(I apologise for the odd profanity through this article, but the subject makes me mad)
I’m talking mainstream media, but you’d be forgiven for thinking that the Football League season didn’t start this weekend. How exciting is it, that you’ll be able to finally watch you heroes in action again this weekend? it’s all starting again after a summer of no football! Sit in your armchair and tune in!
I’ve got news for those in the top-flight. Your days of being attractive are numbered.
Over the last couple of seasons my own passing interest in the top-flight has waned to such a point that I struggled to name last years title winners in a recent pub quiz, and I failed 100% to pick who they wrapped the title up against. For the last decade I feel the quality of the product on offer has diminished year on year, and yet the input expected from the paying fan has increased. These days in the Premier League a fan is merely a customer, and they’re there to be milked dry. There’s a element of that throughout the game, but at Lincoln you know your money makes a difference. At Liverpool your £70 ticket price is like pissing in the sea, and yet it keeps increasing anyway.
On the flip-side you have life in the lower league, and the three EFL divisions provide enough entertainment, unpredictability and thrills to keep any fan happy. The product on offer is often raw, but it is honest and real. There might be a gap opening up in terms of the money between the top-flight and the rest of us, but similarly there’s one opening up the other way. As the Premier League becomes stale, stagnant and predictable, the EFL is still one of the most exciting and interesting competitions on the planet.
Across the three EFL divisions there is a gulf in financials, I admit that, but not so much that one is completely unattainable to the other. Brighton, promoted to the Premier League, were beaten by National League Lincoln City. Up until now Brighton have been a ‘real’ club, one competing in an open competition that had fans on the edge of their seats. As they now move up into the Premier League, how long before they become another Swansea, Stoke or West Ham, setting their sights each season on finishing 10th-15th and calling it success?
I spoke to a Swansea fan not long ago, and he told me many fans would prefer to be relegated, just so they could experience the thrill of actually competing to win something again. He felt that aspiring to 15th was an insult to the paying fans, and yet what more could they ask for? Being in the Premier League was like fighting for survival every season, not off the field, but on it. Where is the fun and entertainment in attempting to not be beaten too much? Football at the Liberty Stadium suffered because of it, for a while that buccaneering free-flowing style of theirs was stifled as they attempted to shut-up shop and stay sat at the king’s table. Eventually, something will have to give and when it does, they’ll be better for it.
Bournemouth will soon be the next victims. They’ve been the darling of the nation, and the media for two seasons now. Little old Bournemouth eh? Eddie Howe, tight stadium and all that. It’s a football story that has run and run, but very soon they’ll be another statistic, another Blackpool or Hull I presume. They’ll do everything they can to avoid it, but when mega-rich owners take over Championship teams and can’t gain promotion, what can Bournemouth do to truly establish themselves? The answer, I’m afraid, is nothing.
In fact the grotesque and swollen Premier League kicking off is nothing to be celebrated at all. The top ten teams retain some of the countries finest talent, but where can that talent thrive? If one of the so-called big five drop out of the top five, will they trust young players, or will they fall foul of the fallacy that you must buy to be a success? They’ll choose the latter, their under 23 side will nurture the former and everyone will suffer as a result. The England National Team falters because its top talent isn’t getting a game, apart from the odd outing in the maligned and malignant Checkatrade Trophy. The players themselves suffer as their careers fail to progress at any rate, and the lower clubs suffer because they don’t have access to that talent, often it is ripped away from a young age and left to rot in the reserves. Is that something we should celebrate? Hell no.
Leicester winning the title a year or two ago was great for them, and it was a story that the media could hang on to, but was it good for football? It just meant those in charge of the Premier League could operate under the false umbrella of it being ‘exciting’ and ‘unpredictable’. It isn’t. The very fact we championed Leicester winning shows how poor it has become in recent years. Nobody thought they could do it because frankly, they never should have done. Less than six months later the manager is sacked and they’ve become another by-product of this massive corporate machine that chews teams up and spits them out. It’s bullshit, the lot of it.
Don’t be fooled by the media hype and marketing tactics. The Premier League does nothing positive for the English game apart from throw a handful of crumbs on the floor as if the bottom divisions are a hungry dog it feels duty bound to keep alive. Given a real choice, they would have a ‘Premier League B’ and do away with all the pesky little teams of this world like Accrington ‘who are they’ Stanley. Is it a coincidence that the best international side in my living memory was Bobby Robson’s side of 1990, and since the Premier League’s inception we have become progressively worse? No, it isn’t.
Since 1992/93 we have had six different winners of the Premier League, the ‘fairy tale’ Blackburn win was bankrolled, Manchester City’s wins were bankrolled as were Chelsea. The only two teams to win without massive foreign investment have been Arsenal and Manchester United, but they shared the title between themselves for nine consecutive years before Chelsea’s millions broke the deadlock. Six winners in 25 years, and two of those were one-season wonders of Leicester and Blackburn. Is that really exciting?
The media will tell you it all starts tomorrow, they’ll be banging footage out there of the games and hyping it up to extremes. Hundreds of millions of pounds have been spent on exotic-named players, some of whom will barely get a game, but all of whom will be ahead of young English talent in the teams they play for. I personally couldn’t give a toss, and I probably won’t even bother looking at the scores this season.
Football season started last week, it kicked off on Friday night and for all us Imps it commenced at 3pm on Saturday afternoon, a traditional kick off time that is dying in the top-flight. Where we were, it was real. Instead of slumping in an armchair watching edited highlights of numerous games, we were there in the flesh watching every second. Nothing can beat that, smelling the smells and hearing the noise of a proper game. It doesn’t matter if your TV is 58″ with such high-definition you can see the wrinkles of Alexis Sanchez’s ball bag through his skin-tight shorts. It doesn’t matter if you have surround sound so you can hear some dickhead in row Z dropping his corporate branded coffee at The Etihad. None of that matters, because what you are watching is an over inflated, over hyped product lacking quality, substance or any connection to the things that actually made football great.
Tomorrow when City run out against Morecambe I’ll get goose bumps. The first game back in the Football League will be a special occasion, and the feelings we’ll get can’t possibly be replicated in the Premier League. We look ahead to our season knowing we could finish anywhere from top to bottom, and it will be endeavour, hard work and togetherness that fire us forward as a club. Whilst Swansea fans look forward to another season of not finishing bottom, down here in the real world we still have the all-important thing that drives football fans on. Hope.
The Premier League? You can shove it up your Arsenal mate.