Writer: Ian Smith
Date:Monday July 5 2010
This article isn`t about Newcastle United. However the subject of this article affects Newcastle United. And You. And Sunderland. And in fact all English league clubs and supporters.
Some of you who have read the title of this article will have already figured out what it is going to be about. I write it today because it is significant for two reasons. The first being that Germany are impressing greatly at the World Cup and saw off Argentina on Saturday to book their place in yet another semi final. Secondly, the fixture list for the Budesliga is out this morning. And the Bundesliga is something that interests me greatly.
Let me explain what the deal is here in case '50+1` means nothing to you at all.
In the Bundesliga it is a rule that a minimum of 51% (or 50+1) of the shares at every club is owned by supporters and club members. It means no one individual can own a majority stake in a club and therefore fans have a real say in what goes on. This has lead to ticket prices remaining low (some tickets are as cheap as £10 - yes £10.) And, in general, clubs are well run with little danger of spending too much to 'chase a dream` and going bust. Debt levels that a club can operate with are agreed and the Bundesliga can revoke a clubs licence if they breach their debt limit.
In essence though the main point of all this is that in Germany the supporters come first. The opposite to England where it seems the supporters are the last people to have a say in anything.
Because of this there has been a fundamental change in attitude towards the Premier League over the past few. People have finally become sick of being ripped off with high ticket prices. Fans are tired of players coming to their clubs on astronomical wages and producing nothing to earn any of it. Supporters are fed up of Sky dictating when games will be played and imposing changes to fixtures at very short notice.
It is a fact that the Premier League is the most popular league in the world. It is also the richest league in the world in terms of the revenue it creates. As a result of the massive income a fair few people have become exceedingly rich as a result. However you and I aren`t those people.
The reason why fans of all clubs are treat as second class citizens is because the Premier League is full of people with a vested interest in keeping it the same and treating it as their big cash cow.
We are drip-fed the myth that the English Premier League is the 'best` league in the world and the most exciting and we buy it.
he media and Sky, in order to boost ratings or newspaper sales constantly tell us; "The Premier League is fantastic." Or we hear season after season that; "The title race has never been more interesting!" And for some reason we are sucked in. We believe it. Maybe it`s national pride in our league I don`t know.
Yet go to a bar in Newcastle (and I dare say any town or city) before a game and I guarantee you`ll hear fans saying that the league is not competitive enough. They will moan that apart from the top 4 or 5 the league is full of rubbish teams battling it out for the honour of finishing 'best of the rest`. Why do we put up with this?
Only three teams ever have a real chance of winning the league, maybe even just two now. And the rest of us are forced to accept finishing 5th, 6th or 7th as fantastic success. I want the league to be open and exciting so that any club that is run soundly has a chance of being up near the top end. Not just a select few who get bigger and bigger whilst the gap to the rest widens.
I`m absolutely positive fans would prefer a greater say in their clubs and how the league should operate. But can the Premier League change its rules to accommodate fan ownership? Or more importantly would it ever do so? The phrase 'It`s like turkey`s voting for Christmas` seems appropriate here.
In our national arrogance we look at leagues like the Bundesliga as second rate. Most of us are so consumed with how 'great` the Premier League is that we see European leagues as inferior. This is surely part of the problem. Our attitude as a country is disgraceful. We are so uninterested in even taking a look at ideas from other people across the world. No wonder England and the English have such a poor reputation. We are scared to embrace new ideas and are so insular.
People point to the fact that no German side has won the Champions League since 2001 as a sign that their league is weak. Now, I don`t know about you but I`m not bothered if an English team doesn`t win the Champions League. Unless Newcastle were contesting in that competition I`m not at all bothered who wins it. I`m sure German fans are the same and won`t be losing any sleep over not having won the Champions League in a decade. Especially when you see what they have at home.
They have a competitive league, the highest average attendance across any of Europe`s leagues and the cheapest ticket prices as well. And let`s not forget - a national side to be proud of tournament after tournament.
I would sacrifice some of the Premier League`s perceived quality and high wages to have a league that offered what the premier German league offers for fans.
I`m not sure who these people are who are hung up on Champions League success but I suspect it`s not your average fan who would just prefer a better deal.
Tellingly since the inception of the Premier League only four clubs have ever won the title. Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Blackburn. In the same period the Bundesliga has produced six different clubs winning the title (and remember the Bundesliga only has 18 teams not 20 like the Premier League.)
The German cup, The DFB Pokal, the equivalent of The FA Cup has produced eight different winners since 1993. Compare that to the six teams that have won The FA Cup in the same period.
Add to that the Bundesliga has produced a higher goals per game ratio than the Premier League in each of the past ten seasons. I believe there is a link between our lower goal ratio and the amount of money in our league. Teams battling for anything other than the top 4/6 are petrified of losing and with the cash involved manager resort to 451. Pack the midfield and stop the other team playing. There is little risk taken anymore. If so much money wasn`t at stake then what would stop teams going out and 'giving it a go`?
It is also no coincidence that the German national team does so well either. Having less money to spend on foreign imports means the Bundesliga benefits because more young home grown players get played and therefore fulfil their potential.
Contrast that to England where teams needing a quick fix will happily dip abroad and buy an unknown and unproven foreigner ahead of trying a young English player. England`s poor performance in South Africa is very worrying not least for the fact that it was an ageing squad with very few young players coming through. There is of course the issue that sees the Germans tapping into a pool of eligible immigrants. Maybe that`s an avenue the FA should be looking down to cover the shortfall of good English players coming through at the top end of our game? Almost ironic don`t you think?!
What kind of England team is going to turn up in Brazil in 2014? Will we even see an England team in Brazil? There is a distinct lack of players coming through to replace the likes of Lampard, Gerrard and even Beckham. It is a worrying time indeed for the national team. And The FA must take a large portion of blame as there has been no forethought by them whatsoever. They are guilty of enjoying the years of riches and saving nothing for a rainy day. Well that rainy day is just about with us now and it`s looking quite bleak indeed.
So what do we do? Do we carry on along this unsustainable track whereby the England team disappears into the international equivalent of mid table mediocrity and the Premier League becomes an ever increasing closed shop at the top?
Or do we try and change what we have for the greater good by introducing fan ownership as an element in the English game?
Are we really too proud to even take a look at how other countries and sports run their leagues? The NFL for example is a money making machine but is run in such a way that the playing field is as level as it can be (you rarely get the same team dominating the Superbowl) and the fans are considered when it comes to ticketing.
There are ways and means of doing things differently and more fairly we just need to open our eyes to new ideas. It doesn`t have to be like this.
The former Times journalist Brian Glanville famously said of the Premier League when it was created that it was "The Greed is Good League." He was so right. Depressingly right in fact.
Date:Monday July 5 2010
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