Hoax, reality, or something even weirder? The Dream football league has caused more than a bit of excitement since it appeared in the Times on Wednesday. With the Qatari football association issuing denials, the emergence of a satirical article published on a French football website in advance of the Times piece and other bloggers unmasking the involvement of one particularly interesting character the whole thing has taken on the air of a film noir. Just who was the mystery cigarette smoking blonde?
The Times, for now at least, continue to stand by the story however I can’t help but think that the reliability, or otherwise, of the story is largely irrelevant. The most powerful lies are always the ones that have a grain of truth at their heart, and this story does possess a grain of truth. In fact it’s internal logic is near-flawless, it’s just a question of time….
Once upon a time, of course, clubs and their communities were inextricably linked; A club drew almost all of it’s strength from the surrounding community who through watching matches and cheering the team on supported teams both financially and emotionally. In return clubs provided the glue to bind communities together. In their excellent book Why England Lose & Other Curious Football Phenomena Explained Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski point to the interconnection between clubs and communities in industrial cities
Almost all Europe’s best football cities have a profile like Manchester’s. They were once new industrial centres that sucked in hapless villagers. The newcomers cast around for something to belong to,and settled on football. Supporting the club helped them make a place for themselves in the city. So clubs mattered more here, and grew bigger, than in capital cities or ancient cathedral towns with old-established hierarchies.
Developments over recent years however, have seen the club and community link weaken, at least on the part of clubs. According to the Deloitte Annual Review of Football Finance report in 2010/11 the Premier League Matchday Revenues (£551 million) - that is the money made essentially through the turnstiles – have become relegated to third place behind broadcasting (£ 1178 million) and commercial revenue – the first time this has happened since the start of the Premier League.
This changes the dynamic between club and community dramatically, no longer is the club dependent on the community for it’s fortunes, rather it’s success depends on maximising it’s global reach. As Deloitte point out in terms of these commercial revenues:
Clubs with stronger global profiles and interest earned significantly more than UK or regionally focused clubs who found market conditions more challenging.
The road to success now involves building the biggest global brand, but increasing a clubs profile can have an impact on a clubs traditional community based support. In the 90s the joke – somewhat ironic now – was that Man City fans would chant ‘f– off back to London’ to Man Utd fans – the so-called prawn sandwich brigade who were much derided, but here Man U were simply ahead of the curve, the first ones to realise that extending their appeal; far beyond a northern post-industrial city would grant them dominance over the league. And it did. The string of titles all acquired on the backs of people like my classmate Justin who bought his Man United strip every season from the Man United megastore located in Southampton.
So, should a fan watching a live premier league match feel threatened by someone watching the same match on a TV set hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away, or a kid on the other side of the world badgering their parents to buy them the latest replica kit? The answer is quite bluntly, yes. Pursuing a ‘strong global profile’ means, inevitably, a downgrading of the local: a club with a global profile earning most of it’s money through broadcasting and commercial revenues has in theory little need for it’s local fan base, and few incentives to pay it any attention.
The logical end-step of the process of vanishing ties is the emergence of a truly globalised club fully detatched from any sense of local. A club with the best players from around the world travelling the world playing games against other top global teams in the worlds biggest and best stadia packed with segments of its global fan-base. Sounds a little like the dream football league.