Teesside Snog Monster (jiggery_pokery) wrote,
Teesside Snog Monster
jiggery_pokery

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Football Focus

The brand new congestion charge started in London today and, against all the odds, it seems to have actually worked vaguely well on day one. This is not to say that it will work well over month one, year one or decade one, but it made for rather happier news programmes than I had feared. Hurrah. Unfortunately it's not as cool as the congestion charging scheme in Singapore where drivers are mandated to keep stored-value cards and specialised readers in their vehicles. Should you drive under one of the very cool-looking gantries surrounding the central areas of Singapore then zap, beep, some money is deducted from your stored value card. (Drive in at peak hours and the size of the zap increases. Accordingly the traffic races between 0827 and 0829 to try to beat the price increase at 0830 and dawdles between 0857 and 0859 to try to catch the price decrease at 0900.) Should the money run out and you keep using the facilities then the boys are sent round.

Admittedly you've got to be remarkably rich to own a private car in Singapore anyway - to import a vehicle, the only option, you have to pay some of the most swingeing of import duties. On top of that you have to purchase a Certificate of Entitlement for the right to run a private vehicle for ten years - a mechanism to keep the number of vehicles on the roads strictly controlled. Prices are decided in auction and vary, but you're looking at around S$30,000-S$35,000 (GBP 12,000-15,000) for the right to run a car for ten years. (By comparison, motorbikes are a trivial S$600-ish for ten years.) All told, effectively you're looking at paying something like S$150,000-S$200,000 (GBP 60,000-80,000) for what would be regarded as a GBP 15,000-30,000 car over here. However, Singapore has very good public transport: the Mass Rapid Transit system isn't comfortable, but is extremely efficient and getting more widespread, and taxis are actually very reasonably priced. Oh, and the probably the world's best airport, too.

I travelled to Singapore to work at the (effectively) government-supported Mind Sports Olympiad event we held there in 2000. The place had quite a few advantages, but the weather was reliably oppressive and - closed-minded Little Englander that I am - I felt that I could trust little of the food. Accordingly I'm in no rush whatsoever to want to return.

The BBC report on the availability of Internet access and external news in Iraq - surprisingly, more than you might expect. I wonder if there are any LiveJournal users who regularly update from there? Apparently so. Some of them actually seem not to have been kidding when they said they were from Iraq. Wow.

Woke up at 10am this morning, really not so keen as I was on the concept of registering with local recruitment agencies. However it hasn't been a wasted day - I have printed out 10 clean, crisp copies of my CV (less trivial than it sounds, for my printer here does not produce output of nearly application form quality) and I have made a list of 14 local agencies. If I am feeling braver tomorrow then I will actually get started submitting them.

The nice thing about nothing happening today is that I can now catch up on some of the things I've wanted to LJ for a while. :-) About three weeks ago, hmtriplecrown and others produced a list of the 32 NFL teams in order of support/preference. If I subvert the essential concept to (English) association football Premiership teams, does this make it a proper meme?

Association football, which in this country is referred to around 90% of the time as just "football" (or even "footy" for short) and around 9% of the time as "soccer", is essentially based around a league competition referred to as the Premiership. This features 20 teams from various parts of England which play each other home and away over about eight or nine months of the year. (Teams from Scotland have their own competition, which is very broadly rather weaker. Welsh teams play with the English ones. Northern Irish teams have their own separate competition again.) The three teams which perform worst in the Premiership are relegated to a subsidiary competition called "Division One", which in turn sends its three top-performing teams up to the Premiership. Below Division One there exist Division Two, Division Three, the Nationwide Conference (effectively Division Four) and dozens of regional competitions.

There is an organised scheme called the non-league pyramid which dictates the interactions between the three sixth-level leagues, five seventh-level leagues, fifteen eighth-level leagues, twentyish ninth-level leagues and thirty-or-forty-you-lose-count tenth-level leagues. I am not sure quite how far down the non-league pyramid goes; it could well be further. Around the tenth level you start to get to the point where it's far more about the beer than anything else.

So this is the way that the class-ridden British society organises and stratifies its favourite sport. Very roughly, I would estimate that 40% of the women and 10% of the men in England have essentially no interest in club football whatsoever (I say "club football" as distinct from international football) and that only 10% of the women and 40% of the men take more than a passing interest of what goes on outside the Premiership. Typical attendances at Premiership matches will be somewhere around 35,000 fans, though this varies strongly from club to club. Division One attendances might be about 10,000 or so (though there is a lot of variation from club to club) and it might not be too unreasonable to suggest that each level down tends to cut the attendance to about 40% of the level above. (OK, maybe 50% or 60% at deeper levels.) Generalising, the clubs in the Premiership are big-time and general, interested sports fans from outside England might have heard of some of the clubs and some of the players, whereas the clubs not in the Premiership are not big-time. I could go on in much greater detail here.

I support Sunderland Association Football Club, known almost exclusively as just Sunderland. Almost all clubs will include some indication of whereabouts they are based in their team name; some also include a secondary word (most frequently United, usually a club formed by the uniting of two or more previous clubs) which will convey their background or their relationship with other teams from the same geographical area. Most teams will also have one or more nicknames; for historical reasons, Sunderland are known as the Black Cats. However, it would be very affected indeed to refer to them as the Sunderland Black Cats - indeed, using the word the before a team name at all is unnatural.

Incidentally, my support for Sunderland is based on historical grounds - I am a fourth-generation Sunderland fan. My great-grandfather used to support them in the last century but one (ha, the first time I've used that phrase!) - indeed, in the late 1890s, Sunderland actually used to be one of the best teams in the country. Most people will support their local team, wherever they live, but more exotic reasons are quite common. I live in the town of Middlesbrough which has its own Premiership side; Sunderland is about 30-35 miles further north of here. Indeed, we are the first generation of the Dickson family to abandon the Sunderland - South Tyneside - Wearside area (and even then we haven't travelled too far!) but that's another story.

At this point I shall attempt to cast a spell on you. Yoink! If you previously had no allegiance to any English football clubs, you now support Sunderland. After all, every self-respecting sports fan chooses to follow one team in every sport and I'm guessing that most of the overseas readers will have no Premiership preferences. There is also the principle that you care for my well-being and want to share in my ups and downs, rejoicing when the team enthrall me and commiserating when the team play badly. Did my spell work? :-)

Unfortunately you have picked a very unfortunate time to be yoinked into Sunderland fandom, for the team are currently languishing at the bottom of the Premiership, twentieth out of twenty. The epitome of such bad play came in a game two weeks ago in which they managed to score three own goals - that is, deflect the football into their own net three times. An own goal might be compared to a safety in American Football except that it concedes the full value of a touchdown rather than just two points; you might also compare it to two or three errors in a MLB game. Scoring three own goals in a single game is some kind of record, certainly once-in-several-years infrequency.

After the game, the relatively-new Sunderland manager (cf "head coach") Howard Wilkinson refused to regard relegation as inevitable, which is far more optimistic than most of the Sunderland fans. Again I could go on in much more detail here, but that's not the point of this particular post. If you like cheeky sports columns, though, you'd be likely to enjoy Derek Robson at the BBC who adopts a very jaunty, downbeat character for all his commentary. Part of the gag is that "Robbo" is purported to come from here in Middlesbrough and there are many gags throughout his columns about stereotypical Teesside life. Thus if you ever want to try some local humour with me then here's the place from which to find background material... maybe.

For what it's worth, I'm not a particularly strong Sunderland fan. Specifically, I have only ever been to see them play once - in 1986, when we were in the third league, playing local-ish rivals Darlington in the second round of the Rumbelows Cup. This would take some explaining, but effectively it's close to being one of the least important yet competitive fixtures possible, were it not for the fact that it was against some plucky semi-local rivals who traditionally have been far weaker and would have relished the chance to pull an upset. Dad gets to go and see about five games per year these days. I probably could go with him if I wanted to, but it's expensive (I think somewhere between GBP 20 and GBP 25?) and I'm evidently not that bothered by it.

As is common with most sports, there are strong traditions of local rivalries. It is not enough for your team to do well, it is required for your neighbour's team to do badly so that you can crow at their expense. (If you put one over on them, so much the better.) Sunderland is about sixteen miles away from Newcastle (Sunderland is effectively coastal and a little further South, Newcastle is a port ten miles inland) so that's a strong rivalry. Some say that the Sunderland/Newcastle rivalry is one of the strongest in the country, but at least it's not based in religious roots. Some years the animosity has been so bad that the police have stopped Sunderland fans travelling to the game between the two clubs played in Newcastle and vice versa - that is, all home fans and no away fans for both games.

Both teams also have long-established regional rivalry with Middlesbrough, though traditionally Middlesbrough has been the weakest of the three. (He said in a not at all biased fashion.) My father, who has been a Sunderland fan for over fifty years, reports that the Newcastle rivalry is actually relatively friendly compared to the rivalry between Sunderland and Leeds, the next most local team (see previous entry; Sunderland is about 30 miles North of here, Leeds about 60 miles south.) This apparently started about forty years ago when both clubs were struggling to gain promotion to the top division (which was then called Division One - a long story) and Leeds got a reputation for playing a very hard, negative game.

With all this in mind, you can start to imagine the process by which most Sunderland fans would generate their "order of preference" lists. The hardcore approach would be "Sunderland first, everyone else equal nowhere" with the only slightly more subtle variant being "Sunderland first, the local rivals last because I want to see them pounded into the dirt, everyone else in the middle". Indeed, I'm not sure whether the psychology is for the local rivals to get relegated out of the division altogether or to remain just in the division so we can pick up two more easy and humiliating wins over them next year. It might be quite interesting to poll the, shall we say, less thoughtful fans to get their views.

Cutting to the chase, here are this season's twenty Premiership teams in descending order of my preference. (You might like to compare this with their actual current positions.)

1. Sunderland. Obviously.

(big identifiable gap)

2. Blackburn Rovers. They won the top competition the year it was called the "Premier League" (long story). At the time, they were owned by Sir Jack Walker, the first GBP 100,000,000+ person to be a high-profile football club owner. I guess we can thank them for at least half a jump forward in the concept of exciting, big-money football. Blackburn is also a small, obscure town with very little otherwise going for it, their kit is quite nice and "Rovers" is a cool name. (Downside: managed by Graeme Souness, who has proved himself to be a pretty lousy, dislikeable manager several times.)

3. Middlesbrough. There's definitely a positive buzz around town when Middlesbrough are playing well. For the past few years they have been most famous for signing a young Brazilian chap named Juninho - they have been so keen on this that they've done it three times now. The first time he was here, he had a tremendous impact on the side. Then they sold him to some team in Spain for a ludicrous profit where he promptly broke his leg and he has never been the same since. Middlesbrough since signed him for a second season where he was injured and played badly, doing much to erase his reputation. He then went back to Spain, continued to play badly and threatened to drop off the radar altogether. So Middlesbrough signed him for a third time only for him to go and injure himself terribly in a meaningless pre-season game and he hasn't played again since. Hee!

4. Manchester United. Sharp intake of breath... they gain points for being the most famous team in the country, almost certainly the English-speaking world. They lose points for winning so damn many times over the past decade or so. They gain, overall, because they are managed by Sir Alex Ferguson who is long been an outstandingly good manager - more to the point, an outstandingly fun manager to follow, not averse to a little... chicanery.

5. Newcastle United. Another sharp intake of breath. Traditionally very exciting in attack and a horrible shambles in defence, traditionally a team who do high-profile things (whether good or bad) at remarkable scale. Also traditionally far more strongly connected to their home town than most clubs, being particularly keen on local talent. Currently they gain great sympathy from the neutrals for being managed by Sir Bobby Robson, who was an excellent manager of the England national side, particularly in the 1990 World Cup. People would love to see Sir Bobby win another league title at 70 years of age.

(identifiable gap - the reasons get much less pronounced, as you'll see)

6. Everton. (Everton is a part of Liverpool.) Best friend from childhood supported them before he switched to Middlesbrough. Were particularly prominent for a couple of seasons when I was starting to take an interest in football.

7. Leeds United. Vaguely local, had a couple of very exciting great seasons, have a bit of punk charm to them and are identifiably one of the second tier of perennial-could-spring-a-surprise contenders. Currently managed by Terry Venables - see Sir Bobby Robson, only rather less so. Terry has made a right pig's ear of management this time and is struggling because the club peaked at GBP 100,000,000 of debt. Accordingly they are selling off most of their best players, which is quite funny.

8. Liverpool. Won something like twelve championships out of twenty over the '70s and '80s, had greater dominance than Manchester United are thought of as doing today. Have been rather endearingly wobbly since.

9. Arsenal. (North London.) Typically referred to as "Boring, boring Arsenal" - traditionally very strong defensively and dull in attack. Manager Arsene Wenger is really very good. Sometimes beat Manchester United, always at least run them close. Starting to get annoyingly good.

10. Manchester City. Only particularly redeeming feature is current manager Kevin Keegan, not a little responsible for teams who are great at attack and lousy at defence. Kev was a popular but lousy England manager for a while and once threw a wonderfully petulant rant at Sir Alex Ferguson. Everyone likes Kevin, but he's not really very good.

11. Aston Villa. (Birmingham.) As the biggest club in England's second biggest city, they ought to be able to be vaguely good some of the time. Birmingham has lots of good board gaming memories for me. Good name.

12. West Bromwich Albion. (Birmingham.) Have a slightly better name than Aston Villa, often abbreviated to West Brom or (even better) WBA. Arguably the smallest, most-likely-to-struggle club in the Premiership this year.

13. Bolton Wanderers. Good name, small town with fighting spirit (cf Blackburn) and a guy I knew vaguely liked them.

(identifiable gap)

14. Charlton Athletic. (London-ish. South London, I think.) Good name. Obscure, small place.

15. Tottenham Hotspur. (North London.) Have pretentions of being a very big club but really aren't. Currently managed by Glenn Hoddle - see Terry Venables (Leeds above) but less so.

16. Birmingham City. Between Aston Villa and West Brom but with a worse name.

17. Fulham. (Southwest London.) Owned by mad rich sweary dubious Harrods proprietor Mohammed Al-Fayed who has decided that he doesn't really like owning a football club after all.

18. West Ham United. (East London.) Rough Cockney club. Fairly good name. Stick with their managers far longer than most teams, even when the managers aren't actually any good. Will win my friendship if they get relegated and Sunderland do not.

19. Southampton. Based on the South coast, have the word "south" in their name, so just way too south to be allowed, really. Nicest thing to be said for Southampton is that flybe.com have a hub at the airport.

20. Chelsea. (Southwest London.) Painfully trendy, offensively rich team with a strong continental European feel, completely against the English traditions of hard work. (Dad also has something against them due to some sort of stitch-up with Stoke City to deny Sunderland promotion one season forty years ago.)

Now the nice thing about the promotion and relegation system is that it isn't always these twenty teams who are in the competition; for instance, if Wimbledon or Nottingham Forest get promoted from Division One this year then they would jump straight up to #2. A truly complete list would attempt to rank all 92 English clubs, which seems more trouble than it's worth; I might try a version with edited highlights at some point, though do believe me when I say that I am neutral, possibly even beyond distinction, between Gillingham and Colchester United. Yes, I really should get round to reading or watching Fever Pitch at some point.

If this article has annoyed more than it's entertained, perhaps you could take up supporting Chelsea instead just to spite me... :-)
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