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Monday, 17 August 2009

The Return of The Miserable

Those of the opinion (ie practically everyone I know) that my attempt to switch programmes from Educational Studies to History and Archaeology was a tactical, professional and career-related disaster in the unfolding can rest assured that said attempts to switch courses have come to nought. With one stone, two birds have been slain, firstly the impending possibility that the one studying history would actually be older than the things he was studying, is buried, and secondly, the possibilities that I would accidentally turn this blog into a series of increasingly insane rants on matters anthropological and archaeological are fading. I can now quite happily look forward to the forthcoming modules on 'Social and Developmental Pyschology', 'Social Policy', 'The Theory of Learning' on my original course, with the certainty of a simplified life and the sure knowledge that delights above and beyond 'Learning Styles' await. In short, the history department would not let me transfer credits to the second Year, insisting instead that I would have to start a degree again - not something that could be contemplated.

But Learning, of any style is not yet upon us. The return to university is roughly a month in the distant future. However the football season has commenced, an event which has hitherto on these ecribements been accompanied by the annual "A Faint Whiff of Optimism" and similar posts. THis season, not even a whiff remains. The football season has started, and only stony-faced resignation has partnered my football watching up to now. Nevertheless, I fully expect things to buck up a little and that £2000 of my student grant that I bet on Liverpool winning their first league title in 19 years will be money well spent, as long a NEl doesnt find out. Accompanying the start of the new season is a request from a regular correspondent, in that I have been asked, nay commissioned, to provide a quick sketch of
the glory and delights of the organisational nightmare that is European Soccer. This I will do, and, in pursuit of same, the usual journalistic blights that accompany any reportage on football - bias, prejudice, partisanship, fickle opinion and lack of knowledge, will, of course, be thorougly adhered to. I should first of all say, that watching soccer is a joy and a pleasure.

Anyway, back to my unbiased guide. As you all know, Liverpool Football Club are the most successful British Club ever, and have taken part in all the major national and international competitions. They have won the European Championship five times, and overcome greater odds in doing so than any team ever. Fact #1.

Each country in Europe has a system of Leagues, administered by that country's own organisation. Hence, England has the The Premier League, known as the EPA, and 'below' that league is 'The Championship', League One and League Two - essentially four professional leagues. The leagues are ranked so the Premiership is the league that clubs are promoted to (by winning the Championship) or demoted from (by finishing last in the Premiership). All English football leagues have just begun their season, and the season lasts till about May. Each team plays the other teams twice - at home and away- and points are awarded for victory (three points), drawing (one point). The team with the most points in May wins whatever League they are in. Liverpool have done this the most times in the UK, apart from the devil-spawned necromancers from Manchester, who have bribed and cheated their way to a similar number of titles as us, mostly by being in league with Satan. Fact #2.

However, English football also runs a number of Cup competitions. These competitions run concurrently with the League competition, but are open to every team in England affiliated to the English Football League (which is the body that runs, at least partly, the game in the UK). The main Cup competitions in England are the FA Cup and the League Cup. In the modern era, of course, these competitions have become sponsored by major companies, hence the League Cup is now called the Coca-Cola Cup (I think).

These Cup competitions are knock-out competitions whereby one match decides who progresses in the competition. It is because of these competitions that very small clubs like Ferriby United, or Colchester United, might find themselves playing Liverpool, Man U or Chelsea. Sometimes the smaller clubs prevail against the big guys in these competitions, which everyone loves. In terms of enjoyment, the FA Cup used to be by far the most enjoyable competition to follow, even if your own team got knocked out, due to these occasional upsets. Liverpool have never been upset by anyone ever, apart from a few occasions where, out of charity for smaller teams, they have deliberately lost important matches in order to help out the revenue streams of these smaller clubs. Manchester United often upset other smaller teams by hiring US military teams, equipped with massive PA systems on the back of their Jeeps to play rock music loudly outside the other team's hotel the night before a match. Fact #3.

A quick review of the above should then tell you that a team like Man Utd, can be (and usually are), involved in three competitions within England during a single season, playing exclusively English clubs. Each country in Europe has a roughly equivalent system. The way this links to football on a pan-European level is that winners of each competition - Premier league, FA cup and League cup are then ranked within a Europe wide system, so that the first four placed teams in the Englsih Premiership are entered into what has become known as The Champions League. Hence the winners of the premiership in the 2008-2009 season enter the Champions League in the 2009-2010 season, and play against similarly placed teams from the best leagues in the other European countries. For teams winning the FA Cup, and coming further down the league table , there are other "lesser" pan-European competitions.

THe question of which competition is the most important, was until recently, a matter of some debate, but as football has been taken over by global business, the biggest revenues have been obtained from the Champions League. Therefore to the clubs, it is very important to either win their league, or in the case of UK, finish in the top four. Hence, the national leagues have become less important in their own right, and more important as vehicles to "get into Europe", this generating revenue.

To the fans, there is a slightly different picture, because English sport has always been an arena where local rivalries are played out, and over the years, a whole bunch of rivalries have arisen. This means that during each season, the fan will get to indulge in his or her historic hatreds of a specific team at least twice during each season. To the average English fan, I would guess therefore that the league matches are more important than any of the big competitions. This, I would say, is especially true because while a team like Stoke City, for example, has no chance of winning the Premiership, their fans can still enjoy victories throughout the season - whether claiming the scalp of a big club, or 'getting one over' on their rivals. Ethnographic studies have revealed episodes of mass hysteria, delusion and widespread psychosis among Manchester United fans. Fact #4.

ANd what have all these photos to do with all of this. Absolutely nothing, as it happens, except that while I love watching football, I would DO this any day of the week instead:



JoeyMac said...

Thanks for the detailed and unbiased summary. I now have the daunting task of making the life choice of favourite club. Favourite English club may be a little easier than favourite European though. :)

MJN said...

I should add (and this was the intention of my post, I just didnt get the writing right!) that doing all the stuff I did was nothing if it hadnt been done with my buddy Carl . Before we went to Turkey, we had a couple of brilliant days hiking and mountain biking in England and thats what the photos show. Love watching footy as I do, "doing" with a great mate is still a million times better.

Also to Joey MAc, may I recommend that, in searching for a European team you look at Barcelona - no sponsorship on their jerseys, but the Unicef logo, owned by the fans - a truly people's club. For English clubs I am obviously very biased.

JoeyMac said...

I remember you mentioning Barcelona, and I like the idea. If by European, we mean anything outside England, I may have to lean toward my Celtic roots though. :) having been honoured with a Liverpool gang-name, I think my choice of English club is also a given.
...and agreed on good friends over good football, and even over good hockey. ;)