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Something For The Weekend (397)



The politics of envy?

I have to say that my initial response to Villa's two-nil defeat at Spurs last week was one of disappointment because although Spurs are listed amongst the good clubs in the Premiership these days and Villa are not, I find myself not quite ready to relinquish my hope that my club of choice, can defy the odds, the form and the numbers, to beat their betters.

Alas, it was a pretty routine win for the denizens of White Hart Lane and they managed to defy the orthodoxy that teams playing away in the Europa League on the Thursday tend to struggle in their next Premiership game.

Unfortunately, Spurs were not quite knackered enough to allow Villa to bridge the gulf in class, and like other second-rate teams Villa had their chances, including a gift from Spurs' debut goalkeeper, which Villa spurned, as strugglers tend to do against superior opposition.

A certain lacking in the arse department, if we are to believe the etymology of the cockney term "bottle".

But I have to say, once I had taken a look at the numbers, I felt rather better and concluded that only losing two-nil to a side like Tottenham was quite an achievement for a team like Villa's. The numbers illustrated the gulf in ambition and class between the two teams but even I was forced to double-check my sums before I was totally convinced that they were correct, or as near as I am likely to get them.

The difference in value between Spurs' starting-eleven and Villa's starting-eleven, amounted to the staggering sum of 100m, according to Transfermarkt (okay 98m if you insist).

Now, I know that there is a decent margin of error to allow for a certain amount of quibbling, but it does not really diminish the gulf between the two clubs by much. Some might say that Gareth 'Cornelius' Bale is not worth 35m but equally as many Villa fans would dispute whether anyone is willing to pay 10.5m for Villa's Agbonlahor (our highest valued starter). But no one in their right mind could seriously doubt the gulf which has opened up between the two clubs in the last few years. And no one can doubt that the widening of that gulf has had as much to do with Spurs' excellent management as it has to do with Villa's poor.

It is a sickening realisation that Villa have sunk so low but it should make us less critical of both the players and the manager. This is good news for anyone struggling to readjust their expectations to the new reality at Villa, but it does rob us (me) of the perennial satisfaction of resentful jealousy of yet another club. Spurs were always so easy to resent as a London club because their slight financial advantage which they have enjoyed over Villa, could be easily dismissed as merely the result of the benefits of being in the capital, rather than being in the Midlands' rust-belt, created in the last age of austerity as a sacrifice to the god of the free-market.

Not so long ago, the gap was just enough to make that thesis tenable but these new figures make it impossible, and Spurs have become yet another rich club who are impossible to feel any resentful jealousy towards. As Villa know all too well, as the gap widens, envy and jealousy just become more and more difficult.

Ever since the Decalogue, envy and jealousy have had a bad name, but no one really doubts these days, that capitalism could not function without a good portion of envy. In short, envy is actually only aspiration deprived of opportunity. And the same people who dedicate themselves to depriving people of opportunity, are usually the same people who talk of the evils of envy.

Deprived of opportunity, all we are left with is our envy, but if the gap is too big, even envy is not possible.

As we all know, twenty years ago, Villa finished only ten points behind Manchester United in the first Premiership competition, and it was perfectly possible to construct a reasonable case to explain away that narrow gap: - media-favourites, the sense of their own divine-right, Fergie-time, favouritism from officials and luck. These days the gulf is so astronomical between Man United and Villa, that it is just impossible to make any kind of case at all. Just as it's impossible to be jealous of Man City, Chelsea
and even Arsenal - they are just too far out of reach and their eminence can be explained away, as special cases.

We might resent them with a passion but I don't think it is what you would call jealously. Just like I resent Real Madrid; jealousy and envy are just not possible.

As Franklin P Chote revealed in his ethnographic study of football lore amongst the tribes of the upper reaches of the Tame valley, in his Meeting The Natives series (forward by Studs Terkel), jealousy is an absolutely essential ingredient when it comes to firing the passion and loyalty, which characterises football's mores and the tribal totemic rituals, found wherever football is played.

The problem for Villa fans is that it is becoming increasingly difficult to find clubs who can excite any kind of envy these days, and the number is decreasing. As described above, Spurs have been put beyond all reasonable and tenable envy because they are too far out of reach financially and in the glamour stakes to be considered a legitimate rival.

Everton are just too poor and too virtuous to excite any envy or even resentment in 2012. Which means that the only club worthy of our jealousy these days is probably Newcastle United, after their resurgence since their relegation in 2009. Newcastle, according to the last accounts (2010-11) have a very similar turnover to Villa (circa 90m), have enjoyed substantially more love from the media than Villa, and have successfully turned around their fortunes with astute management at every level of the club - buying cheap and selling dear. Even their manager Alan Pardew is joyfully dislikeable.

All these things should add up to create a heart-warming and invigorating sense of envy and resentment, which should inspire every Villa fan. But what happens? Just as I thought I had found the ideal club to jealously compare with Villa, said club ruin the whole thing and bring shame upon themselves by proposing to put the name Wonga on their shirts.

Sadly, it is just not possible to feel envious of a club, which would stoop so low. This is a massive blow for anyone who thrives on the football energies which envy provokes. There I was thinking I had found the last club I could legitimately direct my envy towards and resentfully offer up as a model Villa should seek to emulate and they go and completely ruin it for me.

One of the best things Randy Lerner did to promote the Villa brand, was to put the name Acorns on the Villa shirt, instead of the booze and gambling brands, which are always a bit dubious. It seemed to make a strong statement that Randy Lerner thought that certain things were more important than money, and I think it was a matter of pride for the fans, especially as even Barcelona had besmirched their formerly brand-free shirts.

Sadly, Villa ditched their high principles in the face of financial reality, but although the choice of sponsor might remind puritans of the social evils of gambling, it can be claimed that there is a certain amount of pleasure involved in having a flutter. But no matter how I think about it, I just can't see what pleasure anyone gets from paying Wonga 4,214% on a loan they took out to deal with some domestic emergency.

There can't be a worse example of money being transferred from the very poorest to the richest, over-paid and spoilt, than such a sponsorship deal.

But no doubt, someone will tell me I am just jealous, and I just wish I was.



Keep the faith!
The Journalist

Writer: Steve Wade Mail feedback, articles or suggestions

Date:Friday October 12 2012

Time: 4:26PM

Your Comments

Did you see that cheeky quote from Charles Green, CEO of Scottish Third Division side Rangers? 'How can Manchester United's revenues be 320 million and Aston Villa, who are completely useless, get 250m?' Needs to pay more attention to his own club's failings before commenting on others.
chocolate teapot
Envy equals aspiration minus opportunity - I like that.
OnMeHeadFred
From a Villa fan on Randy Lerner's side of the Atlantic, has there ever been a discussion in the PL about a salary cap and/or a "luxury" tax for spending over a certain amount on player salaries as are in place in many U.S. professional sports, or is football simply too universal a sport so that the best players would simply leave for other leagues where no such caps are in place?
Virginia Villan
Your second assumption is correct Virginia Villan.
Pride of Lions
 

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