Tuesday 13 January 2015

Win Win

Soccer is no longer just kicking a bladder about a grassy rectangle: it is huge money. The British Premier League spent £835 million in the 2014-15 pre-season transfer window; the Italian Serie A £260m; Spanish La Liga £425m. A chunk of that went to the star players themselves but a larger amount probably went to creatures such as agents and deal-brokers. I've been working at the coal-face of science for 40 years now and have earned about €1million, maybe a tad more.  That's plenty, thanks. The money is in an upward inflationary spiral: 10 years ago the Premier League spent only £265m, or about a third as much.
  • Manchester United alone spent £149m in this last transfer window
  • The number of seats in their stadium Old Trafford is about 75,000
  • Ticket costs are about £45
  • There are 20 home league matchs
  • So the basic income from their product is 75,000 x 45 x 20 =  £67.5million
  • Perhaps someone could explain the economics?
But these are paltry numbers compared to charioteers in ancient Rome and Byzantium. Gaius Appuleius Diocles the highest paid charioteer earned 35,863,120 sesterces in his life time.  It's hard to translate that into real money but it's about what it cost to feed Rome for a year or, comparing it to the salary of Roman legionaries and converting that to the pay-scale of  modern US GIs, $15 billion for a few turns round the Circus Maximus.  Roman charioteers signed up to particular stables, each having kit in a particular colour: Red, White, Blue or Green and attracted the same fanatic loyalties as modern sofa-sportsmen will accord The Reds (which could mean Man.U., Liverpool, Shelbourne FC, Hannover 96 or a dozen other soccer clubs).

Newcastle United (the Magpies) is so called since the 1892 merger of two clubs Newcastle West End and Newcastle East End.  In a similar way, by the time Rome had fallen to barbarians and the Emperor was ruling from Constantinople, the Greens had absorbed the Whites and the Blues had gobbled the Reds so there were just two teams to play chariots. There was money to be made from racing seven times round the stadia of the cities of the Empire but it was far more dangerous than kicking the bladder is today and so, in a sense, the charioteers earned their salt.  Then as now, more money was probably made by the agents, bookmakers, race-fixers and hangers on than by the chaps in the firing line.  It was common for supporters of the opposing team to be assaulted both in and outside the amphitheatre or for missiles to be fired at the chariots. A cry of "Foul" could result in a riot that spilled out onto the streets and left hundreds dead.
 The most infamous of these incidents started on 13th January 532 in Constantinople when Justinian was Emperor and his wife Theodora, a former entertainer and courtesan, was the power behind the throne.  There is a lot of contemporary evidence that Theodora wore the trousers and certainly seems to have had more backbone when the chips were down.  Both Emperor and his wife were partisans of the Blues, although Herself was a late convert to the cause.
On the 10th of January at a chariot race, there had been a riot (no surprise), and several people killed (same old, same old) but the authorities condemned the perpetrators to death for murder. In process of a mass hanging, the scaffold collapsed and two condemned charioteers (one Green, one Blue) escaped alive. The two sides were temporarily joined in their disapproval of the Government and the traditional spectator's cry of "Νίκα! Νίκα!" (Win! Win!) was raised.  The Mob United rampaged through the city, looting and setting fire to what they couldn't move. The Capital was sacked for 5 days straight and Justinian was all for sailing off into the sunset but Theodora said "Imperial Purple would make a fine shroud" and organised the recovery.  This involved suborning the leaders of the Blues with money to leave the stadium where everyone was whooping it up and then sending in a column of heavily armed Thracian and Gothic soldiery who thought chariots were for wimps.  They say that 30,000 people, mostly Greens but many others beside, were butchered by the aliens that afternoon in the hippodrome. That might amount to 10% of the total populations. Modern football hooligans think they're well 'ard but the penalty is more ASBO and less Goth-with-Axe.  The representation of Nike/Victoria [L] is the Siegessäule, Berlin commemorating bloody victories of Prussia over the Danes, Austrians and French in the mid C19th . . . Goth-with-Axe, hmmmm?

The "Nika" riots had destroyed large sections of the city and Justinian took the opportunity to start building the Hagia Sophia, which was completed in 537 and was still working its romantic magic when I visited in 1999.  Not without a silver lining, then?

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