The False Utopia?

22 12 2010

In a rare outing for the poisoned pen of GhostGoal’s co-founder, Oli Baker has a good old-fashioned whinge about life in the Premiership…

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If this article sounds like it is written by an embittered fan of a club staring relegation from the Premier League in the face, that’s because it is. Any attempt to take emotion out of it has probably been unsuccessful, but it’s not for the want of trying.

Promotion to the Premier League is the Holy Grail for most clubs in the country. The Championship play-off final is the ‘biggest game in the world’. For once this isn’t just the produce of Sky hyperbole, but a clinical monetary fact. Fables of exotic players, trips to Old Trafford and Super Sunday give the Premier League an almost mystical quality to lower league fans. Yet, like most things in life, the build up and anticipation is far more exciting than the actual reality. 

For the majority of teams, promotion to the Premier League is followed by a relegation battle. This in itself is not the issue; losing to almost any Premiership team stills beats the rather dirty feeling that follows a hard fought victory against Scunthorpe. The issue is that the prospect of achieving anything other than mid-table obscurity is virtually non-existent. The days of Notts Forest getting promoted and finishing third the following season, or Ipswich finishing fifth in their first season up, are almost certainly well and truly gone. In many respects this shows the strength of the incumbent Premier League teams, but quality of teams is not necessarily synonymous with excitement. The fact that Man City’s spending spree has not met with quite the derision it perhaps would have done in the past, is because the vast majority of fans are happy to see the status quo challenged. 

The mooted play-off for the fourth entrant to the Champions League was attacked by most and the argument that the league itself was the play-off, is a hard one to argue against. However, the fact fourth place is seen as a successful season is a problem itself – shouldn’t football be about excitement? Surely that is what fans want above all else.

Premier League status inevitably brings interaction with fans of the successful clubs. Most of these fans are humble and knowledgeable, but then there is the smug element. The fan who sees their teams success as a personal achievement, as if it somehow they have contributed to it. The sort of fans that tend to think that because they watch Arsenal every week, this gives their football opinions more gravitas. The Championship has its fair share of undesirables of course, but by definition, there is far less smugness. It’s not an attitude that should be applauded, but finding out that someone supports Arsenal, Chelsea or Man Utd tends to provoke an overriding emotion of disappointment. Talking football with someone that supports the likes of Doncaster or Coventry is a much more rewarding and enlightening experience. They can actually tell you things that you don’t know and of course, they would be pretty deluded to be self-satisfied.

Blanket coverage of the Premier League is generally a good thing for fans. Many more live games and Football First allow you to follow your teams performances like never before. Then of course there is Match of the Day. Essentially just a football highlights show, but one that provokes reaction like nothing else. The principle problem with Match of the Day is that it gives every fan, informed or ill-informed, the license to form an opinion based on a few minutes of highlights. This is human nature of course, but there is something to be said for the purity of the audience of the lower leagues. Unless you are a fan of a particular team, you have got be a footballing aficionado to follow football below the top division.

Having said all that, like democracy, the Premier League is far from ideal, but it is better than the alternative. Paying £50 to see your team 3-0 down at Stamford Bridge after 20 minutes is as soul destroying as it gets, but still beats the Boxing Day trip to Burnley. Seeing genuinely world class players in the flesh is a wonderful experience and many of the grounds provide a wonderful atmosphere for football. 

However, there are definitely issues that need to be addressed in the top division. English teams relative dominance in Europe has fostered a complacent attitude. The disenchantment of fans of most clubs is not something that is taken particularly seriously by the Premier League authorities. As far as they are concerned, broadcast revenues are on the increase, so what’s the problem? The exponential amount of empty seats in Premier League grounds should tell you that there clearly is something wrong. Quite rightly, envious glances are cast towards the Bundesliga, where fans are treated to cheap tickets, packed crowds and a competitive division. This isn’t necessarily the template we should try and follow, but the arrogance that our way is best is wearing thin.

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