Ordinary Jon, aka Jon Adamson, Sunderland supporter and football blogger******, was bored rigid by the vaunted Premier League last season. Even our customary great escape left him feeling there’d been only two or three SAFC games worth remembering and that ours wasn’t even the great escape anyway. His recipe for making life at the top more exciting, and life at the bottom more troublesome, follows. It will suit some appetites, it may cause acute indigestion and it could be too tongue-in-cheek to win votes on Come Dine With Me. Bland fare it is not …
The dullest season since the Premier League began suggests radical action is required. Here’s a five point plan to bring some excitement back into the beautiful product.
2014-15 was the dullest season in the top flight since Mr Murdoch and chums ditched the pragmatically titled Division One for the self-styled best product in football, the golden-crowned Premier League.
Among the elite last season, Chelsea produced an efficient procession towards the title. By the time we got to September it never looked like the trophy would head anywhere other than Stamford Bridge.
Apart from the champions, the top end of the table took on a familiar feel, the early promise of such wild cards as Southampton and Swansea faltering a little as we regressed to the mean. For the last 20 years the top three has been basically the same, although the order changes a little (as shown by this image c/o @SimonGleave:
Perhaps the only difference was that even the supporters of those teams who always finish in the top four were getting a little bored of it all.
So what about elsewhere in the league? Well, decent seasons from the aforementioned Southampton and Swansea and a late burst by Crystal Palace will fade in the memory of all but the partisan before August rolls around again.
At the bottom it’s been a stultifyingly soporific shuffle of incompetency among the bottom six sides. There was, as always, a modicum of fear and dread masquerading as excitement for the last relegation place up for grabs.
However such excitement of survival doesn’t negate the eight months of dross which preceded it. As a Sunderland fan, I am often asked around that time of yeah, “well, at least it’s never dull eh?” Yes, it is dull actually. It’s mostly dull It’s unremittingly dull for eight or nine months save for maybe three exciting games a year.
An exciting league has to be one which is exciting for neutrals, not just the partisan. Every game has some interest for the team we support but if other league games fail to hold our attention then it’s a struggle to justify the self-anointed “most exciting league in the world” moniker.
So here’s my five-point plan to make the Premier League exciting again:
* Relegate the bottom six
Let’s face it, none of the bottom half dozen deserved to stay up. The three sides promoted last year have that as an excuse but were still largely woeful. As for Sunderland, Hull, Villa, and WBA, well leaving aside the sizeable contingent of away fans, no one would really miss them from the top flight.
Yes Leicester won the copyright for this year’s end of season “great escape” DVD and Villa finally scored some goals under Sherwood but prior to the last two months they too were awful.
God may love a trier but no one else does. It if sounds harsh relegating six teams then, don’t worry, they’ve got a great chance of being one of the six promoted next time. Who doesn’t want that? Top five get promoted and 6-to-9th play off for the last spot. Everyone loves the play-offs.
** Play-offs for fourth Champions League place
As everyone loves the playoffs so we need to have them in the Premier League too.
The top three should qualify automatically for the Champions League with those finishing in 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th having play-offs for the final place. It would keep it interesting for those hovering around mid-table for most of the season and would reward well-run clubs and good performing teams who without a sheikh, US trader or Russian oil baron are still never going to break in to the top four. This would also mean one of the big sides missing out and we love watching that even more than watching one of the underdogs win. As Gore Vidal famously said: “It is not enough to win, others have to lose.”
*** Lose some players
We need smaller teams. Not smaller squads, smaller teams. Games are too dull now – 11 men behind the ball, “parking the bus” – who ever practised that at school? Two teams both setting up to play on the counterattack? No thanks. Let’s have fewer players leaving wide-open spaces for more attacking and more goals. Footballing legend Socrates was one luminary who advocated this:
In 1970 the average Brazilian footballer ran 4km in a game. Today it’s 10km, which means space has reduced greatly. It has stifled creativity because no one has enough time on the ball. Given these changes, I think the game should be played with just nine players on each side, to recreate the spirit the game is meant to be played in.
I might be an idiot but Socrates isn’t. Also, when is anyone going to think about the journalists and the new breed of football hipsters and analysts? Anyone can see that content is running desperately thin. The focus of analytics growing ever more tenuous as they seek a new angle: percentage possession, touch heat-maps, volume of oxygen inhaled as proxy of “effort”.
The exponential rise in footballing hipsters, sports analysts, bloggers and podders means we desperately need to generate something new to write about and talk about. Think what a shot in the arm it would be for pseudo-journalists and fans to change the game from 11-a-side to nine-a-side? Imagine the endless articles, blogs and books that would result from comparing the benefits of Jurgen Klopp’s cavalier elongated-diamond 2-3-2-1 formation compared to Tony Pulis’s pragmatic and pugnacious 6-1-1?
**** Interrupt the flow of the game more
Football has been sluggish in embracing the wonders of modern technology and the Premier League could be the vanguard technocrats to reinvigorate our game.
Yes, we’ve got goal-line technology but we want more than that. Cricket has its third umpire review. Tennis has its appeals to Hawk Eye.
Football needs a system of appeals too. The fourth official is wasted in his current role. Even the introduction of the over-designed electronic number boards to replace the perfectly adequate “analogue” number boards has not helped their perceived importance, if anything, quite the opposite. However, if we give players and fourth officials licence to constantly interrupt the game, overruling (just the official I trust, not the players – Ed) the newly renamed “field referee” to disallow goals, award penalties and send people off, then they’ll feel much more a part of things. We’ll increase the degree of certainty and generate a whole range of new mistakes and disagreements. We’ll probably wonder why we even created fourth officials in the first place without such a role. And we’ll have to rename each of them something pompous and superior like “director of match integrity”.
***** Leave Fifa
Do I even need to sell this idea to anyone? The Premier League doesn’t need Fifa and Fifa doesn’t need the Premier League. It’s just habit that’s holding us together now.
Sure, we used to like the same things – money, football, sponsorship, money – but more recently we’ve drifted apart. We used to find the staged “elections” quirky and nostalgic but now they are just annoying. We used to like the summer-camp kickabout “World Cups” with all those international stars we could add an extra couple of zeros onto the price tags of.
Now these summer cups are just a pain and people might get injured and then miss games in the Premier League. Let’s just accept that we’ve had a good run together but we need a divorce. We can then start making all kinds of changes to the rules without heeding the advice of any form of governance.
****** Jon blogs as Ordinary Jon at http://www.ordinaryjon.com/ and tweets at https://twitter.com/search?q=%40OrdinaryJon&src=typd