The Wildlife Trusts were worth a Marouane Fellaini

My earliest ever memory is turning around to ask my dad who the team in claret and blue were on the television, “It’s Aston Villa” he said, and I have followed them ever since. I have played the game since I was five and I can remember sliding through a team-mates’ legs at the training ground (the park) in the rain in order to score my first ever goal from all of a yard out. I can even just about remember Villa going 2-0 up against Inter Milan in the UEFA Cup 1990, only to lose the away leg 3-0 (we watched it in a holiday caravan) and can certainly remember Dalian Atkinson scoring a wonderful goal against Manchester United, when we won 3-1 to take the Coca Cola Cup in 1994; what a day!

In 1994 the football transfer record stood at £13m paid to Torino by Milan in 1992 for Gianluigi Lentini. In today’s money, that roughly equates to £22m (BoE inflation calculator). At the same time the British record stood at £5.5m paid to Tottenham Hotspur by Lazio in 1992 for Paul Gascoigne; around £9.3m by today’s standards. By comparison, the £85.3m paid by Real Madrid for Gareth Bale in August this year (2013) would have been worth around £51m in 1994. This sum is 3.9 and 15.5 times greater respectively than the world and British transfer records of 1994. Plainly put, the money in football today is beyond absurd and, although I’ll never be able to turn my back on the game, I find it physically sickening when I think of the vast fortunes that are made by it and that are passed around like candy. And so, the rest of this piece is going to be devoted to some very broad comparisons between the money incorporated into two of my biggest passions, namely, wildlife conservation and football. I won’t even begin to explore the disconnection between what is a game for the working classes i.e. you only really need a ball, and the millionaires that it creates as well as the sometimes dubious personalities it  promotes, unavoidably, as role models.

I started out by trawling the web in search of accounts information. I didn’t have a particularly strategic approach, but I found accounts information for either 2010, 2011 or 2012 for 17 well know national and international conservation organisations. The average total income for these organisations was about £25.8m (from £464,000 to £159m) and the average voluntary income i.e. income amassed from donations, memberships and the like, was £12.1m or 48% (from 2% to 93%). The sum paid for Gareth Bale’s services would have ranked third in this list of total annual income, just behind the WWF and the RSPB, and above ZSL; this is for one single player, one single man. This is how the table looks:

Year end Voluntary In. Total income Voluntary/total
WWF 2012 £57,784,920 159,041,159 0.363
RSPB 2012 £92,883,000 119,677,000 0.776
ZSL 2011 £3,238,000 45,845,054 0.071
The Wildlife Trusts 2011 £2,485,000 27,845,000 0.089
Woodland Trust 2012 £21,016,000 26,128,000 0.804
Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust 2011 £15,089,000 25,861,000 0.583
BirdLife 2010 £845,354 11,897,821 0.071
Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society 2011 £3,718,564 4,357,552 0.853
Born Free Foundation 2012 £2,284,648 3,174,484 0.720
World Land Trust 2011 £1,551,225 3,133,626 0.495
Butterfly Conservation 2013 £1,277,987 3,066,423 0.417
Plantlife 2012 £1,043,839 2,818,818 0.370
Tusk Trust 2010 £1,606,337 2,146,200 0.748
Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust 2011 £978,000 1,056,000 0.926
Pond Conservation (now Freshwater Habitats Trust) 2012 £10,647 642,154 0.017
Landlife 2011 £62,380 605,915 0.103
A Rocha International 2011 £376,973 464,064 0.812
Average: £12,132,463 £25,750,604 0.48
Total: £206,251,874 £437,760,270

In case you are interested, the total amount of transfer fees spent during the summer transfer window this year (using only those fees where the amount was disclosed) was over half a billion (£576m), of which around £160m would have been made up of agents fees according to this Guardian article. That’s an average of £12m per player (48 transfers). The total, £576m, is about £1.4m in excess of the total combined incomes of the 17 conservation organisations I looked at. Actually, ZSL are approximately worth Mesut Özil, the Wildlife Trusts were worth a Marouane Fellaini, The Woodland Trust a Roberta Soldado, Butterfly Conservation a Christian Atsu and Landlife, a Johnny Russell. And by the way, this is only those transfers involving a Premier League club; a single national league.

Voluntary income vs. gate receipts

Next I wondered just how much income people regularly volunteer to football matches. Before I go any further, let me stress that I know there can be no direct comparison here. By going to a football match you are paying for an instantaneous service and you are going to be entertained (hopefully) for a few hours. By contributing to a conservation organisation you could argue you are paying for an ecosystem service, however, I know that this is not an easily appreciated concept, also, it’s just never going to match the exhiliration of ball hitting net. Afterall, you can’t really ‘see’ an ecosystem service, you just might feel a little better about yourself. Nonetheless, it’s again quite interesting. Using this Guardian article as reference, for the 2012-2013 football season, Manchester United accrued £99 million in gate receipts, shortly followed by Arsenal (£95m) and a little further away, by Chelsea (£78m). So the top three clubs received more in gate recipts for one year (£272m) than the total voluntary contribution made to the 17 conservation organisations. In fact, if you had the total gate receipts received across the Premier League (excluding QPR and Swansea), you would still have £57m leftover if you took away the £438m volunteered to the 17 organisations.

My main point, of course, is one of shock; I was shocked. I expected this kind of answer, but I never expected there to be quite so much of a gap and I find it scary. I don’t propose conservation deserves to get anything from football, but, my over riding thought is – if only we could!

This all said, after a quick search, I did find a few good football and conservation collaborations; so maybe I shouldn’t despair quite so much:

Perhaps not surprisingly though, this appears to be conservation organisations entering the world of football rather than the other way around. Yet, perhaps when we start to consider the environmental impact of football (view this BBC video, Costing the Earth), perhaps there is more reason for football to contribute to conservation after all…


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