The Books Look Like Garbage

Most of what happens in the soccer news page concerns games and clubs of some kind of perceived consequence, be it globally or at least nationally. Lots of clubs have some sort of big problem on their hands. Check around any fall-to-spring league right now. It’s relegation season. Take your favorite club sitting towards the bottom of their respective table and start slinging those hot takes. I’m an Aston Villa fan. They can’t score at a brothel this season. I could just do that.

But really, there are clubs with bigger problems. Parma, sixth place last year in Serie A and two-time winners of the UEFA Cup in the 1990’s, has one such problem: namely, that they are bankrupt. They’re $233 million US in debt, the players haven’t been paid since July, and the nonpayment has resulted in a three-point deduction, which puts them at… nine points. The other two currently relegation-bound clubs, Cesena and Cagliari, sit at 21 each. One day before the bankruptcy hearing, team owner Giampiero Manenti (who bought the club for one Euro a month ago) was arrested on money-laundering charges along with 21 other people. On a regular basis, assets are trickling out the doors. One day collectors will come for two vans and a car. Another day it’s the medical and training equipment. Another day, the benches will be put up for sale. Players are having to wash their own uniforms and make their own way to games.

It’s an open question right now as to whether Parma will even be permitted to play out its schedule- which the rest of Serie A has been trying to loan them money in order to be able to do- or whether they’ll simply be folded and their remaining opponents awarded forfeit 3-0 wins. The smart money increasingly is being placed on the forfeits.

Certainly, Parma’s in a real bad way. But big-money problems are a matter for big-money clubs. The vast majority of soccer players are nowhere near the big-money clubs, or their own national top flight or anyone else’s. Most soccer takes place nowhere near any of this. Most soccer takes place with players who just want something to do on the weekend outside of their real jobs, sometimes playing on a team with friends or coworkers or patrons of the same bar or whatever other kind of fellow traveler, or else forming a team comprised of the products of periodic local tryouts, with a roster compiled based not on ability but on whoever happens to be able to make it that day. Maybe they get paid for playing. Maybe they don’t.

One such club in soccer’s nether realms is Waltham Abbey FC, sitting in England’s eighth tier in a town of roughly 20,000 people barely outside the London metro area. You need at least some level of skill to hack it in England’s eighth tier- it’s England, after all, and overseas players can be found even at that level- but it’s not a gigantic amount. Players listed on the team website’s roster often come with records attached to them: Waltham Abbey’s record on the season in games which they played in. Given that they’ve played 37 games and the individual records rarely exceed 20, it’s clear availability is a concern. One of their forwards, Darelle Russell, has played abroad… but it was for Antigua Barracuda, which folded from USL-Pro in 2014 after running out of money. In their final season, in 2013, they became a traveling team, playing all 26 matches in their season on the road. They lost all 26 games, setting what may be a North American all-time record for futility in the process. It doesn’t take all that much to get onto Waltham Abbey, and the club’s scale follows in kind.

So keep that in mind when hearing that Waltham Abbey had to shut down operations from Tuesday to Friday this past week… because when they arrived at their ground, Capershotts, on Tuesday morning, they found 10 tons of garbage piled up in front of the entranceway.

For the sixth time.

The pile, which had to be removed by the city, would severely annoy a larger club, but larger clubs have more than one way to get into their stadium. A quick check of Google Maps shows that Waltham Abbey only has the one access road, which is also used to get to the allotments next door (aka a community garden, sometimes just a continuation of World War-era victory gardens). So a pile of debris in front of their entrance means nobody’s playing soccer that day. And again, this is the sixth time they’ve had to deal with this, which indicates that either a bunch of people are doing it, or one person’s doing it over and over.

Either one is plausible. In the United Kingdom, on top of whatever fees are imposed to haul something off to the dump, the operator is charged a landfill tax, which they then pass on to the consumer in the form of accordingly higher dump fees. The purpose of the tax is to encourage consumers to find ways to generate less waste- reduce, reuse, recycle- but some either can’t or won’t do that. Unwilling to pay the high dump fees, they instead unload their trash in any old random place, a practice referred to as fly-tipping. In the period from April 2013 to March 2014, English authorities recorded 852,000 instances of fly-tipping.

Waltham Abbey is figuring they need to go out and buy security cameras and lighting to keep any more of those instances from happening to them. It’s not the expense they were hoping to have to make right now, but it appears necessary to do. Granted, being able to talk about doing that makes Waltham Abbey better off than Parma right now.

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