Lately I’ve been reading Tariq Ali on Pakistan, which is always worthwhile – I’ll freely admit to blowing hot and cold on Tariq, but get him on his specialist subject and he can be tremendously enjoyable. One thing he’s particularly good on, drawing on plenty of first-hand knowledge, is the peculiar character of the Pakistan Peoples Party, since it emerged from the anti-junta movement in the 1960s.
And this is an object lesson in the difference between what a party formally stands for, and its sociological function. On paper, the PPP is a party of the left, a party that stands for the working man, and moreover an affiliate party of the Socialist International. Functionally, it’s a vehicle whereby the impoverished masses can register their support for wealthy feudal magnates – primarily the Bhutto family and their entourage – and thus help these magnates become even wealthier. The more the magnates fleece the peasants, the more fervently the masochistic peasants support them.
And they’re not alone. The Second International – which has quite a few rum members, all told – has several similar affiliates. I draw to your attention the Progressive Socialist Party of Lebanon, a party which is neither progressive nor socialist but exists mainly to allow the Druze peasants of the Chouf to demonstrate their fealty to the Jumblatt family. Or there is the Democratic Party of Socialists of Montenegro, which is a vehicle for the peasants of the Black Mountain to dedicate themselves to the further enrichment of the tobacco-smuggling oligarch Milo Djukanović.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that this all sounds a bit like Premier League football. And so it does. In particular, it sounds a bit like Newcastle United, but that’s really because, as Jamie argues, the Toon demonstrate the pathologies of top-flight English football in a particularly clear form.
This is where, following Newcastle’s relegation, a little schadenfreude kicks in. It’s not unmixed, though, because over the last while I’ve been hearing quite a few sober Newcastle fans who’ve said, correctly, that they’ve been shockingly bad this season and fully deserve to go down. But on the other hand, you couldn’t get away from the kind of people who would ring TalkSport to bum and blow at inordinate length about how they were too big to go down. Now it’s clear that nobody’s too big to go down, if they don’t string some wins together.
So, let’s see that Shearer sticks around to sort things out. What are his options? Well, he may be aware of the chilling statistic that 40% of clubs relegated from the Premier League have never made it back. And he may also like to cast an eye over the fate of the best-supported club in League One – yes, it’s Leeds, another club whose fans thought they were too big and with too illustrious a history to go down. Once they were relegated, they had to face a tremendous hangover from their period of living the dream, a hangover that’s still to catch up with a huge denialist wing of their support.
What you’ve got at Newcastle is two interlinked problems, neither of which seems easily soluble. Firstly, the team. The manager may fancy clearing out the dead wood, which in this case means virtually the entire starting eleven. Having an enormous support base, and the third largest stadium in England, counts for little when you’ve a team full of lazy shits which has been serially underperforming for years. The core of the gang is the team that got Big Sam sacked, augmented by Dennis Wise’s inspired purchases – although I’m not sure whether he was inspired by astrology, voodoo or radio beams from Venus. A swinging hatchet would seem to be on the order of the day.
This may be tempting, given the second problem, which is economic. In other words, an enormous wages bill which will need some serious pruning back. But here’s the rub. Few if any of the lazy shits seem to have relegation clauses written into their contracts, the by-product of a club that assumed it was too big to go down, so the question would never arise. So a possible fire sale becomes quite a tricky proposition – you would have to pay off the lazy shits, then hope against hope that somebody’s willing to pay enough for them to make it worth your while. And there again, while the lazy shits might reckon themselves too good to be playing in the fizzy pop league, the cold logic of the transfer market might say differently.
So what’s left? Soldier on with that crippling wage bill and hope for an immediate return to the big league? Hope that Ashley will be willing to dip further into his dwindling fortune, or, in the event of him deciding he’s had enough, hoping that some Russian oligarch or Sheik of Araby will appear over the horizon? Or start again from scratch, hunkering down to possibly years of hard slog rebuilding?
I’ll also be interested, perhaps more so, in how the fans comport themselves. For a relegated team to show signs of arrogance, an assumption that they’re too good to be where they are, and have some sort of divine entitlement to be in the top flight, is the sort of thing that seriously fucks people off. That’s why Leeds, facing their third straight season in League One, are easily the most unpopular side in the league, which is quite an achievement when they’re rubbing shoulders with MK Dons. On the other hand, there have been relegated teams that have shown some humility, grafted their way back to success and won friends in the lower leagues in the process. How will the Geordies adapt to their new environment?
And, perhaps more to the point, is anyone going to get to grips with the Premier League’s bubble economy? From the look of things, I suspect a whole series of clubs will have to go bust before serious change comes onto the clár.