Premier League, You’re Having A Laugh
Posted by eddiev18 on November 29, 2008
Where to start? People, I am annoyed. I am concerned. I am losing heart. The game called football – ‘the beautiful game’ – the game we all grew up playing and enjoying, is disappearing. It’s in a desperate decline, and we seem to be totally blind to it.
What are you talking about, I hear you say, the game couldn’t be better. Players are fitter, faster, and more skillful than ever before. Fans are sitting in beautifully designed all-seater stadiums and, if you can’t go (or can’t afford a ticket), you can watch more matches on television than ever before. It’s booming.
That last paragraph sums up a lot of the drivel that the likes of Sky Television and the Premier League drum subconciously into our heads on a daily basis. The fact is though, they do it to such great effect, that many supporters (I’m talking Premier League here) believe the hype. This season, I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve heard the phrase ‘The Premier League is now the best league in the world’. Really? You seriously think that do you? Let’s examine that.
When playing any sport, winning is of course the aim. When there is no common goal to aim towards, sport isn’t fun. I know that, everyone knows that. However, what has become clear is that, aside from the skill level and the belly sizes, the main difference between lower-level and top flight football is that, in the top-flight, the playing field is increasingly becoming less and less level as the need to win becomes more and more important. Furthermore, as the need to win becomes more and more important, traditional sporting values such as good sportsmanship, fairplay, and entertainment can become sacrificed.
Let’s take a step back in football history. When the sport became big business, and the men in the boardroom were no longer football people, but business sharks, the top flight clubs were always going to look for ways to seek competitive advantage. The creation of the Premier League, and the resulting monopoly on TV rights handed to Sky TV was a major step in that direction, as the clubs reaped the financial rewards handed to them by Murdoch’s entertainment giant.
The fans of the clubs in the newly created league loved it. The dark cloud that hovered over English football after the European ban in the eighties had been lifted, and the supporters were being treated to the likes of Cantona, Klinsmann and co. In contrast, the clubs below the Premier League were brushed under the carpet and are now constantly referred to as ‘lower league’. This, of course, has created huge resentment from their fans, especially those from division one (or ‘The Championship’ if you will). Ironically though, the Premier League is also seen as the ultimate goal for the clubs these fans support, like some sort of promised land. They soon find out though that it is a land that promises much, but delivers very little.
For me, one of the darkest days in English football was in the summer of 2003, when Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich rode into town to save Chelsea from a debt that was likely to see them go the same way as Leeds United. In terms of gaining a competitive advantage over the other teams in the league, his arrival was massive. No-one could compete with Abramovich in the transfer market, and Chelsea spent in excess of 200 million pounds in just two seasons to establish themselves as England’s top club.
Chelsea fans were obviously delighted, but their success was tainted by the way it was achieved. The widespread taunt that Chelsea had ‘bought the title’ couldn’t really be defended, with Blues fans instead getting on the defensive, which in turn made them one of the most hated teams in Premier League history.
Despite their taunts, there is an underlying feeling that many fans would be happy to have a billionaire buy their club, just so they could enjoy some time in the limelight, buy the best players, and puff their chests out proud as the cups fill the trophy cabinet. This is exactly the reaction we saw from Manchester City fans when Middle-Eastern trillionaire Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al Nahyan (brother of the ruler of Abu Dhabi) launched a takeover of the club in the summer. They were ecstatic as they heard about deadline day bids flying in left, right, and centre for the likes of Dimitar Berbatov, David Villa, and even a claim from the new owner that he would sign Cristiano Ronaldo.
Dreamland? Hardly. The Champions League, and the money it brings to clubs who qualify for it (i.e. the ‘top four’) is another way the brilliant men in charge of modern football have handed competitive advantage to an elite group of teams, thus destroying the chances of any other team outside of that quartet of actually winning the league (which surely should be the whole point of competing in the first place).
This has resulted in an incredibly futile (only one team has broken Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool, and Man Utd’s monopoly of the top four places since the turn of the century) and painfully depressing ‘quest for fourth place’ for the other teams in the league. Almost a mini-title for the clubs aspiring to do just that, they see it as a way of getting hold of the elusive Champions League money which may, just may, give them a chance at signing the sort of players they need to eventually compete for the league title. To that end, it is completely understandable that a foreign owner with pots of gold is met with such jubilation by the fans of such clubs.
However, as more and more clubs find billionaire Sheikhs, oil tycoons, or porn kings to fill their coffers, the identity of the clubs and the league itself is in serious danger of getting completely lost. Don’t get me wrong, I certainly don’t blame the players for moving around to get themselves the best pay packet, people do that every day in the world of business.
However, as a fan, when a new player signs for you and can’t remember the name of the club he’s signed for, it’s got to be a concern. Fine, the days when the players on the pitch had any real connection to the people sitting in the stands are long gone, but the toothlessness of a vast majority of Premier League players to fight for the people who pay to watch them (and their own pride) is flabbergasting. As soon as the club of a top player starts to struggle, he’s on the phone to his agent trying to engineer a move away.
This brings me back to my original point about the Premier League being ‘the best league in the world’. If you seriously think that a league where only four clubs are able to compete for the title, a league where the only way to be successful is to be richer than your rivals, a league where players don’t care about the fans that support them and where loyalty is a thing of the past, a league where fairplay and professionalism has been replaced by disrespect and cheating, and a league where entertainment is sacrificed due to a fear of defeat, then fine, believe that.
However, when you wake up in 15 years time and your team is playing in a soulless arena named after a condom manufacturer, or playing a 39th game in China to decide the outcome of your season, with only a handful of fans left who can still be bothered with it all, you may just realise that you were only looking at the glossy surface of a rotten, decaying mess.
UEFA, FIFA, The FA… whoever is responsible for the future of the game we all love so much, do something about it, and do it now.