy Lowe and the society ladies of North London were dubbed “the Whores on the Hill”), which includes NI’s CEO, Rebekah Brooks, questions have been raised about his judgement.

After over a decade of treating the Murdoch empire with kid gloves, Parliament feels it now has the weight of public opinion behind its back. If the LibDems were to push the issue of Cameron’s circle, it could even result in a confidence vote in the House of Commons. If the Government were defeated, a General Election would immediately result.

You may ask, so what does this have to do with football? Article recommenced 1.23pm, Friday 8th July 2011.

Well, that was all a bit of a shock, wasn’t it boys and girls? And I kid you not, I blogged this in the Media section of the Guardian at 11.50am, on Thursday 7th July 2011:-

Here’s a thought. I can’t remember whether it was Friday of last week or Monday [it was in fact Friday 1st July] this week that the Guardian ran a story that NI execs were looking to pool resources at the Sun and the News of the World.

I suggested after reading this that the NoTW staff would see an increasing squeeze until in a few years’ time the NoTW would be closed and a Sunday Sun launched. What’s the betting that Murdoch will now decide to act sooner, keep the “best” and untainted NoTW staff, and close it sooner rather than later, making a public declaration that he is making a brave decision to cut off the cancer in response to public outrage?

In the meantime, all this scandal drives down the price of Murdoch media operations, with the result that the price of BSkyB shares falls further (they’re down 11.5p already) so when NewsCorp’s takeover is approved following closure of NoTW, Murdoch comes out of this financially better than he is at present.

Let’s face it, he knows that as long as mugs keep subscribing to SkySports, that’s the NewsCorp cashcow.

At about 7pm last night I thought, great, my article’s dead. But it suddenly seems more pertinent than ever. Murdoch might have cut the knot by closing NoTW, but this scandal isn’t going away.

Coulson and Goodman have been arrested today, the decision on the sale of BSkyB has been delayed and may not be approved, there will be a judicial enquiry into the hacking issue, and the Press Complaints Commission will be replaced, hopefully by a body with more than the kick of a mouse wearing carpet slippers.

The share price of BSkyB continues to take a hammering. Public confidence in the News Corp group is at an all time low. Advertisers fled the NoTW in its death throes like First Class passengers trying to get off the Titanic.

What happens if they follow suit at Sky Sports? There’s already been pressure on Ford to stop advertising with them. What happens if the bottom falls out of the Murdoch coffers? As previously mentioned, one of the reasons he is so desperate to get 100% ownership of Sky is because of the money it makes.

An awful lot of people were and possibly still are under the impression that Murdoch owns the business outright. What happens if people think “sod it, I’m not giving him £40 a month, I’ll go down the pub”. A drop in subscriptions will lead to a drop in advertisers, and the combined effect could trigger an avalanche that might bury the Premier League.

The current TV deal of £1.782 Billion is due to expire in 2013. Th

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