Sunday, August 10, 2008

How Long Will We All Bother with the Premier League?

Well, it's almost that time again. The Community Shield has gone and been futile as only it can be, the networks are booming with knee-knocking, bladder-bursting promos featuring men screaming like 19th century parsons about Passion, Glory and Honour, the English leftwing cranks are crying hell and damnation at the prospect of another eight-month orgy of misspent wealth, and the technocrats sprinkle soft reassuring pablum on the raging masses with one hand while massaging their shareholders with the other.

Yes it's the return of the Football Association's Barclays English Premier League. I can't help but feel pretty much nothing, much the same way I feel when a blockbuster movie comes out and all I get from my friends and family for three weeks after is, "Did you see it yet? Oh man it's amazing, Heath Ledger IS the joker," etcetera etcetera etcetera. Yet, like a sucker, I will still wake up hungover as sin on a Saturday and punch in '429' to see which Top Four team will make mincemeat of the not-so-plucky underdog of the day.

I can't help it. I've never been able to pin down exactly what it is about the English game that draws me to it. As shameful as it is to admit, it might be because English fans get angry like I get angry, sing like I like to sing, and really, really like goals, not so much for the glory of athletic achievement but more because they're a big cathartic 'F*ck you!' to the faceless 'Them' sitting two stands away. The PL Intelligentsia claims their 'Global Following' has always been about the league's 'Pace and Passion,' but as much as I like that stuff sometimes I need the Football Hate-On that the English, when they're not being violent xenophobic maniacs, do so well. It was Jurgen Klinsmann after all who once suggested it's the proximity of the rabidly partisan fans to the pitch and not some inherent native quirk of the English game that gives the Premier League all it's 'Pace and Passion.'

With inflated ticket prices, zero competition outside of the Large Quartet, and a morbidly obese fixture list, that fuel is at risk of running out. The fan demographic is changing in England. Blue-collar fans watch at the pub while faceless corporate management overlords chillax on the side stands to Blackberry one another about gate receipts and sponsorship deals rather than goals and points. Yes, the stadiums are full, but nobody knows the songs anymore. Some don't even know who they're playing against. All that Pace and Passion may eventually wind up staying at home to do the gardening.

Scudamore doesn't think so. As long as they're watching on telly the money will roll on in. But to watch what exactly? A mish-mash of players with no more attachment to the club crest on their shirt other than they happen to be wearing it, playing in front of fans who've fair-weathered their way from London's ponciest pads to get a taste of the 'real fan' experience in the executive box while the 'real fans' have moved on to darts or rugby. This is of course too much bang and not enough whimper to be plausible, but it does give a vision of the world we've Blaired ourselves into. Whether it changes anytime soon will depend on the lifespan of the current threadbare neoliberal commerce-at-all-cost ideology that has permeated Western thinking since the early 1980s. I give it another twenty years or so. Best we sit back for now, lager in hand, and weather the storm. See you next weekend!

A More Splendid Life apologizes for the brief hiatus. I'm not a machine you know.


fredorrarci said...

You beat me to the punch on this. Bah.

As a caring, sharing football fan who happens to be a follower of one side of the Outsized Parallelogram, I find myself on the one hand despairing about the way the game is going, and on the other hand paralysed with fear at the prospect of ever failing to reach the Champions League.* I feel like a trust fund kid wearing a Che Guevara t-shirt.

Life, eh? Can't live with it, can't live without it.

*If you saw me climbing out of the kitchen window of a Canary Wharf hotel one Saturday evening in May didn't. OK?

ursus arctos said...

One of the best descriptions of the current malaise that I have seen anywhere.

Complimenti (ancora).

I do, however, think that the "EPL" has a first mover advantage with respect to Anglo North America, Anglophone Africa and Southeast Asia that is going to make it rather difficult for it to fall from its current position of pre-eminence in those regions.

Once one has developed an allegiance, become familiar with players, perhaps bought in to some of the hype (or at least become familiar enough with the stock story lines to be sort of interested in what happens in the next "episode") and (especially in Asia) started betting real money on outcomes, one's attraction to the league becomes rather "sticky" (in economists' terms), and the idea of switching to La Liga, Serie A, the Bundesliga, the Brasilero, the Argentine League, etc., will be too daunting for many.