Guest Post: The Last Day in the Premiership

I’d like to thank Tiberius Gracchus of Westminster Wisdom for his permission to post this article, first published at Bits of News on 14th May.

The Last Day in the Premiership

The last day of the Premiership was awaited with anticipation. Most of the issues at the top of the table had been decided when teams kicked off yesterday- Manchester United had the Championship, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool would join them in the Champion’s League (filled with non-Champions) and a couple of places in the UEFA Cup were up for grabs.

Much more important though than those places in the UEFA Cup were issues at the bottom of the table. Charlton and Watford had already fallen down a division- but three clubs- West Ham, Sheffield United and Wigan vied not to join them. Relegation in England means a certain loss of 30 million pounds in tv revenue not to mention sponsorship deals and attendance falls- so its a big financial deal for those that go down and returning isn’t obvious.

The aftermath- both in terms of legal threats, accusations of southern bias, the effect of injuries and indeed today’s announcement that one of the managers of the clubs involved has resigned all demonstrate something about English football today.

Yesterday’s Events

All three sides involved in the relegation battle played yesterday. West Ham went to Manchester United- and Sheffield United played Wigan at Bramall Lane. Basically the only way that Sheffield United went down was if Wigan beat them and West Ham avoided defeat at Manchester United, Wigan went down if they lost or drew against Sheffield United, West Ham went down if Wigan beat United and they lost in Manchester.

In Manchester, where West Ham had to avoid defeat, the Hammers were on the defensive throughout the first half- they didn’t concede and managed to eventually manufacture a chance which Carlos Tevez their Argentinian striker took wonderfully. In Sheffield, despite scoring through Jonathan Stead, United lost the game after two goals from Wigan- the first a lovely finish from Paul Scharner and the second a penalty from David Unsworth- therefore Sheffield United today have dropped to the Championship- after losing to Wigan and hence falling on goal difference behind West Ham.

What does it mean?

Sheffield United’s fall through the divisions is not something that will be welcome to board, manager or players. Its likely that several of their players- the talented Phil Jagielka and the superb Paddy Kenny- may well leave to pastures new but more interesting is the sense of greivance that United and several other clubs feel about the fact that they have gone down and others have stayed up.

In January it was revealed that West Ham had fielded for the first part of the season two players who were ineligible- including the scorer at United yesterday- Carlos Tevez. The Premier League in the past has been very harsh upon those who misbehave- Middlesborough failed to turn up to a match in 1996 and had three points taken away from them- three points that relegated them at the end of the season. But West Ham when their case was finally heard in April escaped with a 5.5 million pound fine- given that the cost of losing their Premiership status was 30 million and that they escaped relegation on goal difference- people are asking questions.

The panel which fined West Ham but didn’t deduct points argued that the tribunal was held so late in the season that it would effect things on the pitch (as though points deduction earlier wouldn’t have either), that West Ham had great fans (a calculated insult to Sheffield United and Wigan), that the board had changed (but some directors involved still remain at the club)- and you buy a business with its liabilities) and so on. Sheffield United, Wigan and several other clubs were furious and rightly so- my own hope is that this goes to court and that they win- furthermore they were furious because despite the confessed ineligibility West Ham were able to continue fielding Tevez- having handed the Premiership an assurance that he was now a legal player. The ultimate irony is that Sheffield United and West Ham both lost their most significant striker to injury during the season- West Ham were able to replace that striker with an illegally registered player and have suffered no penalty, United operated legally and have been relegated.

Today’s resignation though brings some reassurance for the League that their stance was right. Because today Paul Jewell the manager of Wigan resigned as manager- because so the Guardian reports it, he didn’t beleive that Wigan could ever compete with the Premier League’s big guns. (Jewell could be heading to a bigger club- Manchester City- where Stuart Pearce has just been sacked.) The same thing could be said of Sheffield United. In that sense the panel’s decision may well have been good for the League- West Ham stand a chance of making waves whereas the other two don’t. One can’t argue that overall the League was biassed for them- Manchester United away could have been a hard fixture if the Championship had not already been decided (Manchester United were playing within themselves a bit- trying to conserve tired legs for the cup final next week against Chelsea)- but West Ham’s survival will be good for the competition next year, even if it does undermine a sense of fair play in this year’s results.

What does this say about the Premiership

The sad truths revealed by yesterday’s events and today’s resignation is that the Premiership is more and more based around the massive finances generated by takeovers, the Champions League and tv revenue. Of course football authorities were always biassed in the past- but the clubs are now moving further and further away from those that sit on the terraces and more and more towards both their multi millionaire owners and their tv sponsors.

For a start, the fact that Jewell has resigned demonstrates that few managers now beleive that they can do what Brian Clough did at Nottingham Forest, Bill Shankly did at Liverpool or Don Revie did at Leeds- transform a second division club into English Champions. Few beleive that a club like Wigan can ever do more than hold up the division. Bolton are possibly the only exception to this trend- but even their manager has now left them citing a wish to go to a bigger club. The football league has become more and more warped by financial undertakings that mean that smaller clubs don’t have a chance and that membership of the Premier League and Europe is essential.

A second point is that West Ham’s non-punishment has a severe impact- Sheffield United will now have to lay off players and staff thanks to the fact that illegal proceedings at another club have been tolerated. The events though demonstrate something else- West Ham have potential- the competition is better with them than with Sheffield United. Its possible to imagine them getting into the UEFA Cup next season but not possible to imagine United doing so- that’s a fairly sad state of affairs- because all teams ought to have a chance of doing well. West Ham though have money Sheffield United don’t.

Lastly the story that isn’t

This has been a fairly depressing tale- but we should note one story that didn’t happen yesterday and which shows that there is some light in English football afterall. Reading were the third club promoted last season- the other two Watford and United went down. But Reading finished mid table despite spending almost no money and relying upon the players that had taken them up from the bottom division- the second season is always harder but it is worth remembering that a club like Reading demonstrate that it isn’t all about money and about attracting players- a good coach and hard work can save a club and guide it to mid table security- for the sake of the Premiership lets hope that Reading have another good season next year!

Conclusion

Yesterday was the epitome of English football- watching especially the first half of the West Ham game and moments in the Sheffield United Wigan game was incredibly exciting- the goals were wonderful, all epitomising different parts of the game- wonderful skill (Tevez), brilliant finishing (Scharner), bravery (Stead) and of course horrible luck (the Unsworth penalty came from a moment of madness when a Sheffield United player, Jagielka, raised his hand to intercept the ball as it came into the box). The tension was palpable- the last half of the West Ham game fizzled out a bit but it was still there.

However just like the League in general the hint of corporate abuse, the hint of money driving events, the hint of the imbalance in the League all made one wince a bit. English football is a wonderful spectacle but its also a tarnished one- and many fans I know are slowly beggining to see the dirt under the gold dust.

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7 responses to “Guest Post: The Last Day in the Premiership

  1. As nobody apart from the Americans watches the NFL so they are buying English football to market it globally. All three UKpolitical parties will be delighted by this as it reinforces their belief in a free market, bla-bla-bla. I thought by now people had understood that money is more important than anything else to these people. Look at what Gillett did to Weetabix when he bought it. He’ll do the same to Liverpool. Why not do some hard thinking? (My apologies for being rude)

  2. Lets compare and contrast.

    The Premier league, has produced only different 4 winners, ( MUx9, Ax 3, Cx2, and BR x1 or 4 out of 15 seasons )in the same period the NFL has produced 10 different winners, with the most being 3 each for the Cowboys and Patriots against the 9 of Manchester United.

    And if you think its only the Yanks that can organise a competitive league, then think again, the Aussie Rules AFL have produced 9 different premier winners in the same period.

    The plain facts are, it is highly likely that next seasons premiership will be won by either, Man Utd, or Chelsea. Even Arsenal or Liverpool (a team that have not won the premiership ever, and or somehow in the champions league final!) have only a slim chance of winning the title in the next few seasons.

    Sadly, The rest, Villa, Spurs, Everton, Newcastle ect, ect have little chance of breaking the monopoly and winning the premiership.

    Dont kid yourself, this is not the result of football becoming big business, The NFL makes a shed load of money, along with it, the players, agents, and indeed clubs..very few premiership clubs make money or have the prospect of making money, they are money pits.

    The only thing interesting about the premiership, is who is going down, compare this against the championship that has produced new leaders and sides jockeying for play off position on a weekly basis, so football does not have to be dull!

    If a piece of Art is worth a pound or a million pound, regardless it will still be a piece of Art, can we say the same about football?

    The difference between the Premiership and the NFL is simple, The NFL is based on sporting ethics, so regardless off how much money is in the sport, the public can believe in the product. The Premiership and indeed most of the top of European football ( see AC Milan’s inclusion in this years CL ) are not ABOUT Sport or even Business…ITS TYRANNY, and its funded by the absolute loyalty of the fans who by enlarge live in a complete dreamworld.

  3. [The Premier league, has produced only different 4 winners, ( MUx9, Ax 3, Cx2, and BR x1 or 4 out of 15 seasons )in the same period the NFL has produced 10 different winners, with the most being 3 each for the Cowboys and Patriots against the 9 of Manchester United.]

    Compare like with like here. The USA is the size of Europe, not the size of the UK. The Champions League has had about as many winners as the NFL. Newcastle might just possibly exist in its current form if association football was run on NFL lines (ie with sixteen clubs in the whole of Europe), but Everton and Aston Villa certainly wouldn’t; nobody would give a second franchise to Liverpool, or a competing franchise twenty miles from Birmingham.

    Looking at sports markets similar in size to England, how many times in the last fifteen years have the Dallas Cowboys been the top team in Texas? All of them I would bet. The state of Illinois, with 12 million people, has a grand total of one NFL team, the Chicago Bears.

    Furthermore, in an NFL-like system, Newcastle United would almost certainly have been moved to somewhere else (probably Dublin) ten years ago, as the franchise would have been the personal property of Freddy Shepard to do what he liked with. There is an argument to be had about making leagues more competitive (I can recommend the book “The Economics of Football” by Stephen Dobson and John Goddard), but to regard the NFL as a model seems perverse.

  4. SEAN MORRIS

    science is when you can make pretty tight or exact predictions about future events, such as a proposed experiment.

    When you can make predictions that are likely to be correct about future sport events, then that sport has ceased to be a sport and is now a science.

    Football should be about developing teams,not about buying them, if football is only about money then the game is lost.

    If Everton or anyone else get it right on and off the pitch they should have half a chance of winning the title, as stands they do not.

    If the mega clubs (i don’t use term teams) want to form a euro super league then good luck to them, they will fail because football is a grass roots games especially in the UK. the European cup is built on the national games and leagues, its not a like for like comparison with the NFL.

    Marks and Spencer, Coke, Tesco, Apple Computers make lots of money because people trust them, The Premiership should be making more money not less, this is the reason big American Sports investors are interested in the Premier League, as the home of football, the world NO1 sport, the English Premiership under performs.

    and it under performs because the product is poor and could be a whole lot better.

    Question, How may, NFL,NHL, NBA or MLB teams have sponsorship on their shirts?
    Answer, ZERO

    So why in the home of capitalism does not the
    team owners take the billions on offer by Wall Mart ect and stick the corporate logo on the teams shirts?

    Easy, Ethics underpin the publics confidence in the sport, Public confidence underpins the business model, In short if you want to make a heap of cash the sport must come first.

    The PL is relativity successful.

  5. [Football should be about developing teams,not about buying them, if football is only about money then the game is lost.

    If Everton or anyone else get it right on and off the pitch they should have half a chance of winning the title, as stands they do not.]

    But how does this equate to wanting to emulate the NFL or NHL? If you live in, say, Des Moines, Iowa (a town of 600,000 people), then what is the chance you will see your local American football team win the Superbowl? Zero, nothing, because Des Moines doesn’t have an NFL team and is very unlikely to ever be allocated one. The local Des Moines team might do everything right on and off the field, but it will never join the NFL because there is no promotion or relegation; in order to get an NFL team, you have to purchase a franchise at a cost of (quite literally) billions (compare; the whole of the current Chelsea team was assembled for significantly less than $100m).

    If you don’t like seeing sponsors names on the shirts, then what about losing your entire team overnight for money? Baltimore lost its team in 1984 when the owner of the Colts upped sticks and moved them to Indianapolis. They didn’t get a new franchise until 2000. The idea that the NFL is a place where sport comes before cash is just not one that I recognise.

  6. Invidious comparison altogether, I’d say. NFL has money but not city by city coverage; Premiership has money and some city by city coverage, at least in the north of England. American Football DOES have local teams, at college level, which attract reasonable crowds, accrue history and tradition, and enjoy good facilities. But college football isn’t professional in the way Football League “Championship”, First and Second Division teams would understand.

    Ice hockey? What’s the scene there?

  7. Pretty sure that it’s a franchise system in the NHL, but there is no big college scene and so the minor leagues are more important and well-supported (but still no promotion and relegation so the “Trail Smoke-eaters” are still stuffed). I don’t keep my copy of “The Economics of Football” on my desk any more (since, thankfully, I no longer broke the fast-disappearing footy stocks) but I can look it up over the weekend if anyone cares.

    You’re right about college football though; it really does fill in the gap created by the NFL franchise system and the support is incredibly passionate. I went to school in Oklahoma City and we really didn’t care about NFL football all that much there, but the OU Sooners were huuuuuge.