Today saw two great old titans of British football face off in one of the FA Cup Quarter Finals. Two teams who have put their fans through the wringer plenty of times in recent years. Two sets of fans who keep on coming back for more, and more often out of hope than expectation.
They’re also two clubs based in the North, and in cities that have had to fight the impact of previous Tory governments. They’re fighting again now, but today it seems that fight has just got that much harder.
The end of national pay bargaining will hit areas like Merseyside and the North East hard. Already poor areas will get poorer as the rewards for being a teacher, a nurse, or a policeman diminish compared to the pay for similar positions elsewhere in the country. It’ll also have a significant impact on local economies, stunting the impact of any private sector led recovery that might take place. “Brain Drain” to the South is one possibility. A lack of people wanting to work in the public sector is another. Although the government already has the latter covered – the staggeringly high unemployment levels (especially in the North East) mean that any job, even with wages slashed in real terms, will be heavily sought after.
One of the reasons I’m so passionate about Sunderland (as my team) and respectful of Everton, is that there’s clearly a bond between the players, the clubs and their fans. The twenty two footballers who took to the pitch at Goodison today will all either be millionaires already, or will likely one day become millionaires. They play for us, they represent us, they win and they lose for us. And they are stupendously, staggeringly well paid for that. Yet that bond, that societal solidarity, still remains.
And yet today the government looks set to give those players – all of whom will be top rate tax payers – a tax cut, whilst the fans on the terraces see their wages stagnate, or cut, or disappear. The solidarity that exists in society, manifested so clearly on the terrace, between the wealthy and the less fortunate is already so strained in our society as to be approaching breaking point.
Today that strain increased. For the people of Sunderland, and Liverpool, Newcastle and Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds (and indeed Edinburgh and Cardiff) I worry that one day the bond that ties us all together (rich and poor, north and south, private sector and public sector) will snap.
And there won’t be any coming back from it when it does. “All in it together? You’re havin a laugh” – as the fans on the terraces today might have put it.