Saturday, March 28, 2009

Maybe I'm xenophobic?

"I do struggle where nationalism, jingoism and patriotism stops and where actually some sort of xenophobic rhetoric takes over. And there is a certain amount of that in the football world when I keep getting told 'how can English football be English football when there are not enough English players in a particular team?"

- Richard Scudmore, who's sick of rhetorical questions which make him squirm

I'm going against the grain here, but I don't think it's xenophobic rhetoric to suggest that a domestic league team should field predominately domestic players. Maybe the implementation is a bit heavy-handed, but on the whole, I like to see clubs being represented by local players.

I think it's to do with authenticity.

We've a four year old A-League in Australia, and the clubs are all franchises. They have no history and they're still pretty soulless. I'm nominally a Melbourne Victory fan, but that's only because they're the only club in Melbourne. If they happened to set put another franchise in Melbourne in a couple of years, I'd be hard pressed to tell the different between the two. To me, Melbourne Victory doesn't feel "real" yet.

What makes a football club "real", instead of a marketable franchise, is the fact that it has history, and that it has links with the community it nominally represents. A lot of clubs pull out all stops to make this happen - sponsoring local events, appearances at hospitals, homework programs with disadvantaged kids - because they know that without a genuine dialogue between the community and the club, they'll never feel like an organic part of the community and their support will be shallow. However, the best way of linking a club to the community is to have players from the area.

There's nothing better than cheering on a player who's grown up with the club, and who's also a fan. It makes the affinity between you and the player so much more powerful. Justin Hoyte, for example, was never talented enough to play for the Arsenal, but we all desperately wanted him to succeed because he's a gooner. Ashley Cole, if he hadn't of been such a greedy &@#$ing $%^, would've been hero-worshipped all his life, simply because he came up through the academy.

I don't think it's just me who like local players. We all do. Even Richard Scudmore admits that:

"We have a quality agenda, what we want is the best players. We would like a huge proportion of those best players to be English. That would tick every box – if they were the best players in the world we would have success at international level."

There's just something about it. It's the difference between getting a pint in the local down the road or the Slug and Lettuce on Main Street. At the end of the day, they both sell the same product, but it's just nicer drinking in the local.

I'm not sure why. Maybe it is xenophobia, after all.

P.S. In case you're wondering, I'm aware of the irony of saying this when I live 10,000 miles away.

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