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Russell Berrisford

Russell Berrisford

Russell’s support of Derby County eventually led him to leave the country. He has lived in Canada since 2007 and currently writes about soccer for The Vancouver Sun.


The Ferguson Plan

Written by on July 25, 2011 | 2 Comments »
Posted in General, MLS

On June 5 1947 the then US Secretary of State George Marshall gave a speech to Harvard graduates in which he laid out a plan to promote post-war development and reconstruction in Europe.

Despite his words being initially dismissed as vague and directionless the seeds of an idea were sown and, from our present perspective, “The Marshall Plan” became the cornerstone upon which Western Europe emerged from post-war chaos into a future of democracy and prosperity.

Scroll forward 64 years and an equally important figure outlines his own ideas for the development and reconstruction of soccer in North America; calling for an increase in the number of  teams and at least two (but preferably four) separate leagues his idea was also dismissed as being vague and directionless.

Yet could this modern “speech” prove as historically significant in the sporting sense as his predecessors did in the political?

Could future generations of soccer historians find themselves debating the merits of “The Ferguson Plan”?

There is no doubt that North America still has enough soccer starved cities with the infrastructure and populations to host new clubs, and if MLS continue their current trend of adding to their number on a slow but steady basis then two decades from now Ferguson’s four league idea may not look quite as fanciful as it does to present day eyes.

I think many of us sometimes forget just how young MLS is in sporting terms (I’m as guilty of anyone in this regard) and somehow expect this fledgling entity to be competing with the top European Leagues both in terms of standards and attendance.

Yet in truth it can take generations for teams to establish themselves in the hearts and minds of the sporting public and what we are currently witnessing may well be the growing pains of something much larger than perhaps we are able to imagine.

The good news then is that we are lucky enough to be around to witness the baby steps of something that will develop a storied history, the bad news is that we will all probably be dead before it reaches its full fruition.

So let’s try to enjoy what we have (how many New York Yankee fans would love the chance to have been around in the early days of that franchise?) whilst continuing to push the sport in the right direction.

The “Marshall Plan” needed the support of numerous nations and electorates to survive and still defines the way that the political landscape of Europe is developing to this day; maybe with the support of numerous cities and their soccer loving supporters the “Ferguson Plan” will have equally far-reaching implications for the sporting landscape of North America.

2 responses to “The Ferguson Plan”

  1. Gus Keri says:


    “The Ferguson Plan”?

    It’s funny what I found when I googled it.
    You are making something out of nothing.

    This was suggested few times before by other people. Actually, the only way that we might see two MLS levels might be by expanding to the point where it becomes doable.

    Like what the Japanese did with their J-league. In 1999, they promoted 9 teams from the other Japanese league and added the bottom team of the J-league and formed the J-league 2. Afterward, they stated having promotion and relegation.

    Also, if he truely has a plan for MLS, is he planning to sponsor it or help in achieving it somehow? Or is it just a talk?

    It wouldn’t be a plan if it’s just a talk, would it?

  2. John Bladen says:

    Ferguson has said many times that North America (and Canada in particular) cannot hope to develop it’s players without more professional teams and more professional leagues.

    It’s a relatively straightforward position, and one that can’t really be argued with. We do need more professional football. At all levels.

    The main issue I see with MLS is that it is, by definition, a top down league. It was created out of nothing to satisfy a FIFA edict. That it has survived it’s painful first decade and is now thriving is a tribute to the patience of fans in the US, and to Lamar Hunt and Anschutz. Without these wealthy men’s willingness to pump perhaps $400m into a league that essentially no-one was watching and no-one wanted to pay to show on tv, this league would not exist.

    But being “top down” has it’s problems, of course – the chief one being the most obvious: That there is no grass roots support at lower levels from which to develop players and new fans.

    Russell, I think Ferguson is right. But it needn’t be MLS that expands to areas that might not support it. If it took some of it’s SUM profits and provided seed money (in exchange for affiliation agreements and “feeder” rights) to start regional professional leagues, it could reap the rewards of improved players and greater public interest down the road.

    A rising tide lifts all boats, as it were. And $5m or so in seed money spread around the country each year would go a long way to making owning a regional franchise something other than a license to lose money.

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