Broken Dreams by Tom Bower

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Broken Dreams by Tom Bower

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Category: Sport
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: A revealing and frightening look at the state of British football and those who have been in charge of the game. It's not always easy reading but is recommended by Bookbag.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 448 Date: April 2007
Publisher: Pocket Books
ISBN: 978-1847390035

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Football. The national sport? The beautiful game? Or is it, as Tom Bower suggests in Broken Dreams a cess pit of vanity, greed and corruption paid for by the fans, the clubs and those who subscribe to Sky?

Bower looks at the luminaries of the game - such people as Terry Venables, Ken Bates, Harry Rednapp and Brian Clough amongst others - and examines their history in managing the sport and the money they have made from it. The potted biographies of these and other individuals makes frightening reading with their financial chicanery so often being overlooked by the clubs (whose money was disappearing into a black hole) and the ruling bodies of the sport so long as they were producing the results on the pitch. The FA, who should have been regulating the sport, was toothless in the face of those who felt themselves beyond the FA's reach and sometimes above the law.

The finances of football were transformed when Sky won the rights to screen the Premier League. The sums involved were such that there should have been a trickle down effect right into the grass roots of the game which would have meant more home-grown players coming into professional football. Instead of this happening to any great extent the money has been leached out of football in the UK and used to buy foreign players, often of questionable ability. In fact some clubs were trading players so regularly and to little effect on the pitch that it must be wondered if the point of the transfers was the 'bung' which might have been attached to the transactions.

Agents proliferate in the game, but some seem to look after their own interests rather than the players they represent. Many of the top agents seem able to insert themselves into transfers - and take a fee - when there is no apparent rationale for them being involved at all. The 'fees' they take are frightening. At the beginning of the book I was shocked to find that the fee that might be taken on a single transfer could well be substantially more than the average worker might earn in a year. By the end of the book I was stunned when the fee for similar transfers would buy substantial houses.

And who's paying for all this? Well, the fans are with the extortionate ticket prices. Some club chairmen lacking business acumen have found themselves substantially out of pocket when they've bought a club expecting to make a profit. If you're a subscriber to Sky television you've been funding the corruption. Ultimately though, we've all been paying as the attitude to payment of Income Tax has been cavalier if not downright dishonest.

Bower is an investigative journalist of some note. This can be problematic as the investigator looks for what is wrong rather than what is right. Reading this book it's easy to think that honest people in the upper reaches of football are few and far between, that even those who set out to be honest have to accommodate corruption in order to survive. I hope this isn't the case, but I fear that I'm being naïve.

Broken Dreams is generally very readable although the mass of figures is occasionally confusing even for someone who is used to reading about money. Footnotes to support some of the individual statements would have been helpful as referring to the notes at the back is time consuming and I would have liked to have known how some of the information came to be in the public domain. That's a purist's view though and doesn't detract from the overall message.

If you enjoy this type of book you might also like to read Michael Crick's excellent and very revealing biography of Sir Alex Ferguson.

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