There’s a famous bit in Dickens’ Little Dorrit when the novel’s hero, Arthur Clennam, receives a letter from Flora Finching, the girl he was engaged to twenty years earlier, when she was seventeen and he was not much older. Despite the passage of time, he can’t help imagining her to be exactly the same as she was then and Dickens has a lot of fun describing his disappointment that she has turned into a much larger, more garrulous, silly, sentimental woman. But, being Dickens, the reader is left feeling a great deal of sympathy for both characters: Arthur, for his foolishness at expecting his love not to have changed at all in twenty years and Flora, because the changes in her have so obviously been caused, not merely by the passing of time, but by the disappointment of lost love.
I’m beginning to feel a little bit like that about Town. The new season has started me thinking about past glories, the fixture list is like a letter inviting me back to those good times, to forget the awfulness of recent years under Keane and Jewell. I know rationally that Matt Holland is no longer our captain but there’s a little bit of me that thinks he might run around the pitch applauding the fans. One more time.
It took Mick McCarthy about ten minutes – and this video – to remove any misgivings that I might have had when he was appointed. MM, our seventh manager since we were last relegated from the Premier League at the end of the 2001/2 season, appears to have done an excellent job of assembling a competitive squad, spending very little money in the process. We may have lost at Reading but we weren’t outplayed in what must be one of our most testing fixtures this season and, although I’d have loved a run in the Carling Cup, the defeat by Stevenage has been easily forgotten after last Saturday when I enjoyed a match more than I’ve done for…. oh, ages.
But as it was for Dickens’ characters, my long-standing passion is beginning to be strained, the object of my affections has changed, is a bit blowsy, overblown, and full of contradictions. Expensive but also a little cheap. Nice but occasionally a bit nasty. I can still see the thing I adored but there are too many irritants. I may have to make my excuses and…. [ditches strained analogy].
We have written about aspects of ITFC that are a little disappointing here for example – and the independent supporters’ trust, Ipswich Town 1st, has issued a statement about the new ticketing policy here, so I won’t go over old ground. There are many views on the new ITFC and it’s hard to form a definite opinion when you’re not sure of the motives behind the decisions. The new Managing Directors, Symonds and Milne, along with Simon Milton, seem to have improved public relations exponentially. But still, there are things that annoy, nagging doubts… redundancies, bad experiences of customer service, rip-off prices, the tension between a football club as a business and as a club, with supporters who are part of the “family” or “community” according to the PR, but are also there to be exploited by the business, a multi-millionaire owner who is asking hard-pressed working people to stump up for the Academy and the fans, bless ‘em, don’t let him down.
Recently, the club has advertised for three part-time, unpaid “interns.” I’m disappointed once more (and possibly also, disillusioned encore) because I expect more from the club of Sir Alf Ramsey and Sir Bobby Robson. Yes, I know other clubs – bigger clubs, more successful clubs, richer clubs – do it too, but I only care about my club, ITFC. I understand the economics too. Unfortunately, for several decades now, we’ve been encouraged to look at the dismal science of economics as if it is a proper science and has inexorable, immutable laws, like the laws of physics (which as we know, ye cannae change). But economics can’t, in my view, be taken out of the context of morality and society which even the Prime Minister has admitted exists after all. And what is the morality of employing people but not paying them?
Apart from morality, there’s actually a rather compelling reason why people should be paid for their work which every devotee of capitalism should be arguing for. It’s obvious really – if people have no wages, or low wages, they can’t spend on the goods and services businesses are offering. It’s counter-productive and short-termism at its worst. Think, Mr. Evans, how many more shirts and ITFC-branded meerkats we’d all buy if we were all living in a high-wage economy instead of scraping around in the back of the sock drawer for the cash to buy that season ticket every year.
The arguments in favour are, of course, that a young person, seeking experience in a difficult labour market will be pleased to have the opportunity to work for nothing in order to gain a foothold into a career in football … and it’s football! Football, which as everyone knows is more important than life or death or affording to eat, itself.
After all, what’s the difference between being an unpaid intern on the American model and volunteering? Well, there’s a considerable difference. I volunteer for two organisations, but I’d never do any work that would or could be done by a paid employee. I’m a qualified librarian but I would never work unpaid in one of Suffolk’s libraries. It’s an insult to the paid workers and makes it more likely that redundancies will be made. Working for free (or for very low wages or zero hours contracts) undermines other working people’s jobs, their conditions of employment and their wages. It may be that many people no longer care about their fellow citizens and only see what will benefit themselves, but in the end, we’ll all suffer. Decent wages, working conditions, paid holidays and sick leave are taken for granted now – or at least they were until recent years – but they were won by the hard-fought campaigns and the real suffering of people in the past. Even the fact that football matches traditionally start at three o’clock on a Saturday afternoon goes back to the nineteenth-century Factory Acts which were the result of long campaigning by reformers to allow people a few hours off a week. Because before that, most ordinary workers laboured from dawn until night, seven days a week – and that isn’t living, it’s existing.
Of course, in a world obsessed by “choice” or the illusion of choice, it’s up to the individual to choose whether or not to work without pay – except that it isn’t. Only those with some other means of financial support – the Bank of Mum and Dad, perhaps – can do it. In that sense, it’s discriminatory. Lots of people, I’m sure would love to work for ITFC. Few are going to be able to afford to do so for nothing.
Oh, and according to this website, unpaid internships are illegal.
You can find more information here.
There are lots of difficult things going on in football at the moment, all the result of big business and faceless corporate owners who have little love for or knowledge of the game. Cardiff City, Hull City AFC [please consider signing their petition against the enforced change of their name to Hull City Tigers] and Coventry City all have their own problems. It’s making fans feel alienated from their own clubs, sometimes even causing such tensions that supporters are arguing and fighting one another. It’s not that bad at Portman Road. I sincerely hope that it never is, but there are signs that business and the interests of the owner and shareholders are paramount, more so than football. You may accept that this is right, or it’s part of the modern game and we have to be cynical about it if we want to “succeed.” But success can be measured in many ways.
Once we were highly regarded as a football club which, like our managers, Ramsey and Robson, showed the best side of football, decent, competitive, inclusive. When ITFC were last promoted to the Premier League on 29 May 2000, BBC radio commentator, Pat Murphy, welcomed us back to the top tier with genuine warmth, speaking of a club of “good football, good beer and good people.” I like that description and I’d like to be good again.