London Galling: How My Once-Great City Became a Cesspool Called “Londongrad”

As to “the facade of dirty Russian money in London,” Johnson’s Conservative Party has been relentless in its pursuit of the dirty money he now deplores. He appointed as party vice-chairman in charge of fund-raising Ben Elliot, a nephew of Camilla, the Prince of Wales’s wife, and like Johnson an Etonian. Elliot runs the Quintessentially Group, the exquisitely named “concierge service” that provides every imaginable or even unimaginable “luxury lifestyle management” facility for people who can pay enough, not least Russian billionaires. The firm has many offices abroad, including one in Russia which was quickly closed when Russian troops crossed the Ukrainian border, although not before quantities of Russian money and made its way into Tory coffers.

But nothing better illustrates the glistening corruption of our age than sports, internationally and in England. When Abramovich bought Chelsea in 2003, a BBC interviewer observed that, since he was only 36 and hugely rich, some people might be understandably suspicious of him, to which he gave the wondrous reply, “There are lots of rich young people in Russia. We don’t live that long, so we earn it and spend it. And I’m realizing my dream of owning a top football club.” Having realized it, he poured vast sums into the club, buying a raft of brilliant players and winning the Premier League pennant five times and the European Champions League twice, among many other trophies.

Besides that, his friendship with Putin was all-important in securing for Russia the 2018 World Cup from FIFA, the gloriously corrupt international soccer body which even more outrageously awarded this year’s World Cup to oil-rich, democracy-poor Qatar, both fine exercises in “sportswashing,” or using sports to prettify the image of unlovely regimes. And Abramovich set a fashion in English soccer, which has welcomed foreign money whatever its provenance. Two more rich Russians have invested in other clubs, Manchester City have triumphed while owned by the rulers of the United Arab Emirates, and Newcastle has just set a new standard for what the soccer authorities facetiously call “fit and proper persons” who can own clubs when it was sold to the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia. In practice that means “MBS,” the famous or infamous Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud, the country’s crown prince and enforcer. My first reaction to the sale was to hope that, if Newcastle lost any more games, the manager wouldn’t be summoned to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. We’d still like to see him in one piece. On Sunday, Newcastle played Chelsea, and the day before, their new owners showed what they thought about namby-pamby Western concerns over human rights by executing 81 people. Why, that’s almost one for every 90 minutes of a soccer match!

As for Chelsea, their repulsive fans, who still live in a moral cesspit, held up a banner on Sunday with the old leader’s face and the slogan “The Roman Empire.” In reality, Chelsea is now in complete financial limbo. Abramovich can’t sell the club but their assets are frozen, the club’s credit cards are stopped, their sponsors have jumped ship, no new tickets can be sold for their home games at Stamford Bridge, and the club may shortly be unable to pay the huge wage bill of its millionaire players. (For full disclosure, as a lifelong Arsenal supporter, I’ve tried to keep a smirk of schadenfreude from my lips as I wrote that sentence.)

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