There are 2 hours remaining of the Premier League’s Transfer Deadline Day. The clock counts down on SkySports, fans refresh the BBC Sport homepage, and those at work tune in to their radios as the tension mounts to find out which players will be moving to and from which clubs before the 11pm window closes.
As all this happens, flashing across every screen and on every radio wave are huge and incomprehensible numerical figures representing the money paid by one club to another (and its agents, fees, taxes etc). A large part of the thrill of ‘deadline day’ is not that of seeing if your club will get a new player but of watching money move around, and it might be in fact be compared to the thrill felt watching the stock market floor or the stock values tumbling and rising on an electronic screen. Last year, £140 million was spent on ‘deadline day’ alone. Of course, those involved may be in it for themselves (like gambling, if you win on the stock market you will profit), but the question here is a different one. Why do we, as third parties not standing to gain or lose in the process (many of us do not even support the teams involved), watch this money move around? Why does a stock market seem appealing to us from outside? How can a whole day of money moving between rich people in football be televised for 24 hours and see Sky’s viewing figures tripled from the normal numbers tuning in? #SkyDeadlineDay is trending right now.
The clocks count down to deadline day across the world
The answer has something to do with the fact that the moving money has unpredictable consequences. The money moves and this movement will be the cause of unpredictable futures, for clubs but also for individuals on a human level: the players, the staff, and eventually even the fans. The movement on the stock market may be similar: already built into the thrill of seeing figures drop on a screen is the knowledge that some young investor somewhere is a multi-million winner and that some businessman has seen his financial situation collapse. What will be the repercussions for their families? And so on, and so on…
The chain seems to have two parts: a simple cause and effect. First the cause: the money moves on our screens, and although we know that the big cheeses in football are responsible for it, it seems out of our control, much like the stock market seems to run itself but is in fact of course affected by the actions of those at the top of the business pyramid. Second the effect: what will happen when the money moves? What does the next year have in store? The past is written off and the future is unknown. This is quite a lot of fun.
However, it is also exactly how a particular part of capitalism works, by watching a shift at the level of money have an effect at the level of life. It is of course how our political system works too, moving money from one place to another and then watching the unpredictable consequences of how this will play out at the level of the people: who will be the beneficiaries and who will lose out? We debate it, in a surprisingly similar way to how we debate about what the effects of the deadline day transfers will be.
What this shows us is that we are not dealing so much with something about football but something structural to our society. The same structure appears in the approach to the stock market, in our response to government policy and in our debating about football transfers. Of course, one point is that football is structurally political, but the other is that politics is structurally football-like. Politics has become entertainment, something we can only watch the effects of and then respond to by thinking about how it all might pan out. The alarming similarity between ‘deadline day’ on SkySports and Election Day on the BBC testifies to this even further: being subjected to football and being subject to politics has become one and the same, you can only watch and hope. The trick is that what happens on screen doesn’t seem like a response to something off it but something that we will have to respond to. There are people who watch deadline day and not election night, who we might accuse of being ‘apathetic,’ but given this, is it any different?
Perhaps it is rather that if we see politics like we see football then we will stop trying to interfere with those making the decisions and instead just harmlessly discuss the effects among ourselves. With big decisions in parliament ahead, watch-and-hope-politics is increasingly defining our historical moment.