THERE’S A LOT of very fine football books in circulation at present, ranging from the fairly disposable “fan lit” to books about some of the trends impacting the game, such as data, tactics, finance and culture.
The Club, by Joshua Robinson and Jonathan Clegg, explains how the Premier League rose to become the most disruptive sporting business in the world. The league’s origins, which we can safely assume were born out of greed and a desire to allow the big, wealthy clubs to secure as much of the pie as possible, were as much about protectionism as innovation.
Something had to change, however. The game was a mess in England and the authors captured it perfectly when they described 1980s football as a product where the threat of violence was in the air, along with a strong smell of urine.
There are tales of misguided ambition, such as Blackburn Rovers’ rise to become champions, only for the balloon to burst and the benefactor to lose some interest after realising his ambition. The Premier, it would seem, has enticed people to fly close to the sun, only to realise that their wings were, after all, made of wax.
The arrival of new owners, “a motley crew of executives”, changed the dynamic, making new market leaders such as Manchester City and Chelsea. “The Premier League has become the classic business fable for our globalised world,” said the authors.
Interestingly, and despite popular opinion that the Premier is a league run for foreigners, managed by foreigners and a cash cow for foreigners, Robinson and Clegg’s story insists the Premier’s richest clubs are not merely the clearing houses for talented players from overseas. “They’re also making as many British millionaires each year as any London hedge fund.”
At the same time, Premier League football has become expensive, highlighting the divide between the game’s professionals and the people paying to watch them. Robinson and Clegg use the example of Tottenham, where season ticket prices have climbed by an astonishing 800% since the Premier was inaugurated. But still the crowds hold up, despite the protests!
This is an excellent book, one that captivates the reader and leaves one feeling a little angry about the motives of many people in the game. The Premier League is a much-envied product that, commercially, has soared into the stratosphere. But when you hear of clubs complaining about the inflated investment that has created new contenders, it is hard to sympathise with chairmen and CEOs whose intentions were not all entirely honourable in 1992. This necessary work should be on any serious student of the game’s bookshelf.
The Club is published by John Murray. Hardback: £ 20.