King Kaufman's Sports Daily

English soccer fans angry about proposed offshoring of their national game. Quaint. But we could learn from them.


King Kaufman
February 11, 2008 3:43PM (UTC)

English media and soccer fans are up in arms over a proposal by the chief of the Premier League, who wants all 20 teams to play an extra weekend of matches overseas every January starting in 2011. The teams have voted unanimously to examine Richard Scudamore's idea.

The Brits make us Americans look like pikers in the outrage business when it comes to this sort of thing.

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"They're killing our game," read a headline in the Daily Mail. Another in the Daily Express went, "Sold: Football's soul for £200 million."

Malcolm Clarke, chairman of the Football Supporters' Federation, a fan-advocacy organization, said the plan "would drag the Premier League into the realms of farce." His group made huffing noises about a boycott of sponsors.

Over on this side of the pond we have a little experience in this area. We're a spring training away from another baseball season opening in the middle of the night for the home fans, in the Tokyo Dome, with garish advertisements on the uniforms. The Boston Red Sox and Oakland A's will play a two-game season-opening series a week before everyone else starts playing real games.

"A's fans," chirps a story on MLB.com, "your game time for the March 25 opening pitch will be 3:05 a.m. PT, so start making the necessary adjustments now." Ho-ho!

The just-completed NFL year featured the first-ever regular-season game played outside of North America, a dreary New York Giants win over the Miami Dolphins in London. There was a game played in Mexico in 2005. There'll be another in Britain in 2008.

NFL fans get only eight regular-season home dates a year, so moving one of them to another country is a big blow to the die-hards, though there was a groundswell of "let 'em have that one" over that Giants-Dolphins tilt.

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But generally, the outrage over these matters has been, at times, almost ... palpable.

There are fan-advocacy organizations in this country, but can you imagine their pronouncements being taken seriously in the media? Your average fan group on these shores would have to issue a press release and then take hostages to rate reporters writing down what they say.

That cultural difference results, for this fan, in a first-blush reaction that the Brits are a little over the top, vaguely ridiculous getting all bent out of shape because the Premier League pooh-bahs want to -- gasp! -- expand the league's international market and -- say it ain't so! -- make more money. So they add one game to the schedule, making it 39 instead of 38, and the poor babies on the teams have to travel to Hong Kong or New York.

But of course they're not ridiculous.

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"The league works as a competition because it is fair," writes Matt Lawton in the Daily Mail piece with the "killing our game" headline. "Because everyone plays each other home and away and the team with the most points wins."

That's a pretty good argument. Imagine the extra game were in place this year. Arsenal and Manchester United are battling for the league lead with Chelsea a close third. Imagine Arsenal and Chelsea meet in the extra international game, while Manchester United's overseas match is against Derby County, which has one win in 26 matches. If Manchester United wins, Arsenal loses and United wins the league by a point, well, you can see why the word "farce" keeps coming up.

"This is a strange and comical idea," said president Michael Platini of the UEFA, the European association, to the Daily Telegraph. "A nonsense idea."

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Seems a little priggish over here, maybe, where we're used to unbalanced schedules, to interleague baseball throwing off the races by giving division rivals opponents of vastly different quality. We've long since gotten used to college teams in various sports winning their league without playing all of the other teams in it.

But it's not priggish. It makes sense. Each team playing all of the other teams in the league, in front of the home fans, is clearly the best way to run a season, the fairest way to crown a champion, the best deal for the best customers. Of course the teams can make a few bucks by adding on games and playing them as novelties in other countries, but it's a bad road to go down.

It leads to what we have over here: We're so used to our sports leagues and teams doing things that make no sporting sense but rake in a few shekels -- it's Tuesday night, time for college football! -- that we barely even notice, and it seems a little quaint when those English soccer fans try to insist that the people in charge of the national game show it, and them, a little respect.

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Opposition is coming not just from fans and media but also from players and managers, though their concern seems to be largely with the extra travel and the extra game on their already loaded schedules. Soccer officials in some of the countries that have been suggested as hosts, all of which are nations that play soccer but aren't mad crazy about it, like the United States, have also objected. They're saying the Premier League incursion could do damage to their attempts to build the game's popularity.

I think Premier League games in the U.S. would do more good than harm to soccer as a spectator sport here, and it'd be fun to see those teams playing meaningful games in this country. Not as much fun as it would be to see them play those games in their own country, but I'm here, not there. It's interesting to be on the receiving end of that Opening Day in the Tokyo Dome equation.

Still, it's a nasty little idea for the home fans.

"Money is all that counts and to hell with the integrity of the Premier League," wrote Bill Bradshaw in the Express of Scudamore's proposal. "To hell with the fans."

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To hell with the fans. That sounds familiar. And to think we're supposed to be separated by a common language.

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  • King Kaufman

    King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

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