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Moving The Goalposts
Ed Horton (Mainstream Publishing 1997, £14.99)
The front cover shows Albion fans protesting against Bill Archer. The back cover shows Manchester United's Old Trafford Superstore. So it's not a book full of hilariously tall tales or whimsical trips down memory lane, then...

Ed Horton has been one of When Saturday Comes' most outspoken contributors for several years now, regularly popping up to harangue unsuspecting readers with his extraordinarily bleak vision of the future. What, in the limited confines of WSC, amounts to little more than a poke in the eye becomes a repeated, unavoidable smack round the chops in the pages of Moving The Goalposts.

I've had a dig at Horton elsewhere on these pages (Where The Sun Don't Shine) but those criticisms seem rather trivial now. Football fans are evolving. We've always acted as critics, more recently we've been forced to act as protestors - we've never before had to act as revolutionaries, yet that is exactly what we must be. It'd be unreasonable to expect miracles, to demand perfect solutions at this stage - we're still learning and, since my ideas are still in a state of flux, I'm in no position to criticise.

'We'. I've already started using that word, despite previously slagging the Brimsons for simplistic 'us' against 'them' polarisation. Why am I more forgiving when Horton employs the same technique? Well, for one thing, Horton has no intention of confining football fans to a social ghetto, of pretending that fans are a single interest pressure group - quite the reverse, if anything. For another, Horton employs great, great rhetoric. The worldview that he's selling to us is not necessarily simplistic - perhaps it's just that the huge mess that is modern football is actually very simple, perhaps the situation really has gone so far that it is possible to draw a dividing line between 'us' and 'them'.

Whatever, Moving The Goalposts is an absolute steamroller of a book, something that should be every bit as important in its own way as Fever Pitch was. The ferocity of argument is unparalleled. Chapter after chapter after chapter condemning in the strongest possible terms the current state of football and those who are responsible for it.

Chapters on commercialisation, ticket prices, wages, the devilish influence of television, ground-shares, feeder clubs, mergers, the Premiership, the Champions League. A chapter on the Bosman ruling that quite brilliantly achieves a balance between acceptance of justice for out-of-contract players and condemnation of the way that decision has been exploited. A chapter that absolutely demolishes the Taylor report. A chapter that lays into Manchester United like no-one has ever laid into them before, bringing us to the inescapable conclusion that the country's biggest club is exploiting football and expecting football to feel grateful.

That alone would be enough, a pile-driving piece of work that annihilates myths and exposes lies. But there's more. Horton's pessimism may lead him to believe that change is near impossible, with neither the current football authorities nor the current government willing to incur the wrath of Murdoch, Sugar et al, yet that doesn't stop him mapping out his route to a better future.

It's not all convincing - I remain extremely sceptical of subsidies for lower division clubs, mainly because the level of safeguards required to stop that money falling into the hands of the Archers and Richardsons of this world would seem prohibitive. But it's there, it's raising a debate not only about what we detest about the post-Premiership game but also what we'd like in its place.

Ultimately, I believe that straight subsidy is a cop-out. If we're really to solve the problems faced by all but the biggest few clubs, we can only do it by removing the main catalyst for those problems - private ownership, with all its personality-led short-termism. If we can afford to subsidise smaller clubs, we can afford to bring those clubs into some form of public ownership when the chance arises. Horton sees this as an ideal, I see it as less unrealistic than that - many of these clubs are going to be in crisis, the opportunities will be there.

Of course, many of you will be reading this and picturing Doncaster or Brighton or Exeter or Hartlepool. What has any of this got to do with an upwardly mobile club like Watford? One hell of a lot, that's what. The rumours of savage price rises for next season, for a start. The proposed redevelopment of the East Stand, which will remove the last bit of character from Vicarage Road. Trivial though it may seem, the fact that the club has largely ignored fans' feelings with regard to "Z Cars" is not a great cause for optimism.

More than that, there's the whole issue of finance. The new board of directors is made up of businessmen, people who think in terms of profit and not charity. If it's looking to compete with the bigger fish, Watford Football Club will not be profitable on a day-to-day basis - wages, transfer fees and other expenses will see to that. Even in one Premiership season, Swindon's wage bill rose astronomically - and wage inflation has gathered pace since then. The vast majority of clubs in the Premiership are not recording an operating profit, many are a million miles away.

So where does the directors' reward come from? Is it from loaning the club money to cover those increased expenses, effectively getting us still deeper into debt, and creaming off interest? Is it, as seems most likely, from a flotation in the future? Or both?

Whichever it is, we should be more wary. At Watford, we've known genuine generosity - but Elton John is the only example Horton can find of such a thing and it's not Elton's money this time around. When we demand increased expenditure on players, that is not going to come from a big pot of money that just happens to be lying around. If it's anything substantial, it will come from loans, loans that will have be paid back at some point, loans that may be subject to interest. Keep your eyes open.

These are things that football supporters, whoever they follow, cannot think and argue about enough. No-one else is going to stand in the way of the so-called 'free' market, no-one else is going to object.

Moving The Goalposts is at once conservative and radical, cynical and romantic, bitter and idealistic. It will fill your belly with fire, your heart with renewed passion, your head with thoughts of revolution. It is magnificent. You don't have to agree with it...but you must read it.

It left me feeling empowered. I can think of no higher compliment.

Ian Grant