THE most eloquent and poignant political protest in the history of the World Cup occurred in Argentina in 1978. It passed almost unnoticed for more than 40 years but those for whom it was intended knew and that was all that mattered.

Black bands had been painted at the base of the goalposts in that World Cup, but in the drama and fervour of the tournament, won brilliantly by the host nation, they had simply been regarded as a curiosity, rooted perhaps in local footballing custom.

But they’d been noticed by David Forrest, a Scottish football blogger, who uncovered their secret, following a mildly obsessive 40-year odyssey. During a visit to Buenos Aires in later life, he discovered that they’d been painted by stadium workers as “a form of remembrance” for the thousands of Argentinian citizens who’d been tortured and murdered by the brutal, right-wing, military junta who then governed the country. The full story is available on Forrest’s blog, In Bed With Maradona.

These crimes were acknowledged by governments around the world, but there were few dissenting voices when FIFA, football’s ruling body, opted to award Argentina the world’s biggest sporting festival. They also knew that the 1978 World Cup, reinforced by an Argentinian triumph, would probably extend this regime’s licence to terrorise its citizens by another few years.

Football is known all over the world as “The Beautiful Game,” a phrase attributed to the great Brazilian footballer, Pele. When this football-obsessed country hosted the World Cup in 2014 it was against a backdrop of appalling levels of inequality and poverty. Yet, vital infrastructure projects were suspended to help pay for the swanky new stadiums. Contracts were carved up by government-favoured companies with links to organised crime. Those who lived in the over-crowded favelas could never hope to afford the price of a ticket for the games.

As the Beautiful Game has gradually become the exclusive property of a global corporate elite its founding values of working-class solidarity and community pride have been eroded and then supplanted by unfettered capitalism. This, of course, has its own code: anything goes and anything can be purified or concealed just so long as there’s the guarantee of a fat profit.

It’s why the moral objections to awarding this World Cup to Qatar, a tiny nation-state which oppresses migrant workers; women and gay people, will gradually evaporate as the tournament gets underway tomorrow night.

When the World Cup comes to town the host nation is expected to pay tribute by suspending its normal customs and conventions. In previous tournaments the first to go are usually those built around decency and honesty. FIFA operates as an itinerant global super-state unhindered by the conventions of the United Nations.

The corruption that riddled this organisation for decades, and which resulted in convictions for several of its senior executives, went unchecked for such a long time because national governments feared the popular consequences of sanctions being applied to its football teams.

Vladimir Putin was beaming from the best seat in the house at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium for the opening game of the World Cup in 2018. He knew that for a few weeks the world would conveniently choose to forget his crackdown on the LGBT community or the reports of the Russian police intervening to prevent any displays of physical affection by gay people.

Perversely, FIFA’s subvention of local customs and laws will work in reverse during the Qatar World Cup. For a month at least, women will be permitted – up to a point – to dress as they please; football supporters will be able to drink alcohol and gay people to show physical affection unhindered by the threat of sanctions. And then the global, corporate caravan will move on and the rights of minorities, temporarily upheld, will be dismantled once more.

The global football finance specialist David Low says that awarding Qatar the 2022 World Cup represents the zenith of football capitalism. “The progress and conduct of football mirrors what has happened in global economies for the last 40 years,” he said.

“Globalisation; easy money and the survival of the fittest have all made rich people richer and poor people poorer. It’s the same in professional football. Rich clubs have become richer and more powerful and poor clubs have become poorer and voiceless. The same handful of countries will compete for all the international honours while the element of fair competition has all but disappeared at club level where only a handful of the richest can win European tournaments. No one else has a chance.

“Qatar is the culmination of a generation of unfettered greed. There is no good reason for the World Cup to be held in Qatar other than money. There is no football infrastructure in the country and conditions for those football fans who have saved to attend it are prohibitive.

“Meanwhile, normal football has been cancelled throughout the rest of the world to accommodate it. All the basic rules and conventions of football have been suspended to slake the profiteering whims of a global, corporate elite, for whom any iniquity or malfeasance can be justified.”

Yet, the suspension of decency or morality in football only occurs with the connivance of those of us who are enslaved by its drama. Football remains the favoured passion of working-class people, who don’t possess the means to invest in the game or even to exert any influence on the direction or business strategies of their clubs.

The supporters though have all invested something much more precious than money. They’ve made a massive emotional investment in their clubs which over several generations have come to represent local pride and provide the glue which knits societies and families together in the face of adversity.

Political institutions; churches, banks and employers will all, at various points, fail us. But our football clubs will always be there, betokening continuity and permanence. We watch the millionaire players come and go, but the colours they wear are all that really matter. They carry the memories of parents and grandparents for whom they represented hope and optimism when their communities were being menaced by inequality and multi-deprivation.

It’s this emotional and spiritual connectivity, though, that makes football and the people who sustain it prey to the avarice of corrupt states; global cartels and those kleptocracies who ransacked their countries’ economies in times of profound political upheaval.

Newcastle United haven’t won a major trophy since the Old European Fairs Cup in 1969. Since then, this big, pulsating, working-class city has yearned for football success. Every few years they watch their club make multi-millionaires out of mediocre overseas footballers and then despair as their hopes and dreams wither and die after a brief mayfly period of optimism. This is the city of the False Dawn.

Last year they were bought by the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund (PIF), a sovereign wealth fund worth around £315bn. The £300m they paid for one of the UK’s most iconic football clubs is like the purchase of a new kitchen.

The PIF’s chairman is Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, regarded as the ‘de facto ruler’ of the country. You might have heard of this charmer.

He’s the man whom Western intelligence agencies suspect approved a hit squad abducting, torturing and murdering the Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Ahmad Khashoggi in Istanbul, before dismembering him and disposing of his body in bags. 

The Saudi wealth fund has chosen wisely. Perhaps the supporters of a much more successful football club might have objected to the source of its newfound wealth. However, so starved of success has Newcastle United been that their supporters will not suffer long dark nights of the soul pondering the morality of their club’s owners or the deeds associated with them.

Tomorrow: For and against the World Cup in Qatar