A Football Analogy

In the Australian Football League (Australian rules), salary caps are implemented so that no team far outclasses the others in its ability to attract talent. New teams are given bonuses so that they are quickly competitive. Teams which performed poorly in the most recent season are given first draft picks of new, young players. Only one team (of sixteen) which has played more than a single season has never won a premiership since the league’s inception as the VFL in the 1890s. I, for example, am a Melbourne Demons supporter: we’ve had a pretty rubbish decade since making the Grand Final in 2000, including a few last-place positions. But because of draft picks producing strong young players and the cyclical nature of the league, we’re in with a decent shot at the top eight this year.

The English Premier League has no caps, no restrictions and no benefits for struggling teams. There are 44 teams in the Premier League; only four have won the championship since it changed to its current form in 1992. Only twenty-three, of over a hundred teams, have ever won the championship in any form since the 1880s. The league is dominated by the “Big Four” of Arsenal, Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool. Some say that the big four is becoming simply a big two of Man U and Chelsea. These teams – and those just below them like Man City and West Ham – are unimaginably wealthy compared to the rest of the league and can afford the best talent. Lower-placed teams have no hope of reasonably competing at the top of the league. If I were a Wigan fan, I could take comfort in the fact that my team doesn’t face relegation any time soon, but any hope of facing teams at the top of the ladder and winning is a total pipe dream. This is having a severely negative impact on the league because it’s a vicious cycle. The only fans left for less successful clubs are the old or the incredibly passionate – the kids all latch on to one of the big four. Everyone under the age of thirty in the south-eastern town I live in goes for either Chelsea or Arsenal.

The Australian Football League is a simplified microcosm of market socialism. It is a truly equal playing field specifically because of league intervention, it is healthy and sustainable, it is competitive, and while planned will not foolishly go directly against the flow of market forces but will instead try to redirect the energy into growth – the merge of the failing Fitzroy Lions with the Brisbane Bears (in a real growth location for the AFL) in the mid-90s being the perfect example of this.

The English Premier League is the perfect laboratory example of capitalism. Lack of intervention or regulation leaves the vast majority suffering while a minority accrue mountains of success. Complaints with the unfair nature of the system go nowhere because of the way capitalism allows power to become easily entrenched. And it is a self-destructive, vicious cycle which is somehow world-popular.

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2 Responses to A Football Analogy

  1. What you’ve forgotten in this analogy is: (a) West Ham can hardly be descibed as being in the same financial league as those nouveau-riches at Man City, no idea where you got that from; (b) West Ham and Wigan have both been flirting dramatically with relegation all season; (c) Wigan were in one of the cup finals quite recently; (d) The FA Cup Final 2008: Portsmouth (now in the second division) v Cardiff City (were in the second division then, and still are now) (e) 44 teams in the Premier League? There were only 20 last time I counted, or are you referring to the number of teams who have passed through its ranks since its inception in 1992? (f) One of those Premier League winning teams was relegated five years after their victory…

    • Simon says:

      Bah, details – you can probably tell I’ve never paid the closest attention to the league. Certainly my core point remains unchanged…

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