Transition Culture

An Evolving Exploration into the Head, Heart and Hands of Energy Descent

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25 Jul 2008

Peak Football and waving goodbye to Ronaldo

I spent a couple of days last week attending the Green New Deal think-tank type event in London, and at one point we were asked to speak about what we thought we would see in the world in 50 months from now (late 2012). One of the things I came up with was “the first World Cup Finals to be cancelled because no-one could get to them”. While football isn’t a subject often touched on here at Transition Culture, I have to confess I love it, and am fascinated by what we might come to call ‘peak football’. Football is not immune to the credit crunch nor to rising fuel prices, and in this age of ridiculous salaries being given to top players and insane transfer fees, something, at some point, has to give, and it looks like it might be starting to happen as we speak.

I have to say that I am a great admirer of Cristiano Ronaldo. Yes he can be cocky, arrogant, in love with himself and so on, but he is the most extraordinary player I have ever watched, able to do things with a football that defy belief and which keep you on the edge of your seat whenever he gets the ball. For those of you who live outside the world of the English Premier League, Ronaldo (there was another Ronaldo who was famous when this one first appeared, no-one remembers him anymore) is a Portugese player, plays for Manchester United, scored 40 something goals last season, but at the end of this season declared that he wanted to leave United and move to play for Real Madrid, although it is not yet clear if he will actually be going or not. Although to lose his footballing wizardry will be a grave loss, I think he should go, and that there is a lesson here for us all in these rapidly changing times.

The advice often given to people when they encounter peak oil is to get out of debt. To be entering this current time of peak oil and economic meltdown saddled with a high amount of credit and debt is really not very sensible. Most of us aren’t in the position to completely scale back to that extent, but if someone were to point out that a piece of furniture or an original signed vinyl pressing LP we had was especially valuable, we might be tempted to cash it in and use it to lighten our debt load.

Similarly, if Madrid want to pay a reported £75 million for him (I mean, for heavens sake), then given that he is widely regarded as being the best player in the world at the moment, now would appear to be a good time to cash him in and use the money to greatly reduce United’s debts (which are considerable). More and more people in football are starting to flag up the precarious situation football is now in. Arsenal’s manager Arsene Wenger recently told the BBC “the increase of TV money looks to have reached the maximum and it cannot go further – it can only go down and all the clubs have reached a limit”.

There are interesting trends afoot in the world at the moment, as high oil prices focus people’s minds and what was unthinkable 6 months ago becomes common sense now. Some big companies such as Proctor and Gamble are looking towards more localised approaches, breaking their centralised operations down into more decentralised operations. In the same way, Wenger (who has often been criticised for fielding teams with not a single British player) is starting to look more towards focusing on the production of local talent, saying “a big club like ours must rely first of all on youth development as we want to bring the core strength of the club through the youth system”.

As the time arrives for being more frugal, for preparing for a new world of economic contraction and energy scarcity, football clubs will need to beat a retreat from the ridiculous spending and wages that recent years have seen, eventually returning to teams of local people representing the local community they purport to represent (what a quaint notion). As Wenger concludes in the BBC piece, “I recently met the chairman of a Brazilian club who told me they are negotiating all their contracts down by 50% as the TV company cannot pay the money. All over the world, TV money has gone short and there will be consequences on football.”

I will miss the dazzling, twinkling footwork of Ronaldo, the match-making brilliance that could turn a game in a moment of brilliance, but times are changing and like the rest of us, it is time to cut our cloth to suit the times. In the same way that our degree of oil dependence equates to our degree of oil vulnerability, the degree of indebtedness for our football clubs will, over the next few seasons, become their vulnerability. Some have already gone out out of business and many others can’t be far from it. We need to start seeing any valuable possessions we have as offering potential ways out of indebtedness, something in a year or two we may turn out to have been very grateful for. We may come to kick ourselves for having missed the opportunity.

Comments are now closed on this site, please visit Rob Hopkins' blog at Transition Network to read new posts and take part in discussions.


Gareth Doutch
25 Jul 8:43am

There was a discussion along these lines in the PowerSwitch forum a while ago. I pointed out that the 1st FA cup final held at Wembley stadium (1923) had an unofficial attendance estimated at 250,000 people. Football will survive, and I’m sure the World Cup will too, even if looks a little more like the old days.

Shaun Chamberlin
25 Jul 9:50am

I agree about football Gareth.

I’ve often thought that the reason football is the most popular sport in the world, when you strip away everything around it, is that to play you really only need a little space and something very roughly resembling a ball.

I’m sure you’re right that the 2010 World Cup will go ahead, but as I’ve said here before the current politic-ing going on around who gets to host the World Cups in 2018 and 2022 very much assumes that the competitions (and the money surrounding them) will look very similar to Germany 2006. I can’t see it.

Oh, and Rob, it’s all very well saying such things about Ronaldo, but could you seriously advocate the Premiership losing a jewel like Torres? 😉

25 Jul 9:54am

Behave yourself there Chamberlin, Transition is a strictly non-partisan field… Torres indeed…

25 Jul 11:23am

At any rate I can’t imagine that situations where 40,000 British fans have to fly out to Moscow to watch a Champion’s league final between 2 British teams can be tenable much longer either…

25 Jul 8:58pm

As a football coach in Hackney, London I am looking forward to a time when the players I coach can feel fully integrated into a wider football community that is fed into by local systems. As it stands amateur football is literally disconnected from the higher echelons so there is no continuity. This is just one thing i hope will change in a post peak oil world.
Many young people in my area depend on consumerism for their self esteem and ambition and will feel particularly threatened when this lifestyle is no longer available. Therefore it is vital we energise and evolve our local football leagues and programmes(and those of other sports)to offer alternative ways for them to challenge themselves. It will also be important for the screen glued community to stop drooling over Ronaldo and the like and support the amazing talent in their neighbourhoods,or take part in sport themselves.Peace.Nice site

don't spit
26 Jul 1:13am

Football is fecked, great article only partially compromised by all the Ronaldo fanboy-ism. He falls on his arse during penalties and he is far from being a decent human being. Otherwise, your post is valid

Tom A
26 Jul 8:01am

Looks like they’re paying £32m for Tevez though!

That video of Ronaldo shows lots of step-overs and free kicks… and not a lot else… still not convinced of his long term team qualities. (Sounds like a debate for a pint and the pub!)

With regard to football scaling down and becoming local, I think it is highly unlikely. There is still an awful lot of fossil energy left to play with – look at the area under Colin’s graph to the right of 2010 – that’s a lot of energy!

The rich and powerful will use some of it to provide entertainment to the masses. The difference I see to what Gareth mentions above about 250,000 people at the FA cup final in 1920 is that more people in the future will be watching these big events on their TV’s – which need much less energy to power than the transport to get them to the matches.

That said – local teams with local players would be much preferable…

Tom A
26 Jul 8:02am

oops meant to link to an image above – it’s here.

chris - TT exmouth
26 Jul 11:21pm

I very much like the idea of football as an analogy for the current crises that we face. just like in all traditions, there is a tendency to look at football and talk about the good old days when players played for the love of the game, the club, and it’s fans. I had the fortune (or not) of growing up in oxford and supporting united for many years. we had always been a small club but in the 1980’s Robert Maxwell became our chairman and ploughed millions into the club. In 1986 we won the Milk Cup (coca-cola cup), but since then we have been in free-fall and now find ourselves stuck in the football conference.

living beyond our means bought us great riches and accolades for a few years, and when i think about Hubberts chart of fossil fuel use over a timespan of 10,000 years it is very similar. Oxford Utd are now having to loan players from higher leagues, and sign players from lower leagues in the hope of escaping the Blue Square Premier…. we have faced bankruptcy, humiliation and despair for our fans! Was it worth it? For the sake of a few thousand to see our triumph at wembley in ’86, thousands upon thousands have had to put up with our demise for over 20 years!

And now the current management must pick up the pieces, clean up the mess, just as i feel i must in Exmouth. The spirit has gone out of football.. it’s all tactics and money… and much the same can be said of local council and community. But i do feel that it is changing, the very reason these ‘games’ were invented in the first place was to encourage community involvement, a way to spend your time constructively, doing a good deed for your home-town. These are the fundementals of a transition movement, and these are the activities that create a genuine sense of pleasure and ‘being’ that we all need.

Shaun Chamberlin
28 Jul 11:47pm

A taste of the future? From

“The South American Cup competition came hurriedly to life in 2002. In the depths of the continent’s economic depression the tournament which had previously occupied the second half of the year lost its sponsorship and folded. The South American Cup began as a quick mend and make do replacement.

The format, then, is home and away knockout right from the start. And in the first rounds the dominant principle is the need to keep travel costs down; the Brazilians play amongst themselves, as do the Argentines.

All the others face teams from a neighbouring country. For example, of Paraguay’s two representatives, one travels north to meet a team from Bolivia, the other goes south to Uruguay, and so on.”

Andrew Curry
30 Jul 7:48pm

Michel Platini, the great French midfielder who now runs UEFA, seems to be ahead of the rest of the football world in thinking about the impact of financial management on the balance and structure of the game. He’s been making noises about how clubs with huge debt (in Chelsea’s case underwritten by a billionaire who’s largely indifferent to getting a reasonable return on the money) have an advantage in the short-term over clubs without it. He’s also talked about imposing a maximum wages-to-turnover ratio to encourage more sensible financial policies.