April 30, 2007

Empty stadiums, empty wallets, empty souls

Sunderland are a massive club with great support and let’s hope when they come up this time they stay up as the Premiership needs the big clubs.

Alan Hansen’s right. The Premiership’s had a dodgy season because some of its biggest clubs have hit the doldrums while others have been promoted but didn’t really deserve to be. Leeds – once a massive Premiership team – are plummeting towards oblivion like Nottingham Forest once did, along with Sunderland, Derby and Southampton. Luckily, Sunderland are heading back up, along with Birmingham and probably one of the other two I just mentioned.

But in their place have come Watford, Charlton, Wigan and Sheffield United. Teams who don’t play a Premiership style of football, despite their foreign players, and who don’t really have the support to justify their place in the top division. There’s been some horrifically low attendances at some games involving these teams. With ticket prices so high and rewards so slim, why would anyone pay to see them?

An Observer article this weekend suggested that the answer to many of football’s problems may lie Stateside. Simply, scrap relegation. A guaranteed place in the top flight leads to lower transfer fees (it’s complicated but logical – read the article) and ensures the best supported teams play in the top flight.

It has its attractions, but not for long. It plays against the egalitarian nature of British football where a top flight team can be beaten by a minnow in the F.A. Cup.

The real problem is the Premier League. A separate body from the F.A., it takes almost all of the cash going from TV rights and gives it to the top 20 teams in the country. The others have to fight over what remains (just don’t mention ‘ITV Digital’ to them). The current system has led to the Premiership becoming, arguably, the world’s best football league again. But it’s also led to the erosion of passion in the lower ranks of the game, where your local team could one day make it to the top.

We have the best football stadiums, the best players, and the best competition in the world. It’s just a shame it’s exclusive to the three or four teams at the very top.

- 24 comments by 2 or more people Not publicly viewable

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  1. I don’t believe for a moment the American model would work in football over here. The problem isn’t the pyramid structure, just the distribution of wealth through its layers. Now if the FA had been firmer and barred all the clubs going off and doing their own thing from being in domestic and European Cups (that is, the FA not recognising the Premier League as a body) the clubs would have soon fallen into line. But it’s a bit late for that now… Take away relegation and what incentive do the clubs below have to achieve anything when they are locked out of the elite just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time?

    Now no relegation for a sport cricket… now you’re talking. Three regions of six teams from the 18 major counties; 12 regular games a season with some sort of play-offs – perfect. The play-offs in both rugby codes are frankly stupid, but would work perfect in an environment where regions rather than towns were concerned.
    Go back to towns in a football environment and add the tradition and heritage of the clubs, and it’s a big no-no.

    01 May 2007, 00:17

  2. el Tom

    What a beautiful way to commence a blog post…

    Now let’s hope Keano is given the resources he needs.

    01 May 2007, 01:19

  3. Anthony Carter

    Charlton have nearly sold out every home game despite a shocking season. I’d hardly call that a non-premiership support. But I agree they don’t play a premiership style of football – that would be bully the opposition into surrender with ugly football, see Bolton, Wigan, Sheffield United, Blackburn…

    What does it matter how “big” a club is? That’s history. If a team’s in the premiership, they deserve to be.

    01 May 2007, 02:37

  4. Anthony – a team deserves to be in the Premiership if they’re in it… up to a point. Some clubs currently in it are only there because someone has to be relegated and someone has to be promoted. Is it really a good thing that a club like Leeds can plummet so quickly because of the financial pressures in the game?

    01 May 2007, 09:10

  5. Leeroy

    But Leeds didn’t completely collapse because of ‘financial pressures in the game’- they created those pressures themselves by completely overspending beyond their means and piss poor management

    01 May 2007, 12:29

  6. Jimmy

    “But in their place have come Watford, Charlton, Wigan and Sheffield United. Teams who don’t play a Premiership style of football, despite their foreign players, and who don’t really have the support to justify their place in the top division”

    No, you justify your place in the Premiership by getting promoted.

    “Some clubs currently in it are only there because someone has to be relegated and someone has to be promoted.”


    “But it’s also led to the erosion of passion in the lower ranks of the game”

    Utter nonsense…have you ever been to a League One or League Two game?

    “It’s just a shame it’s exclusive to the three or four teams at the very top.”

    But you get that in every top flight league. See France, Spain, Holland, Italy (save for the odd spot of match fixing)

    01 May 2007, 14:04

  7. You can’t scrap promotion and relegation, it is what brings life to the lower leagues, the playoffs are a great incentive for any lower league team to play for! Just because we have 4 top teams, does not mean the others cannot compete, take bolton against chelsea on saturday, pompey against united the other week, the big guns do get held or beaten…

    If you are in the premiership you deserve to be, if you get relegated you deserve to be. Just because West Ham are a big club, does that mean they shouldn’t go down if they have a terrible season? Of course it doesn’t…

    As a supporter of struggling league one team Brentford, I can say it isnt all about the premiership, it is these teams which also add to the beautiful game, and without them, the nature of english football would be lost. The thing that sets us apart from the rest of the world is how our lower league structure is streets ahead… Long may it continue…

    01 May 2007, 16:55

  8. Quite a bent article, even by your standards.
    Don’t have time for it all, only a little.

    If a club gets promoted, fair play to them, they did it, the players, the managers, whatever, no one else is responsible for that.

    Ridiculous to characterise a club as not playing “premiership style football”. Such stupidity. I’ve enjoyed all four of the “small” clubs you mentioned, to be honest.

    Why sixe of support has anything to do with anything is beyond me.

    The point about seasons is seeing who gets relegated or promoted. Get rid of that and you’ve got fuck all.

    So, you didn’t see an empty stadium at Sunderland home games last season, no?

    Do you even like football, Doidge?

    01 May 2007, 23:35

  9. I know nothing about football, but it’s a simple truism of a league system that teams arn’t promoted because they’re necessarily better than the teams being demoted. Rather that’s just a necessity of how it works. The promoted teams never get to actually play the demoted teams. Assume that we could theoretically give a team a rating out of 100 that represented how good they were. Now also assume that the league system is a perfect arbiter of skill, and that teams always finish in the correct position based on thier rating.

    Your top league could look something like this:
    1: 98
    2: 97
    3: 95
    18: 61
    19: 60
    20: 58

    Now imagine the top of the league below is as follows:

    Ignoring play-offs for a minute, the top three get promoted, even though the numbers show that only the top-placed team is actually better than the teams being demoted. The other two just make it in as that’s how the system works.

    Now in most leagues this wouldn’t matter as the system would resolve itself the next year, but football has that stupidly huge funding gap between premiership and first division, meaning the self-correcting nature of league systems does not always work so well.

    Not saying I have a better way of doing it, but simply assuming the league system is infallible and teams only get promoted as they deserve it is a fallacy.

    01 May 2007, 23:50

  10. Nick

    What nonsense – nonsense that emphasises exactly what is wrong with football as a whole, and why every fan of a lower league fan dispises every glory seeking Manure, Arse, Chelski or Liverpool fan who like to look down occasionally at the lower leagues and go “oh isn’t that small club sweet, aren’t they doing well, but don’t let them in the Premiership because they don’t play our way”.

    Passion lost in the lower ranks of the game, you’re having a laugh right? The place where the passion has gone is the Premiership. Those attendances are down because the middle teams don’t have a hope of achieving anything because of the big 4 dominating because of their financial clout and greed. You reap what you sow.

    You know what? More people attend league games than premiership games in a season, and it would be even more but for the relentless marketing to young kids to support teams hundreds of miles away rather than their local side. And you know what else? It’s FAR more intersting too.

    Bradford – from top flight to bottom in six years. Bury, Southend, Rotherham have all gone from bottom to second tier and back again in the space of 15 years. Colchester reached the second tier for the first time in their history (and I would have loved it they’d made and won the play-offs) to name a few fantastic stories. League football is how football should be, every team has ups and downs. Did you know of the 72 league teams in the year the Premiership formed only two have not moved a division in those 15 seasons? (Rochdale and Darlington). Give me Jimmy Glass scoring in Carlisle Vs Scarborough to keep Carlisle in the football league over the boring predictablity of the Premiership any day.

    The ITV digital collapse will in the long run be a good thing for league clubs, it aleady is, some administrations aside, at the moment anybody in the lower leagues can compete with anybody else, nobody has any money and it means anybody can punch above their weight based on the sum of the team, and the skills of the manager – which is what it’s all about.

    Money might have f*cked up the Premiership and made it boring but ask any Boston, Macclesfield, Wrexham, Stockport, Bristol Rovers, Shrewsbury, Lincoln, MK Dons, Swindon, Swansea, Oldham, Blackpool, Nottingham Forest, Bristol City, West Brom, Wolves, Stoke, Preston or Southampton fan at 3pm this Saturday whether passion in the football league has been eroded and I can make a fair guess of what they’d tell you.

    PS Charlton up in some big teams place (they’ve been there seven-eight years), Forest ‘once’ slid into oblvion (by which I assume you mean League 1) you know they’re still in oblivion and could well be there another season yet right?

    Chris I’d stick to Politics, football is obviously not your strong point.

    02 May 2007, 00:34

  11. What is “a Premiership style of football” anyway? That which we were ‘treated’ to last night in the Champions League Semi Final? If there was anything that blew a hole in the notion that the Premier League is “The Best League In The WorldTM” it was the one dimensional route-one football on show last evening. What are teams like Watford, Sheffield United and Wigan supposed to do? Are they supposed to say “I tell you what, we’ll stand off, not challenge and let you beat us handsomely?” That seems to be your inference.

    Best stadia? yes. Best players? Probably, but only because it’s where the money currently is. Best League? Who, on day 1 of the season has any chance of the Premiership title except the top 4? Thats why attendances drop, because there is no chance whatsoever of the other 16 teams winning the league. It’s so uncompetitive.

    The non-relegation aspect of American sports is a red herring. The draft system ensures the worst placed teams get the best college players the next year. And so team’s performances improve from the previous year. That’s why teams have fluctuating performances from year to year and that’s why the fans still turn up in numbers. Because it’s competitive. And the salary cap ensures all teams are on a semi-equal footing. This plainly isn’t the case here. Can you even begin to imagine a Premiership salary cap? Of course not. The money in the Premiership is not distributed equally; the money for last place dwarfs what the champion earns. So the cycle goes round again

    I’m a Bradford fan, who has seen his team relegated on Saturday to League 2 (a.k.a. footballing ‘oblivion’). In 11 years we’ve gone from League 1 to the Premiership and now all the way to League 2. That story could (and has) filled books. But I’ll be there next year, at Accrington, Dagenham, Rochdale and the rest. ‘Erosion of passion in the lower leagues’? Not likely. In line with other comments above, I find watching football down here a far more authentic experience. The football on show in our slide down the league has been terrible on the whole, but it’s not the sanitised, plastic, corporate, eye-wateringly expensive experience I found in our top flight days of 1999-2001.

    We got to the Premiership because we deserved to on the basis of our team. “Deserves to be…up to a point” my arse. We had a fantastic, free-scoring team in 1998-99 that played brilliant football and finished second in the league to the runaway leaders Sunderland (a massive club, apparently). We finished above a whole slew of clubs with bigger budgets, stadia and playing squads. Does that make us a big club? No.

    When all is said and done, the only thing that matters is what a team does on the field. All else is immaterial. Clubs are where they deserve to be. Bradford deserve to be in the bottom division because they overreached themselves financially in the summer of 2000 , have been in administration twice since and they’re still run terribly. What a team did 10/20/50 years ago, how many European Cups they won (just ask Forest), how big their attendances are, or how much they spend on their squad has no bearing. That’s the real beauty of football in this country.

    Should we leave it to the 30-35 perceived “big clubs” and everyone else pack it in? Of course we shouldn’t. But that seems to be the main thrust of your argument.

    02 May 2007, 13:09

  12. Politics isn’t really a “strong” point for him either though really.

    02 May 2007, 22:45

  13. Vincent’s blog profile:

    dislike warwick… dislike people… Dedicated follower of Machiavelli.

    You sound like a hoot.

    Andrew – “Should we leave it to the 30-35 perceived “big clubs” and everyone else pack it in? Of course we shouldn’t. But that seems to be the main thrust of your argument.”

    It’s not.

    02 May 2007, 22:56

  14. Talk about thinking “outside the box”. Scrapping relegation would certainly be a radical idea. Just one question though…

    In the absence of promotion/relegation between the Premiership and the Championship (with the Championship being the “second tier league” for those who either don’t follow football or are a little behind the times), what therefore is the point or the purpose of the Championship?

    02 May 2007, 23:04

  15. Seth

    I agree with Nick, I support a team in the Doc Martens league and I’ve known people to look down their noses at me.

    03 May 2007, 00:08

  16. Mummy Bear

    I know the feeling I support a team in the Johnstones Paint League

    05 May 2007, 11:28

  17. What the hell has me being or not being a “hoot” or being or not being conducive to your idea of fun got to do with anything? Try sticking to the point. You’ve been challanged well by several people and have not even attempted to defend your views.

    It’s getting quite regular now that you put some stupid idea up on your blog then, when challanged, moving to the next stupid idea, instead of responding to the legitimate challanges, which tend to point out contradictions, absurdities or arbitrariness in your ideas that generally masquerade as intelligent comment.

    Some reasoned discussion, instead of repeating the “let me find the most controversial/different thing to say, then just leave it at that so I seem like a real maverick radical” programme, would be nice. That’s just a crazy, way out there, idea, though. Probably won’t be as much of a “hoot” as making up arbitrary nonsense on the spot then never defending it.

    06 May 2007, 16:37

  18. What utter utter bollocks.

    To say the premiership has suffered because of the participation of “smaller” clubs is snobbery of the highest order. Football is a game for everyone, no matter how big or little the crowds are. Try telling the Charlton fans who go to away games as far away as Newcastle that they are shit fans.

    Alan Hansen knows fuck all too if he thinks the premiership has been “dodgy.” Dodgy for who exactly!? I expect that the fans of the clubs you have listed are loving every second of every high, and agonising over each and every low – and are having the time of their lives! These fans are having the times of their lives in the premiership. Hansen’s experience was with an all-copnquering Liverpool side so perhaps he doesn’t understand what football at a smaller club is about.

    If you want to see the fast-flowing football that the big 4 (sometimes) play all the time then that’s great – but for fuck’s sake don’t expect that from every side in every game. It ain’t gonna happen. Football is about highs and lows – and these come in many different forms. To fully appreciate the highs, you need to have gone through the lows. So to have a go at the likes of Charlton and Wigan when they are enjoying their respective highs is simply out of order.

    I consider myself a dedicated Saints fan, and I’ve been through some amazing highs and lows in recent years, and i would not have changed a thing. However I can appreciate there are different kinds of fans – like yourself – who are there only to see football showcased at its best and aren’t interested in the dull 0-0 draws in the wind and rain in Sheffield. That’s fair enough, I’m not going to look down on any fair-weather fan for doing so.

    I only wish that these kinds of fans would stop trying to eradicate this kind of football by claiming that certain sides don’t “deserve” to be playing at the highest level. They’ve got as much right to be there as everyone else – and you’d better believe they’ve earned the right to do so. The sooner people like you and Hansen understand this, and learn to be more tolerant – the better.

    07 May 2007, 14:30

  19. Dedicated Saints Fan#2

    I don’t know about you Thomas, but if I could climb into a Tardis and change history I probably wouldn’t have employed Harry Redknapp as manager in late 2004. And I wouldn’t have had us lose at Fratton Park or get relegated.

    Thankfully, we have a chance to reclaim it next weekend.

    07 May 2007, 18:19

  20. yet another reasonable cristicism.
    No? Nothing? No?

    Oh, I look forward to it Doidge.

    08 May 2007, 13:52

  21. Vincent, if there’s something you don’t like about my blog, then don’t read it.

    08 May 2007, 14:36

  22. No, that’s not my point. That comment isn’t relevant at all.
    I just think you should answer some of your critics.

    Is the situation as I described in comment 17, or is it that you have some many fantastic idea that you don’t have time or can’t remember your previous posts?
    I just want an honest answer from a genuine question.
    Most people on blogs at least try to defend their views. I can’t remember you ever answering your reasonable detractors, and I simply want to know why this is the case.
    Could you enlighten me?

    09 May 2007, 15:02

  23. Vincent, if I haven’t answered your questions properly, it’s because I don’t consider statements like: “Politics isn’t really a “strong” point for him either though really” to be the words of a “reasonable detractor”.

    In all honesty, my contention that we’re seeing

    the erosion of passion in the lower ranks of the game

    is nonsense on stilts, but at least it got an argument going. I didn’t mean it that broadly. What I meant to say was that the distance between the top four clubs and the Football League is so great that the passion to reach the very top of British football is lacking, whereas a few decades ago there was still a dimly burning flicker of hope.

    Thomas Collyer said:

    I only wish that these kinds of fans would stop trying to eradicate this kind of football by claiming that certain sides don’t “deserve” to be playing at the highest level. They’ve got as much right to be there as everyone else – and you’d better believe they’ve earned the right to do so. The sooner people like you and Hansen understand this, and learn to be more tolerant – the better.

    The only kind of football I’d like to eradicate – not that I’m in a position to do anything about it – is the boring, defensive kind that is played by the clubs in the bottom half of the Premiership who resort to that style because they can’t compete with the big-spenders. That’s not really their fault – it’s a symptom of the divide between the haves and the have-nots which was brought about by the creation of the Premier League.

    Amit – I don’t think scrapping relegation to the Championship is a good idea. Few Brits would claim the American way of doing sport is better than ours! Instead, putting more money into the coffers of the smaller teams would help rebalance things out. I don’t think it would threaten the quality of the (best of the) Premiership in relation to Serie A either.

    It’s been a great season for the Premiership – three clubs in the Champions League semis, and a decent showing in the UEFA Cup – but I think there’s cracks beneath the surface.

    Not the best blog entry ever written, but the gist of it was there.

    09 May 2007, 23:25

  24. haha fair point from #19, i watched that game at fratton park in varsity – and there was a pompey fan there – was a really painful experience, so much so that the guy (fair play to him i suppose) actually felt obliged to buy me a comfort pint afterwards.

    anyways, firstly you’ve completely missed the point…the divide has not been created by the premiership, but by the champion’s league. Looking for examples of teams who’ve gained promotion to the premiership and have then gone on to rubbish the idea of an unspannable divide is not hard – think fulham, bolton, man city, middlesborough, (until curbishley left) charlton and even blackburn or (pushing things even further back) newcastle. that’s not even taking into account the great one-off seasons promoted teams can have – think ipswich making the uefa cup a few years back, or wigan last season (they’d probably still be alright had they not sold some of their best players last summer) and reading/pompey this season.

    though of course none of those clubs really have anything on the “big 4.” but so what? a healthy variance of abilities between different teams is actually what makes football so exciting – why else would the whole world regard the fa cup with an almost magical sense of mysticism? some of the best games have been involved written-off underdogs who stand up and put up a hell of a fight against a so-called bigger team.

    in contrast, of all the games played between the big 4 who are supposedly on an equal footing, often turn out to be pretty dull because their first priority is simply not to lose. i can’t remember many classic matches between man utd, chelsea, liverpool and arsenal in the last 5 years.

    if you aren’t prepared to accept that some premiership – or any other league you care to mention – games are going to fall flat, i suggest you stick to watching more artificial (in the sense that the sides involved essentially get to pick and choose the best players to play for them rather than work with what they are given) showcase events like the world cup or the champions league. even then not every game is going to be a dazzling display of skill and excitement…but then i guess not having anything to moan about would be pretty boring…

    leave the premiership and league football in general to those who realise that for every 4-3 thriller there’s also a dull 0-0 draw or routine 1-0 victory, and without one you can’t really expect to have the other. that’s what football is all about.

    11 May 2007, 10:30

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