Football Blog: Tangerine Flavoured

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Did football cause Brexit?

disclaimer - this appears to be not about football, but will become about football after about 5 paragraphs. It will help to read them as it gives context to the stuff about football. 

Image result for Division 1 1982"
The Metropolitan elite take on the Heartlands
I think I've found something to say on Brexit, that hasn't already been said. I think it's possibly either evidence of a great conspiracy, a great uprising, or a great irrelevance. You get to decide. That's the beauty of reading what I'm writing. You absorb it and think whatever you want. I don't get to reply to you as I'm not in your head. Unless, of course, I am the voice in your head that is reading this now, in which case....

Anyway... I was thinking, about 'left-behind towns' and all that. I could say 'crap towns' without being sued for the hurt feelings of residents because I am talking about my own culture here maaaaaaaan. Crap towns where 'the big B+Q' is a major landmark and they still haven't filled the hole where they demolished that factory in 2002.

I'm not going to write a lengthy description of 'vape and pound shop filled high streets, where every third window is boarded up and there is an air of despondency so palpable that I can almost pluck it out of the air and roll it between my fingers, before pocketing it and taking it back to London to show my media pals who all make disheartened noises about how awful it all is, and how it's a shame they're all so racist up there, because otherwise someone really should do something.' I'll leave that to the broadsheet newspapers.

Image result for Fleetwood"
Poverty porn. As I used to live opposite this shop, I'm allowed to do this.

Again, anyway... I wasn't thinking about the labour leadership contest, or how Boris is going to sort it out with spit and polish, elbow grease and bit of bloody old fashioned British grit. I wasn't thinking about Keynsian vs free market economics or the collapse of class solidarity or the age divide in politics and the different demographics of cities vs towns or anything like that.

I was thinking about... 

Why crap towns (and crap cities) aren't winning anything in football anymore. It's obvious, really, when you think about it. A large corporate body has taken an extraordinary amount of control and ensured that a) the money market is freely flowing and b) the game is rigged to ensure the biggest players  succeed. (anyway, enough about the EU!) (See what I did there...)

Image result for Sunderland"
Sunderland - not yet the Monte Carlo of the North, but give it time...
I attend league 1 (DIVISION 3) football matches on a regular basis. Having visited 4 different grounds thus far this year (all in 'the north'), it's safe to say that none of these grounds are in what you might call 'hotspots of metropolitan privilege' and, I think, also safe to say that all 4 towns I've visited have, to use a non scientific phrase, seen better days - the fact that 'better' means 'getting your fingers lopped off in a cotton mill or by a rivet gun but at least getting paid' perhaps speaks volumes about the failure of successive governments to do much meaningful beyond offer rhetoric. None of the places I have walked through bore much resemblance to 'a powerhouse.'

Neither for that matter does the place I live or the place I work. Or any of the places I've lived or worked. Ever.

This week, I pondered to myself the role of a football team in engendering local pride and in turn, that sense of local pride creating a positive outlook on life and a subsequent embracing of 'the way things are.' - I also briefly considered the economic benefits of success in football to the local area.

In short - I started an absurd train of thought, which led to the question:

Can the perceived stagnation of top flight football be blamed for Brexit? Is the fact that 'crap towns and cities' were pushed out of the top echelons of the game, the actual cause of where we are* or a symptom of their 'left behind' status.

*It obviously isn't, but bear with me because there's some good stats in this next bit, so I'll maintain the pretence a bit longer if that's ok with you as otherwise, there's no blog post in this and you don't get the stats and we all like stats... 

To explore this, I thought I'd analyse the 10 years of football just past and identify exactly who has been any good and had anything to celebrate during this period.

These are the sides who have achieved top 4 finishes in the last 10 years (2008-9 to 2018-19)

Man Utd
Man City

Every single one of these sides is based in a city that voted remain in the referendum of 2016. Not one single team from the leave voting Britain has made it to the top 4 of the premier league in the last 10 years. At the time of writing, the top 4 consists of 4 of those 7 sides.

Also, how is there only 7 teams? 

I decided to broaden the search a little and examined who (aside from the above) had finished 5th...  


Again, we find only sides from remain voting cities in the top 5. 

We'd have to go further, expanding the search to 6th... (excluding the teams already mentioned) 

Aston Villa

Finally, we find some leave voting cities represented - most recently, Southampton (2015-16)

As I'd discovered that 'left behind Britain' had yielded no champions, runners up, no qualifiers for the European cup, no top 5 finishers and just 5% (1 for Southampton + 2 for Villa) of all top 6 finishes in 10 years, I wondered if Leave Voting UK was faring better at Cup football. 

Here we have the teams that won domestic (FA/League cup) trophies in the same period. 

Man City
Manchester United

The picture seems to be slightly more positive for the leave voters in the domestic cups, with single triumphs for Wigan, Swansea, Birmingham and Portsmouth meaning 'Brexit Britain' has won 20% of the domestic cup competitions in the last 20 years. 

To compare - I then decided to analyse the last 10 years of the 'proper division 1' (1981-2 to 1991-2) using the same method 

Starting with the top 4 finishes in that period. 

Man Utd
Nottingham Forest
West Ham
Aston Villa 
Crystal Palace
Sheffield Wednesday

The 6 teams from leave voting areas represented 9 top 4 finishes (or 22.5% of all available places) a huge jump on the modern data. Clearly it was a better time to follow a side that doesn't hail from a right on trendy metropolitan area.  

Again, I extended the search to 5th place (not including above sides)

Man City
Queens Park Rangers

Finally I looked at 6th place (not including aforementioned sides)


The data clearly suggests a greater variety of teams achieving something amounting to success (or at least close to) and definitely a great volume of sides from outside the major remain voting urban centres (18.3% compared to just 5%). Only one of these teams is from Birmingham which supports further, the idea that footballing opportunity was spread more equitably prior to the Premier League. 
Putting aside the leave/remain divide - there are over twice as many sides finishing in the top 4 (15 compared to just 7) in that ten year period. In fact, it takes just 3 years from 81-82 to yield 7 different finishers, meaning 3 years of the 80s were as diverse as the entire last 10 of the Premier League.  

Does the Cup winners tell a similar story? Winners of Domestic Cup Trophies (1981-82 to 1991-92) 

Manchester Utd
Sheffield Wednesday
Nottingham Forest

Here the pattern is more similar to the modern data but Forest's pair of League Cup triumphs mean that again, 'Leave Britain' is more represented (though less clearly than in the league stats) with 5/20 cup (25%) of cup triumphs

Of course football isn't to blame for Brexit. It would be mad to think it was and this is a ridiculous exercise to try and prove a point that I don't even grasp myself.  But football is clearly stuck in some kind of stasis and that stasis is benefiting certain clubs in certain places and preventing others from prospering.

In a game where traditionally attendances have dictated the desirability of playing at clubs (firstly through the simple desire to play for a 'big side' then latterly through wages) it would be odd if large urban areas weren't at the top of these stats, both in the modern and the pre-premier league eras. It seems equally strange, when you compare the two eras that sides from 'less fashionable areas' can't break into the top few places - it suggests a new kind of football version of the much discussed 'left behind towns and cities' - places that simply don't have the facility for economic (or footballing) success that they once had.

It demonstrates that English football's power base is less diverse, its wealth is coalesced into smaller pockets and that some of its traditional players are struggling to cope with that change. It suggests that 'the national game' belongs to a few cities - Liverpool, Manchester and London.

That mirrors the picture in England as a whole - where wealth has been centred more starkly around London and certain other successful regions, whilst the signs of urban decay and post industrial malaise are ever more evident in other places.

Is there some sort of magical conclusion coming? No. Just the same old conclusion as ever - The Premier League has clearly been bad for football. It has undermined the competition within the game, made it less exciting, interesting, engaging and sporting - That in turn reduces its ability to act as a uniting force, as what, really, are we, the supporters, uniting around? All football is a nonsense and a whimsy, but the great participatory dream of winning the league or the cup is something that gives a purpose, however daft. Does 'the great participatory dream of finishing 7th' have the same ring?

There's few things sadder in the world than a town with no reason to exist. A town where the industry got up and left or was strangled to death for political expedience. Sometimes, those towns recover and live again, in a different guise, perhaps because they are close to a motorway or because they have some other resource to draw upon. Sometimes they are just not in the right place anymore and they sink, papering over cracks that grow larger by the year with only the strange ill fitting architecture of regeneration hubs and new build homes that struggle to sell till being snapped up by landlords from elsewhere for 'a steal' to disguise the singular lack of anything representing purpose.

That's the economic reality of stripping out the opportunity for people to 'compete' - to give their lives meaning by earning enough money to give themselves something to enjoy, a decent home, some security, a holiday, a car, presents for the kids, choice in the shops and so on. It's not asking for much, just enough to feel like it was worth it. When you take those things away, make them almost impossible to achieve, then you can't really wonder why people give up, why words about 'dreams' and 'endeavour' and 'hard work will pay off' eventually have little effect.

When you present the same conditions to a sport, essentially making it all but impossible to achieve your purpose in life, you have to wonder how long it will be before we start to see a similar withering of ambition and resignation amongst the teams that have been left behind. It's not asking a lot for the odd team 'like us' to trouble the top of the league once in a while. It won't be the directors or the players that give up, just as it isn't the MPs or the councillors that give up. They aren't the real club - it's us. It'll be the supporters who wonder, what, exactly the point is. A town with no particular reason to exist, with a football team with no particular reason to exist. Oh, the humanity...

The 'greatest league in the world ever' + Wigan
... and before you accuse me of melodrama, then just think that we'll be left with Chelsea, Utd, City, Arsenal, Liverpool and the like, who will lecture us on radio phone ins about being 'traitors' and 'betrayers' and tell us we should 'value what we've got' and that we 'can't turn back the clock' and we 'should understand that it would be much worse if it wasn't like this' and their anger will tell us they'll be much, much, much, worse of without us but they can't bring themselves to reach out from their ivory towers and just work something out that benefits us all.

They should think on...

Image result for leicester city elephant"
An actual Leicester City elephant
And also, the great elephant in the room is now to be addressed, the one I've wilfully ignored... - does anyone else not think it's weird that Leicester, a) won the league, b) isn't in London, Liverpool or Manchester and seemed 'a bit pound shoppy' when I went there once for about 3 hours... AND YET THEY VOTED REMAIN?

Dark forces my friends. Dark forces... Some things just can't be explained. 

Part 2 - how the cup got crap...



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