« modern conservatism | Main | with the men who fly »

May 25, 2009



There were rumours of Freddy Shepherd leading a consortium to buy the club back. The reaction? Near-universal approval, apparently - he's a Geordie after all, and he seemingly hadn't treated them with quite enough contempt just yet. Your last paragraph is tragically accurate, however.

Full disclosure: as a Sunderland fan, this message is laced with (entirely justifiable, of course) Schadenfreude. We're cultivating our very own low-key serf mentality, incidentaly. A private-equity fund buys us out, Niall Quinn puts the universally positive spin on it, everyone laps it up like good little chaps and (sneak preview) farce ensues.

Igor Belanov

Yes, the thing is that Sunderland are rapidly following Newcastle's example and turning themselves into a club run by the media with all the playing up to stereotypes that entails.

After Sbragia's resignation the Sky 'pundits' were already asserting that Sunderland 'had to' go for a 'big name' manager. Sure enough, the club confirmed that soon afterwards. So we'll either get a big name ex-player with no managerial experience who'll bottle it in a couple of years (see Roy Keane) or a foreign manager who fancies a big pay-out before retirement (Erickson?). Even more money squandered on players for little gain.

I'm getting worried that with Newcastle's relegation we're already earmarked to fit into their role next season.


If you're right, and assuming that Hull go down with you, then (depending on promotions) it is possible that the 2010/11 Premier League might have no club from east of the Pennines and north of London. The possibility of a total eclipse of Yorkshire and Northumbria is a lot weirder than the 07/08 near-obliteration of the Midlands conurb.

Richard J

Coming it to from the perspective of someone who can't really care about football, isn't this a function of human geography restricting the critical mass of fans needed to secure the big bucks? In the bit of the north south-west of the Penines you've really only got two significant cities, while in Yorkshire, you've got Sheffield, Leeds, York, Hull, Bradford, etc.

(This may end up being like the Diamond discussion on Crooked Timber recently, which somehow ended up in the good old game of Racistfinder General).


The main revenue stream for the league as a whole comes from TV. Loss of revenue from fans staying away after relegation affects the clubs more than the league itself, though arguably Stoke/Hull/Burnley is less of an appealing TV package than something including Leeds, Newcastle and Sunderland.

Sometimes I think that its only the fact that fans are such an endlessly exploitable revenue stream that stops premiership clubs just handing out tenners in the street hiring extras to come to the ground and provide atmosphere for TV, which is the fans role in the wider commercial set up.


Presumably yes, but then why Wigan, Stoke, Burnley etc? Economic geography can't really be all that powerful a force when Wigan and Hull (which are also both big rugby league towns) are in the PL. It's just one of those things I think, but the map looks weirdly lopsided - not only is Yorkshire only represented by Hull but Nottingham's gone, as has Derbyshire, as has Anglia. Football is a Western game now.


and arguably Yorkshire's only got two cities really - the Leeds/Bradford conurb and the Sheffield City Region. York is about the size of Wigan and Hull about the size of Blackpool.

Richard J

Yeahbut, it's the critical mass of locked-in fans that has marketing drones muttering happily about a steady and exploitable revenue base...

Richard J

Hmm. Apologies in advance if this is a double-post - Bradford and Leeds are still (or were when I left for university in the mid-90s) very culturally distinct places, though I wonder if the steady turning of most of the Aire Valley into dormitory towns for Leeds commuters has had an impact on this.

john b

hmm. Manchester and Oldham are very culturally distant places, but that doesn't stop GM from being one conurbation...

john b

'distinct'. new head required.

Richard J

Ah, but would people in Oldham support one of the Manchester teams? (Genuine non-rhetorical question - I can only think of one person I've ever met from the Bradford side of the conurbation that supported Leeds...)


I think you can probably write any number of Just So Stories that explain the success or otherwise of different clubs, but the level of potential local support is relevant. Any history of the success of clubs has to be seen within the context of the 1992 Premier League split, which massively changed the competitiveness and, more importantly, contestability of English football. There's probably plenty of improvements that it has brought about that I'm not acknowledging, but my pet theory (alternatively, my pet all-purpose Just So Story) is that just about every problem with English football in recent years can be largely explained by the 1992 split. It's no accident that more than 60% of league titles in the history of English football have been won by clubs from Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham and London but current success, along with prospects for future success, is much more a function of success since 1992. At every level of success, maintaining at least that level of success becomes more likely but also more precarious: there's an ever-increasing huge financial drop-off either from failing to qualify for the Champions League by finishing in the top four, or from being relegated.

There's a common factor between the most celebrated collapses - Newcastle and Leeds - of bad management of the club as a business, but there's also a systemic problem which is less-discussed. Both are very well-supported clubs with large catchment areas - both probably at least as much on both counts as the current top four. There is no reason why, on this count, they should have failed to achieve a more permanent success rather than others. There were six clubs chasing four (IIRC, at one transitional point, three) places in the Champions League on a regular basis. (Although Newcastle fell out of the race for a while, they continued to spend and maintain a wage bill as if there wasn't a problem). It was always likely that two would fail, and one of them was never going to be Manchester United. Leeds, in particular, gambled, lost, and brought financial disaster on themselves, but we've got a very small sample size to look at: pretty much no-one else has subsequently tried to gatecrash the monopoly of the top four. Leeds and Newcastle went hell-for-leather in an attempt to qualify for the Champions League and apparently never imagined that, in a worst case scenario, they could not only fail to do so but also subsequently get relegated. The only thing keeping Newcastle from being an even more catastrophic version of Leeds is that their debt has been transferred from external creditors to the club's owner. The big money is great for clubs in sustaining their relative success, but only as long as it keeps coming in: there's probably a clever-clever-but-ultimately-not-quite-right article waiting to be written about how relegation/failing to qualify for the Champions League is something like a Minsky moment (or a precursor of a Minsky moment a couple of years down the line).

Newcastle and Leeds were foolish, but it's hard to know exactly how foolish they were: I think there's a lot to suggest that the importance of differences in how well clubs are managed is exaggerated. Many clubs are seen as very well-run until the shit hits the fan - viz. especially Charlton - and about a year before Leeds' poor financial position became obvious, even their chairman was allowed to get away with criticising other clubs' overspending, without anyone pointing to the potential difficulties his own club might face. Again, I think this points much more to a systemic problem. Absent either a large change to the organisation of English football or massive injections of cash to other clubs, the current structure of success isn't going to change any time soon. The problem isn't just financial, but attitudinal: a sense of entitlement develops at all levels. My lazy view is that Newcastle fans would never have become quite so insufferable (as a large proportion did) had they not been given such a sense of entitlement and an image to live up to by the media and the club's owners over the years, and that there's a distinct probability that, say, Sunderland's could have ended up just as bad in such a situation. It's hard to get too far above your station when you've twice been not so much relegated as laughed out of the top flight. I've got a bit of a perverse there-but-for-the-grace-of-God feeling about it all.

Er, I've got off the point a bit.


Just So Story # 3490278:

Newcastle, Leeds - one-club cities*

Liverpool, Stoke - two-club cities (much as it may irk City fans, the Vale do still count)

*Hull, of course, messes up this argument - but then, it's got two Rugby League clubs


The Newcastle and Leeds stories fit in well with an economic-determinist view of history that breaks in 1992, but how does the extinction of Nottingham as a major football town get into this picture? Forest survived one year into the Premiership, but otherwise not well.

Also, the "big four" has been drawn up retrospectively (obviously so with respect to Chelsea), and has economic problems of its own. East London is a bigger economic region than Liverpool or Manchester, but basically no representation (although it's interesting in itself that West Ham have now established themselves as mid-table stalwarts despite not being original PL members, whereas both Norwich and Ipswich were). And why did the North London slot (which was bound to be there on economic determinist grounds) go to Arsenal rather than Tottenham?

I think the big problem with the "potential local support" hypothesis is the 'Midlands Gap'. I don't see how it's consistent.


redpesto - Nottingham and Sheffield also two-club cities, so I fear that this is Burton's suit econometrics ("fits where it touches")


dsquared - and then, of course, there's Bristol...


a foreign manager who fancies a big pay-out before retirement (Erickson?)

I have to say even I would consider Roky Erickson of the 13th Floor Elevators a truly bizarre choice.

Regarding Leeds and Bradford, yes, there's a gulf, only reinforced by the economic uprush since the early 90s, which happened in Leeds but not in Bradford.

Further, if it wasn't for fans, those TV rights would hardly be that valuable. All the money in the system is traceable to the end user in some form.


would people in Oldham support one of the Manchester teams?

Not while the Latics were still in, er, wherever it is they're still in at time of writing. What was the point again? Was someone making the assumption that a city with n Premiership sides is a city with n football teams, because if so there are some Stockport County and PNE fans I'd like to introduce them to.

Igor Belanov

The issue is clearly more complicated than 'potential local support' partly because of the huge sums of outside money coming in from certain sources. Chelsea only managed to sustain their place in the big four through the 'transition' period because Abramovitch's millions came to the rescue, whereas Leeds and Newcastle found that there was no saviour to bail them out. There are clubs trying to recklessly spend their way into the top four, most obviously Man City and Spurs, but they have major problems doing this at the moment because they're so transparently rich but no truly ambitious top-class player is going to go to a club that's not in the Champion's League. So they end up paying huge sums of money for the likes of Nigel de Jong.

Richard J

It's a network effect, I think - a small perturbation at the start (such as a solid local base) can have dramatic effects down the line. A couple of generations ago, I doubt that you could have drawn much distinctions between the accounting firms that ended up forming PwC and those that ended up in the late Robson Rhodes[1], but the end game has been rather different for the partners concerned...

[1] Actually, I suspect you could - law firms in and out of the Magic Circle might be a better example, come to think of it.

The comments to this entry are closed.

friends blogs


Blog powered by Typepad

my former home