Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Managing the game away – Margin

As the football season finally creeps to its infuriatingly late conclusion, there is growing support for a return to a fairer league structure and wider distribution of television and sponsorship money. Sadly though, this comes at a ludicrous price.

With May now almost over the people who run football can soon cast off the irritating distraction of fans and football so as to discuss what really matters. Money! As such this is a dangerous time for fans. The 39th Game was shelved not binned last year, but for now we face another threat.

New proposals would see the Premier League extended to two divisions. This would create something akin to the historic English league that presently languishes in the third and fourth tier of our national game. Alone it is a positive suggestion and might even set a trend that returns us to the simple unified four division league structure of days gone by.

However, while there is even political pressure from Parliament for better distribution of wealth within the game, this move is attached to an awful idea that should be blocked. You see, for some god-awful reason that has been adequately explained to absolutely no one, the change would include the loss of over 100 matches per season for the affected clubs.

This is not a joke. This is not a flippant remark meant to raise a smirk about the silly ideas that men with money come out with. This is a serious proposal. You see, the Premier League would be expanded to include 36 teams across two divisions.

That would mean each top flight team loses four matches, while a whopping twelve games are taken from each second tier side.

This is clearly an awful idea. Football is very very popular. Fans like watching their team play football matches. And most of the money that clubs make comes directly or indirectly from playing football.

Yet despite all that, most of the clubs concerned may approve of the move.

Among the 36 clubs involved there are sixteen who arrive at the table as non-Premier League teams. For them any chance to climb aboard the greatest money-spinning gravy train in world sport would be embraced at almost any price.

Then there are thirteen of the top-flight twenty who have at some stage experienced life outside of the Premier League. They understandably fear that fate returning one day. As such most, if not all, would welcome the safety net of a second tier of Premier League cash. Indeed their anxieties will be all the more acute right now after seeing recent top flight regulars Charlton and Southampton financially imperilled and plunging into the third tier this season.

And so to the permanent members of the Premier League.

The present top eight, excluding Fulham in seventh, make up the permanent members of the Premier League. And they don’t see relegation as a serious concern. Indeed this season has shown why. Spurs suffered the worst ever start to a Premier League season. They were still bottom three weeks into the January transfer window. Yet few expected they would go down. They splashed the cash, bought in a good manager, and they may yet qualify for Europe.

These teams have no interest in the second tier of English football unless a gem of a youngster turns up there. Indeed they somewhat resent sharing TV and sponsorship money with the rest of the current Premier League. Only Newcastle United among the rest can compete with them for interest among television audiences. Adding a lot more little watched sides will not drive up commercial contracts very far. But it will mean spreading the cash more thinly.

Of course we should not ignore the years of whining from Fergusson, Wenger and numerous less lasting managers about there being too much football in England. They have complained long and hard that what football needs is less football. Apparently players tire and clubs can’t compete in Europe while playing in three domestic competitions.

Fortunately that argument is defunct.

The Premier League once had 22 teams, not 20. FA Cup ties could run to countless replays rather than jump to penalties after 120 minutes. The league Cup had rounds with two legs and even required teams playing in Europe to start in round two rather than round three. Football has been more than adequately cut now and everyone knows it, especially after Manchester United’s expansive and successful year.

Instead those top clubs will note that they sell out of high priced tickets regularly, and that the loss of two home games would cost millions in lost revenue.

So it seems that those seven clubs, which form something of a ruling minority within the game, should block proposals for all the wrong reasons. And that is a good thing. Not because fans don’t want a fairer league format, but because we love football and don’t deserve to have yet more of it taken away from us.


Allout said...

Nicely written article although I am not sure I agree with the central point. In the Championship they play 46 games which is at least eight more than the vast majority of other major domestic leagues in Europe.

We have no real hard and fast evidence as to whether quality of play is compromised by this but it does seem reasonable to assume that having to reach the optimal level of intensity more often may impact on standards. Of course Championship fans may feel that quantity is more important than quality - I can't really comment on that other than to say that in my opinion less can sometimes mean more.

Margin said...

It is hard to quantify in terms of the Championship as there is little clear evidence either way. But certainly in top flight Manchester United's fixture pile up doesn't seem to have done much harm to the qualty on offer.

So without such evidence it seems wrong to reduce quantity.

Ebren said...

A very good point, well made. Although, I think the NFL might argue with you about money-spinning.

offsideintahiti said...

Aren't you glad to get a break, though?

Wisden Greengrass said...

yes - we need a longer break from footy so that we can have a proper cricket season.

Once upon a time (when the birds shit lime/an' the monkeys chewed tobacco/an' the lickle piggies run wi' their fingers up their bum/to see what was the matter*) it was possible for a gentleman to play both cricket and association football internationals for England - and have a break between seasons for a couple of weeks in the South of France.

If things hadn't taken a turn for the worse, we would surely have been able to enjoy the sight of Phil Neville turning out to face those ghastly Antipodeans at Lords.

*Oldham children's song - please let your department of Archeolinguistics run the rule over it!

Margin said...


I'll post up a round-up of the season tomorrow - in which I will make a small criticism of te length of the season.

It is absolutely ridiculous that the Cup final is set to be played on the last weekend of May. And despite my team's revival and ongoing competition for a european place - I still struggled to feel up for matches in mid-may.

Wooley said...

I definately agree, Margin.

I'm worried that a self selected elite might opt to appoint itself too important to play in the conventional league structure... I think its the fact that Exeter (my team) are in the same league as Manchester United that gives even lower league matches a sense of occasion.

Realistically, Manchester United would have more chance of winning the Champions League if they played one league game every two weeks (although, the counter argument to that is that the rhythm and tempo of regular meaningful competition is what has given them the extra edge over sides from elsewhere in Europe).

But, the presence of Hull, Stoke, Wigan and now Burnley in next season's top tier and the fact that Exeter will be playing Leeds and Charlton as well as Colchester and Gillingham next season is a sign that football is more exciting for having four divisions.

The pursuit of excellence has its part to play, but its not the only interesting part of sport (that being the reason why I would rather watch football and cricket than, say, javellin throwing).

i nicked the last point from this interesting, slightly related article -

offsideintahiti said...

Dear Professor Wisden,

I forwarded your Oldham nursery rhyme to the department of Archeolinguistics as soon as I got it. I have already received three resignation letters. I am afraid I can not risk losing anymore researchers, so the evaluation of this invaluable piece will have to wait until I can disengage from the matter at hand (Ingrid, stop it) and tackle it myself.

Yours in science,

Prof. Pakamambo
Pakalolo Institute

Wisden Greengrass said...

Dear Professor Pakamambo,
I'm pleased to hear that a whiff of the old oral history helped your revered institute sort the wheat from the chaff (and save a bob or two on those wasters).

Should you have an acute need of more of the same, just jog Ingrid into his "childhood memories" mode and she'll happily regurgitate more of the same.

Yours in letters,


Allout said...

I'll ignore offie and GG's intriguing private discussion and go straight to Margin's point.

I'd be wary about reading too much into the Man Utd example as I consider that to be exceptional. No football pundit can say with any certainty that they know Man U's best XI - Fergie himself maybe doesn't know. The point is that Man U have the financial muscle to pay reserves hefty wages plus the "brand" that means that players are keen to come even to play second fiddle. Smaller clubs don't have that luxury so jaded players or injuries due to too much football have a significant negative impact on the quality if their performances which, at the end if the day, hits spectator enjoyment.

Margin said...


I think those advantages might somewhat negate Manchester United's example as the team with the most games played.

However, their title includes the topping of Liverpool and Chelsea, not just Wigan and Fulham. And those clubs lack neither pulling power or cash. For example, Liverpool spent £22million on Keane in the summer and he knew full well that Torres was already there.

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