Driven by a voracious hunger for financial and territorial gain, clubs are forced, in this modern arena, to embark on diverse and expansive pre-season "tours." Where once the objective of the early season was to work a squad into peak physical condition, nowadays it only remains important as a vehicle for fiscal and commercial growth, a phenomenon that is absurd, and which, ultimately, is damaging the integrity and stability of the game.
Even as early as twenty years ago, the condition and state of such a situation would have been an entirely alien concept. The big clubs of English football partook, as a matter of tradition and courtesy, in one or two friendlies with a local non-league club; fortifying and maintaining, in the process, a strong bond with the community and fans. However, now, at the whim of megalomaniac owners driven only by an unappetising desire for capitalism gain, clubs shun the minibus for the airplane, elect not home but abroad. It is a development as saddening as it is inexorable.
With the new season less than a month away, many of our top clubs are ensconced in foreign lands, playing soulless games against local teams. Manchester City are preparing for a tour of the Far East, whilst rivals United go on a support drive in China. Currently, Chelsea and Tottenham are toiling in the USA, a development that is predicated on an ability to sell more shirts, more TV deals, and more merchandise in such an untapped locale. Football is no longer situated at the nucleus of pre-season, money is.
Back home, clubs are rotting and dying. Whilst the country's major clubs barnstorm through uncharted territory in feint hope of expanding their respective global empires, the country's smaller clubs struggle to stay alive. Portsmouth and Rangers are prime examples of clubs that could put to great use any revenue from a major friendly. Their plight is of no interest to the major forces, who instead focus upon a game against the egregriously-named MLS All-Stars. Whatever happened to empathy?
The evolution of history and the evolution of man has proven that, if an opportunity to make money arises, many will seek to explore and exploit it to the maximum. These folk tend to be football chairmen. Thus, pre-season has now grown and mutated into a seven-week round-the-world trip. Gone are the days whereby a club would spend a few weeks scaling local mountains, or jogging through the towns from which they get their name, before playing a few select games to "blow the cobwebs away." Rather, clubs are now travelling further and earlier than ever before, running less and playing more than ever before ,which is having a damaging and detrimental effect at grass roots level. Advocates of a winter break in the British game perennially kick up a fuss. They tend not to campaign for the restriction and devolution of such a long-winded and complex pre-season, however, for it has been so deeply-entrenched as an intrinsic necessity of the game. In reality, it is nothing of the sort. In its propensity to encourage hyper-commercialism, and in its counter-intuitive proclivity to detract from the bedrock of the game, pre-season is a nonsense.
If ever given controls of a football club, I would not permit such mindless fiscal craving. Players should be visible in the local community, not in the global aristocracy. Clubs should play a few local lower league teams, not dozens of foreign hybrids. Chairmen should focus on the future of the game, not the future of their balance sheet. In its current guise, pre-season has to stop.