Wednesday Book: A Game of Two Halves and Complex Mathematics ; the Economics of Football by Stephen Dobson and John Goddard (Cambridge University Press, Pounds 30)

Article excerpt

BILL SHANKLEY is credited with saying: "Some people say football is a matter of life and death. They're wrong. It's much more important than that". Of course it is. Football is also about love and money, and if anything trumps life and death, they do.

Love, because football has become entwined with every social cleavage and division. It has served as the focus of identity for the German Brazilians of Gremio and the Turkish Germans of Turkiyemspor. It has formed the linchpin of solidarity from Catalan nationalism to Calcutta's Muslims, from Viennese Jews to Australian Croats. It has served the greater glory of armies and secret police, media empires and nation states.

And money, because love demands the best. In the arms race of competitive sport, even the chance of glory must be paid for. From the Lancashire industrialist paying for the works team's boots to Nike's virtual ownership of the Brazilian national squad, victory has been pursued with relentless expenditure. No one really knows just how much money is whirling through the maw of the global football industry. Manchester United's turnover is pounds 100m a year; Real Madrid is over pounds 200m in debt. Sky paid over a billion for the latest tranche of Premiership rights.

We know in advance that economists are not going to help with the love side of the equation, but money is definitely their department. The Economics of Football never does sort out how much money there is in football, for what promises to be a survey turns out to be a rather specialised tour. Stephen Dobson and John Goddard chillingly state their intentions in the preface: "The development and testing of economic hypotheses using sport as a laboratory". This is not called the dismal science for nothing.

However, the peculiarities of professional sport require a bit of readjustment on the part of the profession, as Goddard and Dobson acknowledge. The standard theory of the firm cannot be applied to football clubs as joint production, competition and uncertainty of outcome are central to giving punters what they want. …