Monday, December 1, 2014

The English Football Pyramid And The American Dream

In an unrelated forum that has nothing to do with sports, I was chatting with an American who thought “Soccer” was an un-American and socialist game

However I will state the opposite to be true and in fact the way the English structure the football leagues does more to represent the American dream more than any American sports

The idea that opportunity for prosperity, success and social mobility and the idea that ""life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement" regardless of social class or circumstances of birth." is a fundamental part of how Football is run in England. Football in England is an allegory to free enterprise, individualism and a "can do" spirit.

So how does the pyramidal system of football work in England?

There are 22 levels of football in England that contains 140 leagues and more than 7000 clubs. At the top of the pyramid is the spectacular rich grandeur of the English Premier League (EPL), the richest and most glamorous Football league in Europe. At the bottom of the pyramids are local park amateur teams of essentially bunch of friends getting together of having a game of football on the weekend. Every level of football in this pyramid are connected by promotion and relegation where the team that wins the league (sometimes 2nd and 3rd place team) gets promoted to the next level of the pyramid while the team that finish bottom (sometimes 2nd bottom and 3rd bottom) gets relegated to the level below the pyramid. So essentially the top of the English Premier League is connected via promotion and relegation straight down to the grass roots.

So what's so great about this system and how does it connect to the American Dream?

1. If you work hard, you can make it to the top
By connecting the grassroots with the superstardom of the EPL . Every single club in the pyramid, if they have the ability and work hard enough, they can reach the top. Every single club can dream of playing against Manchester United, Liverpool to win the English Premier League. This is because there is a clear progression from the bottom of the pyramid to the top of the pyramid and has a clear set path of social mobility allowing newly form club opportunity to strike it rich.

This pyramid is clearly a representation of the dream that many American wish for of starting a small business and making it big.

2. The barriers of entry is low
The barrier of entry to the Football pyramid is low. Any person who has access to a park to play football and have a bunch of mates can create a club and join the football league. Of course, the more money and the more fanbase and the better football ground the higher the level they let you join the league and clubs that stat of as amateurs, semi-professional and fully professional joins at different stages. However even a person with modest resources can form a football club and participate in the pyramid. This easily represents the ideal vibrant competitive marketplace where the barrier of entry is low that allows anyone with entrepreneur ambition to easily join.

3. No restriction of ambitions
There is no salary cap there is no wealth distribution and there is no draft. It is merely up to each individual club to sign whatever players and staff they can afford and the sky is the limit and there is only small limitation (due to the recent un-American Financial Fair Play) to what resources clubs are allowed to use. This freedom ensures that football is played to the maximum of their ability and to ensure the "pursuit of excellence" in sports is maximised. If you are successful, you aren't punish for the success by having your wealth redistributed to other teams nor will you lose players that help you succeed by unable to pay them the increase in salary they deserve due to salary cap constraints. Clearly this is reflective of the free enterprise that defined America.

4. No incentives for failure
It is open secret that with leagues where there are drafts that "rewards" teams that fail that tanking is prevalent. NBA in the United States have been bogged by tanking allegations with team deliberately not trying hard to maximises the chance of gaining a good draft pick allocated by the governing body.

Is there anything more un-American than that? This is essentially the equivalent of welfare cheat slacking off to get welfare payments from the government and leeching of the success of other people.

Even for sports where there is no draft. The worst thing that could happen in finishing last is that you get to try again the year later.

However in this football pyramid there is absolutely no incentive to play poorly and the consequences is dire. You finish bottom and you get relegated to the next division where you are exposed to much less revenue. Not only is this entertaining for fans where relegation battles are just as entertaining and tension filled as the battle for first place. The pyramid creates a culture of ruthless competition and accountability. Bad management will not be covered up by wealth redistribution and draft picks. The consequences of failure ensure the highly competitive nature that ensures the high standard of football being played in the country.

5. No regards to class, history, circumstances of birth
Imagine if major sporting clubs with a rich history such as Boston Celtics or the New York Yankees have a poor season due to poor management. Due to that poor season, they get relegated and the NBA and MLB have a season where they aren't present at all as they are stuck playing in lower divisions.

It's unthinkable isn't it but that's the reality that football in England face. Sheffield FC the oldest Football club in the world is playing in the 8th division of the football pyramid. Nottingham Forest the first English club to win back-to-back European cups has been playing in the 2nd and 3rd division in England. Leeds United one of the biggest clubs in England have been playing in the 2nd and 3rd division.  In the past Manchester united was relegated in the 1973/74 seasons.

This is sport at it's purist to adopt the "let the scoreboard decide" mentality that is very much a reflection of "let the market decides' attitude that traditional American culture celebrates.

Of course everything doesn’t last for ever and just as modern American society are lamenting the death of the American dream, there are threats to the English Football pyramid with the un-American “Financial Fair Play” that threatens to limit the ambitions of football clubs in Europe.  Nevertheless Football in England reflects the American dream more than any other sport.

So when you think of what is quintessentially American. Don't think about apple pie, hot dogs, Chevrolet, baseball. Think of Soccer in England

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