How 'English' Is the English Premier League? (Part I)

Darius StoneContributor IFebruary 12, 2010

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 10:  Theo Walcott of Arsenal in action during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Liverpool at Emirates Stadium on February 10, 2010 in London, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

In this three-part article series, I want to explore the question of the Englishness (or not) of the English Premier league.

The reason why I ask the question is because of my belief that there is an element of xenophobia in English football in general, and an anti-Arsenal sentiment in particular. The answer, I feel, has a lot to do with the question about how ’English’ the Premier League really is.

I couldn’t help but think of the urban legend that has become the Internet definition of Globalization.

Question: What is Globalization
Answer: Princess Diana
Question: Why?
An English princess with an Egyptian boyfriend crashes in a French tunnel, while in a German car with a Dutch engine, driven by a Belgian who was drunk on Scottish whisky, followed closely by Italian Paparazzi, riding Japanese motorcycles, treated by an American doctor, using Brazilian medicines!

And this definition was pointed out by an Indian, using American technology, and you’re probably reading this on one of the IBM clones, that use Taiwanese-made chips, programmed by low cost Indian programmers, and a Korean-made monitor, assembled by Bangladeshi workers in a Singapore plant, transported by lorries driven by Sri Lankans, hijacked by Indonesians, unloaded by Sicilian longshoremen, and trucked by Mexican illegal’s…..

You get the picture…

This is often a difficult topic for discussion, and I’ve witnessed it leaving people’s noses out of joint and making it very uncomfortable for some. It’s, however, not a valid reason to avoid discussing a pertinent issue that affects and influences the public perception of football.

Like music, sport in general and football in particular are universal mediums of communication and social interaction. Football is a microcosm of society, and it’s fair to say that attitudes and prejudices abound in football are a reflection of attitudes and prejudices in society.

Until the advent of the Premier League at the end of the 1992 league calendar, it’s fair to say that foreign influence in the makeup of any top division English side was the exception rather than the norm.

The Premier league was born in part due to the frustration English teams had suffered after they were kicked into the long grass by UEFA’s five-year suspension from continental tournaments between 1985 and 1990.

There was a genuine desire to change the face of English football and shed off the ’hooliganism’ label that came de facto whenever one spoke of English football. Standards had significantly dropped and new investment was needed to revive both the spirit and the infrastructure of the game.

The 22 founder clubs of the Premier league broke away from what was then the first division of the football league, with the primary aim of selling TV rights independently to raise the much needed income to lift the profile of English football.

The deal that then emerged with B Sky B was ground breaking in a lot of ways, not least because of the sheer amount of money that was going to be pumped into English football for the next decade or so. Of course, it now turns out that the trend has continued for close to two decades.

Something else happened though, and this forms my core argument in this exploration of how English the premier league remained.

The business case for such a ground breaking agreement between the Premier league and B Sky B was the continued assumption that Sky would be able to sell broadcasting rights for the Premier League around the world to continental agents like DSTV and Super Sports among others.

The TV revenue from subscription to satellite and cable channels showing the EPL was a gold mine and continues to be what sustains the obscene amount of money now available in footballing terms.

From a marketing and branding point of view, the Premier league has done remarkably well to put itself around the world and sell itself as the world’s most powerful and richest elite club competition.

It’s not surprising that in many countries in the world, local football has suffered significantly as stadia remain empty on Saturday afternoons. Local supporters fill bars and pubs in many cities across the globe to catch a glimpse of their favourite English Premier league teams in action—and this is to the detriment of local football.

In many cases, football followers around the world know more about Premier league players and their careers than they do about their own local footballers. In this respect, the influence of the Premier League in its core markets across the globe is monumental.

I want to focus my argument from this angle. I believe that it’s impossible to sell yourself around the world the way the Premier league has done for nearly two decades without the international nature of your market, if you will, influencing the structure of the game.

The obscene amount of money that’s being pumped into English football would never be achieved if the Premier league didn’t have this global reach. The English market alone cannot sustain this.

It therefore goes without saying that there is a counter balance to this global reach by the Premier league. It was inevitable that foreign influence in all strata of the Premier league would start being a factor. This is very true now if you look at the number of foreign club owners, foreign club managers and players, foreign agents, and commentators—namely, every aspect of the English game and you can identify foreign influence.

It’s the very concept of globalization. In the world we now live in, it’s absolutely impossible to spread your wings around the world without the world returning the favour. If I was to be more blunt, I’d say this:

As sure as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, globalization in its current rendition of economic migration and free movement of people dictates that you can’t go around the world selling your wares and not expect to get a taste of it in your own backyard.

In the last two centuries, the empire has had its rampant gallivanting around the world “conquering” most of it for its own purposes of survival.

It’s difficult to see in this day and age how they’re going to change the fact that there’s folks from the rest of the world and the former empire who want and demand a piece of that action—with some having the belief that it’s their God given right.

I said earlier that football is a microcosm of society, and there is a counter balance to the spreading of the Premier league around the world. If we accept that there is a direct line that you can draw from the money coming out of the pockets of football fans around the world straight into the coffers of the Premier league, then it’s inevitable that the world then becomes part and parcel of this circus.

Join us for the second instalment tomorrow when we take a deeper look at how foreign players, managers and owners have shaped the Premier league in the last two decades.


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