Towards a Primal Scene of Football Economy
While attempting to write my way to towards some predictions about whether the movement for supporter ownership of football clubs will make any progress in the coming years– especially in light of the impending collapses of Rangers and Portsmouth football clubs– I came up against the problem of articulating somthing like aprimal scene of football economy, a basic founding myth of how money in football works. The best hypothesis I came up with was this: that the amount eleven men are paid to play football for ninety minutes is roughly equal to the total amount that a crowd will pay to stand by the side of the pitch and watch it.
What I like about his hypothesis is that it really does tend towards a ‘primal scene’– a semi-imaginary scenario that nonetheless is structurally true; the real life situation of now precedes the imaginary content of the scene. I think that this hypothesis– or rather a hypothesis like this– could structure an understanding of football history that is at once historical and formal. Freud’s Primal Scene– where the child witnesses their parents having sex, their own formation telescoped into the now– is not true, but it is structually true: the fact that it appears to be the past reconfigured to fit the present should not be a criticism of the mechanism of the Primal Scene.
My issue with the hypothesis as it stands is then not whether I am right, but rather whether the structural qualities of the scene are valid: as it stands, I am not convinced. I think that part of what makes me uncomfortable with it is the issue of ‘money’. Perhaps a discussion of relative ‘energies’ might be more appropriate. For what are people paying for (or not, in the case of park football) when they watch the game? Paying for your hot dog at the football is a simple equation to hypothetically imagine in this hydraulic-economic way: in a kind of zero-sum pessimistic economics, one spends enough on the hot dog to give one enough energy to put back into working enough so that one can buy another hot dog. Marx’s theory of surplus value complicates (rightly) this simple model. However, in any case, what might the hydraulics of paying to watch football entail?
To pay to watch a game of football is, in essence, to pay to watch the next game of football: just as the animal has already died before the vegetarian chooses not to eat the steak, the game of football will take place whether a crowd is there or not. To argue that you are paying to see the football match at hand is absurd; as absurd as arguing that when one puts the money in the fortune-telling machine at the fair, one is paying for the previous fortune. Payment is encrypted in temporality, repetition: ‘again,’ the fan says, ‘again’. The fans screams not ‘Bravo,’ rather, ‘Encore.’
Viewed in this way, the energy input of the supporter is a libidinal loan that must be repayed in time. The supporter is, viewed properly, the prime mover of every midweek kick up the backside from the coach, every meal of pasta ‘n’ tuna the players are forced to consume.Fan precedes player.Our emergent primal scene of football economy might be, rather than the amount footballers are paid being equal to the amount people are willing to give them, that the energetic output of theeleven players is proportional to the preceding energetic input of the crowd.
This, to me, seems a more promising working thesis. From this point, this imaginary primal scene can begin to interact with the other energetic economies of football: owner capital, infrastructual investment, and, above all, television revenue.