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Adrian Tempany: And The Sun Shines Now (Faber & Faber)

Between 1992 and 1997, the 22 (later 20) football clubs in England's new Premier League shared £50.7 million a year in television revenue.

Between 2010 and 2013, the sum paid per season rose to £593.4m, or £4.3m per game. To those who struck it rich, this seemed like very satisfactory progress.

In the summer of 2012, nevertheless, the league's negotiators were pleased to announce the sale of their latest TV "packages" to BSkyB and BT. With Rupert Murdoch's satellite broadcaster coughing up the lion's share, the three-year deal that took effect this season was priced at £3.01 billion, or £6.53m a match. Overnight, the value of the contracts had increased by 70%.

It didn't end there. The clubs sold overseas broadcasting rights for £2.2 billion. They picked up £178 million from the BBC for highlights. Their representatives set to work "monetising" the growing internet market. When the dust had settled, three years of football from a country that has not won a World Cup in almost half a century was worth £5.5bn.

Nice work. Yet despite the flood of money that has washed over the English game, accounts released a year ago showed that 17 of the Premier League's 20 clubs were in debt. Collectively, they had also run up an operating loss of £205m in a single year. In 2011-12, even before the latest windfall, they contrived to spend £1.6bn on players' wages. Yet as Adrian Tempany points out, the losses were not due to any charitable instinct towards fans who keep the mad circus going.

Between 1992 and 2010, while the national average wage rose by 186%, the cost of the cheapest tickets at Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool went up by just under 900%. Liverpool's ground, Anfield, is in Walton, "which in 2009 was ranked the most deprived borough in Britain". In 2012, the club's cheapest season ticket was £725. The fan who can't manage that has Sky instead: a "sports pack" with the most basic service is just over £457 a year.

The clubs don't care how the money arrives, nor are they abashed if it is spent on rank, relentless decadence. That their league exists only to deliver a captive audience for Murdoch is of no consequence. The 70% premium attached to the latest deal was above all an assertion of ownership. The broadcasters own the sport and repackage a sanitised version of a vestigial culture for consumers ("fans") the world over. Football is a hell of a metaphor.

Such is Tempany's fundamental point. In his accounting, "the national game" has changed as Britain has changed, but the attitudes that wrought football's transformation have altered society in turn. You need to see inequality? As And The Sun Shines Now explains, those who turn up to games are growing steadily older - the young can't afford it - and steadily more middle class. Liverpool doesn't sell many £725 tickets in Walton. These days the average distance travelled to Anfield by faux Scousers who comprise the bulk of the crowd is 80 miles.

Tempany has intensely personal reasons for telling this story, and for speaking up for those whose game has been stolen. Some might say the multi-billion pound entertainment product called English football was born in the spring of 1992 when the top clubs, avid for Murdoch's cash, broke away from the old Football League. Tempany tells a different tale. In his harrowing account there is another explanation for exploitation and cultural degradation.

Finally, a quarter century after 96 people died at a Sheffield football ground that lacked a valid safety certificate, we know all about Hillsborough. Most of us will never know as much as Tempany, however. At 19, he was there, in the hell of the Leppings Lane pens when a cup tie between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest became a scene of carnage. He almost died, like so many others, because fans were regarded as scum and treated like scum. And The Sun Shines Now, sober and angry, dispassionate and disgusted, is the result.

Hillsborough resulted in the most sustained cover-up in post-war Britain. That is, of course, saying something. It led to an organised campaign of denial, deceit and forgery by the police, to the blaming of the victims by the toadying Sun, and to a procession of politicians eager to tame a sport and its working-class followers. For Tempany, the parallels with much else that happened during the Thatcher and Blair years, the grovelling to Murdoch above all, come easily. As they should.

Liverpool fans, whether they died or survived, were traduced in 1989 as a mob of thieving, drunken hooligans who brought disaster on themselves and then impeded the police and emergency services. This was a lie, constructed deliberately and concealed for almost a quarter of a century. It was of a piece with Thatcherism, born of the belief in "us" - law-abiding, civilised - and a working-class "them".

As bad in its own way, at least as a symbol of official attitudes, was the instant embrace of another untruth. Hillsborough happened, said people who had never seen a match, because of unruly hordes standing jammed together on terraces. Make them sit, deny them alcohol, bring them under control: all, said officialdom, will be well.

In the course of some fascinating final chapters, Tempany tells of visits to Germany, a country in which standing (and drinking) inside grounds has never been abolished and in which the traditions are defended fiercely. German fans look at their once-admired English counterparts, those passive consumers of over-priced "product", with dismay. The right to stand up - to stand up for, to stand up against, to stand freely - is at the heart of Tempany's book.

It might seem that the author invests a lot in a mere sport. Hillsborough no doubt gave him that right. But And The Sun Shines Now is bigger even than the tragedy that provides its inspiration. The theft, repackaging and flogging off of the people's game is emblematic. Thatcher treated mining communities much as she treated football fans. National assets were privatised much as clubs have been torn from their roots for the sake of foreign owners.

To whom does football belong? The argument is an old one. Is it the property of tycoons and the shareholders who hand over those billions? To sheikhs and oligarchs who pay vast wages to young gifted men? Or are fans somehow right when they talk, proudly or wistfully, of "their" clubs and stake claims no court would enforce?

Tempany, with the German Bundesliga once again in mind, is a staunch believer in supporter-owned clubs, not because common ownership is an agreeably romantic notion, but because it makes social and economic sense. The Premier League believes it has a product that can be sold around the globe. In truth, its only asset is its audience.

In poll after poll, the right to stand while spectating wins 90% support from fans. In these parts Celtic, unencumbered by English laws, is close to reintroducing a freedom long lost. The "mob", as Tempany concludes in this fine and passionate book, "are still here, and we have been cleared of all charges against us."

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