When Arsenal became the first club from the capital to win the Football League title in 1931 – breaking the stranglehold of the industrial North – it was not so much a shift in power, more an interlude. Though the team would themselves go on to win four more titles that decade the balance of footballing power remained with the North and its elite clubs such as Manchester United, Leeds, Liverpool and Everton who collectively dominated post-war football.
Finally however, things seem to have changed. In recent years Not one, but three London clubs; Arsenal, Tottenham and Chelsea – have consistently staked out spots at the top of the Premier League table with Arsenal and Chelsea claiming six league titles between them since 1998, not to mention the latter’s European Cup win in 2012.
This resurgence is driven by two key changes. the first is a change in the economy of football itself. As Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski put it back in 2010 football is “becoming more of a free market” where, unlike in the past, “the best players are free to move to clubs almost as they like.” This they predict leaves large metropolitan areas rich in resources, such as London, Moscow and Paris with a key advantage.
And London is indeed a boom town. Whilst the reverberations of de-industrialisation continue to be felt in the footballing heartlands of the North and the West Midlands London’s blossoming finance-driven economy continues to post impressive figures; It accounted for 21.9% of UK GVA in 2011 having increased its overall share by 1.2% since 2007 and in terms of population London was the fastest growing amongst the regions in 2012, its 8.3 million inhabitants representing 13% of the total UK population. Londoners are also, on average, better paid with an average full-time wage of £613 per week, compared to £455 in the North East.
But it’s not only this migration of economic power towards the capital which gives London clubs their advantage. As Kuper and Szymanski point out the very nature of a cosmopolitan city such as London can prove a big draw for players, staff, and investors – certainly more so than any provincial town in a state of decline. As Saskia Sassen describes London in her seminal 2001 book The Global City:
As in New York, a distinct lifestyle has emerged, and there is a sufficiently critical mass of young, high-income workers engaged in high levels of consumption that it makes itself felt in certain parts of London and its region. New, elegant shops and restaurants – and sharp increases in the prices of housing – manifest the new lifestyle.
London has, by chance, developed into the perfect location for a young player earning an astronomical salary and it’s clubs are therefore able to possess an advantage in the race for the most talented.
If there has been one barrier to the success of London’s clubs though it is the difficulty in developing grounds in areas which are already crowded and where land values are high. However, with Arsenal’s move to the 60 000 capacity Emirates Stadium, West Ham’s pending move to the Olympic Stadium – with a likely capacity of 54 000 – and Tottenham reportedly working on plans for a 65 000 capacity stadium it looks as if these issues have largely been overcome and with there being no sign of an end to London’s economic boom the capital looks set to usurp the North as the seat of English footballing power.