Local football and rivalry is more exciting
Players born near here should play for Arsenal
This week I would like to write about an idea I have had for a long time. Traditionally football clubs have had the ability to get players from everywhere. It has become a moneymaking machine that is very much tilted in favour of the wealthy. Has it been good for football? Has it been good for footballers? Has it been good for the local areas? Or fans? Or countries? I say an emphatic no!
Why so? Football is a huge global industry that cares nothing for localities or regions. Some entire countries get left behind like Bulgaria and Ireland, with nobody interested in the local fare provided and attendances on a downward spiral as fans have favourite teams elsewhere and use their available cash to get to see their idols.
How many players come from Arsenal?
Is it good for football that local players cannot get into their local team? How many players in the top leagues come from near their stadiums? In many cases none or very little. Does Newcastle have, despite their name, Newcastle players? Does Liverpool? The Manchesters? Brighton? PSG? Real Madrid? You take my point.
The Romford Pele would qualify
So, if you grow up in the Arsenal area and support them you also know that you will never play for them most probably. What effect does that have on football, that almost no-one can aspire to play for their local team? And so if you are good as a kid but maybe not premier league, you have to travel to another area and grow up far away from family. Or if you are very good, you travel anyway, to a top team. All the big teams have academies from everywhere, with young kids forced into a rarefied bubble apart from real life. How can this be good for the area, the kids, or football generally?
Kids only want to play for the big teams
And so some areas have become football hotbeds, and hoover up all the talent, and other areas are left bereft. In Ireland, you want to play for Liverpool, Man Utd, Arsenal or some other top team. Few grow up aspiring to play for Shamrock Rovers, Bohemians or Dundalk. Same here in Bulgaria but in Bulgaria, at the moment, few are managing to play abroad and there isn’t the same glamour about aspiring to play for Ludogoretz, Levski or CSKA. At least in Ireland, players can dream of playing in England.
How many Bulgarians aspire to play for these?
The reason football morphed into this situation is simple. Back in the early days of football in the UK, amateur local teams sprung up mostly in the south, which was rich. But soon the dominance switched to the north, professional players were drafted in from Scotland and northern regions as the southern clubs tried to resist. It was doomed. Professional clubs became the standard. Transfers became standard. Money became the standard significant thing. The clubs could draw huge crowds. Chairmen saw the opportunity to make money. The locals were discarded, with only, truly, a pretence that they mattered other than as cash machines.
Does locality mean anything in football?
Let’s look instead at a different reality. The world of football today. Fans have little power. Locality means almost nothing. Fans don’t own clubs. Prices are horrendous. Young players, up to the point whether they make it at least, are bundled into the big clubs in their hundreds with a pitiful few getting in. Most living a life of regret, that their best years are gone forever. And so often done in an alien environment, despite whatever efforts the clubs make, it is a machine that spits out hundreds of young people every year, who know that they didn’t make it.
Tallaght kids can stay at home in the Rovers academy
What am I proposing, then? And I guess you are all going to say it is impossible. Nothing is impossible, if it can be imagined. I believe that we can keep the existing clubs structure, even.
Create footballing regions
What we could do is divide areas into regions based on population and allow for 2 major clubs, and x amount of clubs in the lower divisions. Let's take London, one area could have Arsenal and Tottenham and minor teams. Only local players would be allowed to play. Growing up in this area, you could aspire to play for the big teams or the minor ones if you so wish. Academies could only take players from the area. They stay in their homes and schools. Transfers would only be possible within the area. For Liverpool, it is easy. Liverpool and Everton and the minor teams around. Only really London and Birmingham have more than 2 top teams and Birmingham only have Wolves and Villa at the moment. London has seven but you could maybe put Brighton in the mix to make it work for the moment split into four areas. You will probably have to have unusual border lines to make this idea work but so what? You could agree say a five year revision of lines, for example, to ensure that the borders made sense.
The players from Celtic Euro cup 1967 all were born near the ground
Let’s take Bulgaria and Ireland as examples. You take the population as a whole, divide it into regions that would work well in football terms and create new leagues or keep the old ones if that works. The old leagues are not getting the crowds so it should provide a lift. The teams are only allowed a set number of trainees and they have to be born, or if they moved away when young, actually living in the area. Football becomes local again. A local hero knows the supporters, he is their brother, their friend their schoolmate. People would be more inclined to support their local team if they actually knew the players. Young players would wish to play for their local team.
It should attract bigger crowds. They should be able to get more money. Standards should go up. The national team would get better. It is no coincidence that the great Bulgarian World Cup team came together under communism or that Ireland’s great teams happened because Ireland was essentially the only foreign team in England. The players had the opportunities that comes from being able to play in a stronger league.
But it's not possible?
Could it happen? Certainly not easily but’s let’s say there was an agreement to make it happen. I would propose that the starter would be that all new kids coming in would have to be local, and so within 10 years all the older players would be gone or almost. I would suggest that a 3 year transition period would apply wherein things would go on as normal except for the ruling about kids coming in. Then another three years transition where transfers are restricted only to players within the boundaries with certain exceptions for older players coming to the end of their careers. The next four years could be agreed to iron out any remaining problems. I would make it the same rule regarding managers and coaches so that it is truly local.
Denmark won a far smaller European nations league
Another important aspect has to be fan ownership. No more billionaires coming in and changing the rules to suit themselves. The Champions League is an egregious example. They have twisted the rules and twisted the rules to make sure only big clubs can win. I love the idea of a league and a cup system. The League will go to the best team of the year and the Cup can go to whoever plays better on the day. Little teams have a chance of a big day and a trophy. Even the World cup and European Nations cup has gone to small teams when it was mostly knockout. It will eventually get boring if only a small number of teams with no real local aspect are the winners always.
I could write much more but the real benefit long term is that sport comes back to the people. We can get behind our own local players. We can have stronger country teams. Progression becomes logical and young kids are not transported halfway around the world to play football, live far from home and then not make it. I believe that if you ask fans, they would love to have a strong local team to support and to know who those players are and that they care about the area. Am I right? And if this idea is better for football, then it should happen.