Burnley and the fall of the city clubsBy: Rob | May 28th, 2009
In the build up to that game in Rome, I haven’t had a chance to pass on my congratulations to Burnley, who after winning the Championship play off add to the Lancashire based teams in England’s top division, and get to spend (at least) a season with the big boys.
I say the “big boys”, but what does that even mean anymore? There were lots of doom-laden prophesies when the Premier League started making money and attracting forigen talent in the 1990s, that the big cities would rise, and it would be curtains for small town clubs.
Burnley(that’s their town hall to the left by the way)’s promotion is just the latest example of where this categorically hasn’t come true.
Sure there are still clubs from big cities in the top league. London boasts a quarter of the division with five teams (though this could be perceived as an underachievement with almost a third of the country living in what could be described at the Capital and its immediate surrounding areas), Manchester has two top flight teams, Birmingham now boasts two again, Merseyside has two, and Wolverhampton can now claim again to being a city with a Premier League team.
Portsmouth, Stoke and Sunderland are all smaller cities that have top league clubs, but Newcastle, Bristol, Plymouth, Leeds, Oxford, Exeter, Sheffield, Cardiff and Derby are all currently without a team in the top league.
So why? It seems that with players on the big money they are, they don’t feel like that have to live right in the big city, to play for their club. Indeed, England is a relatively small place, and you can easily find a huge city in relative spitting distance (mainly Manchester in the above towns, it should be pointed out) of the town-clubs.
Also it seems that a big fanbase doesn’t mean as much as it was predicted to. Although fans undoubtedly bring a lot of money through the turnstiles (Have you seen the price of a ticket?! etc) with the money in the game spiralling out of control, however much they charge it seems, is not enough. Indeed, while Bristol Rovers took record numbers to Wembley for their LDV Vans Trophy final last season (the season before the one that’s just finished. Side note, when does the one that’s just finished become last season, is it after the FA Cup final?) and would, like thier local rivals, fill a big staduim (Certainly more than, say, Blackburn do) in the top league, they never get a chance. Hell, look at Newcastle, who boast among the biggest gates in the Prem. Not enough to keep you there.
It presents an interesting scenario for the future. While the big clubs (last season’t top 10 all came from cities) are currently all the city clubs (can probably be explained by the fact that when a billionaire has been buying a club they were worried about the same things as the naysayers) as the role of the billionaire increases, and the geography decreases, we could see smaller teams rise of the league more and more.
So what will that do for support? Can you imagine a surreal situation where kids growing up in big cities are supporting small time clubs for the glory? Or will you just end up with less-well-supported clubs sitting on top of the league, while big city teams continue to get tens of thousands in the bottom half or the Championship? Its obviously far from happened yet, but its an interesting thought for the future.