Coming soon to a club near you: football but not as we know it



By Tony Attwood

So now the Arsenal dip looks that bit more real: two defeats and a draw in the last three games, “Gunners fade” says the Guardian headline.  “Mikel Arteta does not rotate and exhausted Arsenal are paying price” says the Telegraph. (Although the Mail travels into pastures new with “Pep Guardiola’s side were leading shootout before crowd kept hold of ball to knock Bernardo Silva ‘out of sync”.

Maybe on another occasion the media would not be so excited but coming in the wake of the walk out by some of the crowd in the Arsenal Villa game it adds ta new dimension to the debate on where football is going.  Especially as Le Matin runs the headline which translates as “Fan pulls shotgun in tense match”

That is frightening and worrying enough, but reading on it turns out this was a minor league game in France – in fact in the 13th tier of French football which ended in what reports call “a general brawl” after the match had apparently consisted of a certain amount of football and a larger amount spitting and exchanging insults.

At the final whistle a supporter of Sahune, one of the two teams involved threatened the opposing team.    Ultimately the gendarmerie turned up and the individual was taken into custody.  And when we realise that the president of Sahune claimed that the opposition amateur team had treated his side as “dirty white people” and “peasants” we really are at a stage where everything seems to have broken down.

I find it hard to put all this in context.   In an amateur match players are threatened by a man with a shotgun.  After a stupendous run of victories, Arsenal stumble in a league match and a large number of supporters walk out.   This summer Arsenal and three other major teams will play friendlies in the USA and earn millions of dollars and the Premier League now has a permanent office in New York and a TV deal with NBC which will bring in $2.7billion across the next four years.

So where does this take us?

It is actually getting quite hard to say not just because these events and changes are happening at such a rate, but also because they are so diverse.

In a slightly more rational world a lot more money earned by the top clubs would be filtered down to the lower leagues far more than now, and amateur games would not end in brawls with a loaded weapon being waved.

So what next?  Arsenal’s position in the Premier League to be seen not as something earned by dint of the club’s results but a “franchise”.   The clubs in the north might deciding that having seven teams in London makes the league unbalanced?  Brentfordand Crystal Palace are voted out to make way for another Midlands team?

Or maybe it is felt that Luton Town’s ground really is too small and is harming the image of the Premier League in terms of its TV audience, so they are ejected and a Championship club with a bigger ground is elected in their place…

After all Sunderland’s ground has a capacity of 49,000 and they should be playing derbies with Newcastle each year, so it is nonsense that the clubs are in separate leagues…

Football has a cultural reference point but at the same time football also is competitive.  When a person brings a rifle to a match the competitive element has gone beyond anything tolerable.  Removing promotion and relegation and instead having franchises would also be awful.

But walking out on Arsenal because they have not made it 11 wins in 12 also seem ludicrously close to the notion of a franchise..

There has of course been manipulation of which clubs are in the league as we know at Arsenal as the club were elected to the expanded first division almost 100 seasons ago rather than winning their place through their results in the previous season.

The clubs of the first and second divisions voted Arsenal into the first division in 1919 upon the league’s expansion because overall the League overall wanted more London representation to stop the league being seen as something that was predominantly northern.  The fact the club has never been relegated since, along with the large crowds it has attracted, shows the benefit of that event, but we must also note that the event was very much seen then and since as a one-off.

Electing Arsenal in 1919 meant that the First Division had two southern teams (Arsenal and Chelsea) and did indeed lead the way to making the Football League a national competition which was what was desired.

But now it seems anything can happen and nothing is off limits not least because of the demand for instant success at all levels and the demands of endless football on TV.   Change kick off times, change location of matches… then no wonder supporters change the way they treat football.


4 Replies to “Coming soon to a club near you: football but not as we know it”

  1. Anyone old enough to have gone to games in the 1970s will know violence in football isn’t something new, rather its a return to a time we’d prefer not return to. The idea that teams can be voted out of the league is frankly ludicrous. There’s the remote possibility I suppose that City could be demoted if convicted of their multiple offences (I’m not holding my breath) but that isn’t the same thing.

  2. Tony,

    Arsenal being voted into the PL – and successfully (crowds and results) staying there is not different then the franchises concept in the US which pretty much were allocated by ‘market’. And with it, for some sports, came all sorts of rules to level the playing field and ensure there was not the same winner(s) year after year. Most notably the salary cap.

    So I’m not sure the franchising system is that bad… then, I admit, sports in the US is a sports business not a sports culture.

  3. Reading stuff on the web, what I see is Arsenal are jaded, broken, etc etc.
    None of these adjectives apply to City who lost as well.

    Or maybe City did not lose and I got it wrong and it was a fake news ?

    The again Guardiola cannot err and City are the galactic team.

  4. Chris, I think there is some difference to the franchise approach in terms of Arsenal’s election. There were I think eight clubs that applied for the two new positions in the expanded first division. One of these was granted to Chelsea without a vote, because it was clear that Chelsea were relegated due to the match fixing antics of other teams. But all the clubs in the existing first and second divisions were free to vote for any one of the six clubs from the second division that applied. It appears from wthe info we have that Arsenal won because they had joined the Football League in 1893 while other southern teams had joined the Southern League, and existing League teams wanted their League to be the dominant competition for the whole country. Also it was recognised that at Highbury Arsenal got big crowds, and in those days the home club took something like 60% of the income from its game and gave the rest to the away team. So having Arsenal in the top division would make their crowds even bigger, and bring in more money.

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