Football and Neoliberalism

Adrian de León
3 min readApr 10, 2023

What is neoliberalism and why does it matter in the football of today? Neoliberalism in crude terms is an economic system that interprets the material world through a free-market lens, and everything in that material world (humans, the environment, nature, society) is treated as a commodity that can be sold to create surplus value. In even more cruder terms: anything that inhibits the free-flowing of trade (and money) = bad; anything that allows trade and surplus to dictate how society is organised = good.

Neoliberalism is the apt term for our way of living because all that is material is slowly, but surely, turning every aspect of society into a commodity; this includes football. Neoliberalism matters because it gives name to a process experienced by all football fans even if only instinctively. We are supporters of clubs that are either ‘modernising’ or not, and therefore we are either supporting a club moving upwards or supporting one being left behind. The intangible aspects inherit to sport, in which class, background and characteristic mean for nothing when it is 11 vs 11 and anything can happen, is slowly festering away as investment money pours into the beautiful game.

Football stadiums have delocalised themselves in body or in spirit from their community-centre upbringing to becoming mini-Disneylands where entertainment and consumption almost push the football into the background. A football game is less a vehicle for human emotion, connection, and storytelling and more of a collection of data-points, xGs, underlying stats that glorify the abstractness of the sport — unrooting our clubs from their social and emotional duties. Liverpool FC is no longer the club for the dockers, the Scousers and the Irish migrants, but a club whose services are predominantly geared for those who can afford the tickets, the merchandise, the TV packages and are desperate to attend the off-season tours.

In our civilisation’s consciousness, Neoliberalism and its aggressive form of free-market and deregulated capitalism begun with Thatcher and Reagan as Primer Minister of the United Kingdom and President of the United States of America. Thatcher was elected in 1979, and that same year, the transfer for a football player passed the £1m mark for the first time — as Trevor Francis was sold to Nottingham Forest by his club Birmingham City. A new era of football was ushered in, just as politics and the world economy begun its assault on society’s welfare state. Thatcher claimed that “they are casting their