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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.


When Big Sam Met Maggie

Written by on July 18, 2011 | 4 Comments »
Posted in English Premier League, General

In a recent newspaper column new West Ham manager Sam Allardyce placed the blame for the declining standards of soccer in the United Kingdom firmly at the feet of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (I will leave aside the irony that he was writing this column for “The Sun” newspaper, one of Mrs Thatcher’s most vociferous supporters).

His argument was that her Conservative Government, elected in 1979, took the decision to sell off many of the public playing fields and furthermore refused to pay teachers for the extra time that they spent teaching sport, thus leading to an increase in both obesity and a general lack of fitness in the nation’s children which became a time-wasting, and sometime insurmountable, burden for any team that eventually took them on.

There is no doubt that obesity is an issue in the UK (as it is in much of the developed world) but to blame the demise of UK soccer purely on the Thatcher factor seems a stretch too far.

The fact that, of the four UK nations, only Scotland managed to qualify for the two World Cups prior to her election gives some indication that the game wasn’t in the healthy condition that Big Sam seems to imagine it was prior to her entering Number 10 Downing Street.

Perhaps though the real demise came in the post Heysel period, when a significant number of top flight players were denied the chance to play against their continental counterparts, and the domestic game spent a significant period of time in which it became even more insular than it had previously been.

Then in 1992 the advent of the Premier League, swiftly followed by the establishment of the European Champions League, swung the pendulum sharply in the other direction, with more technically gifted overseas players suddenly becoming highly prized assets and the more “agricultural” domestic stars  becoming far less fashionable.

These two new competitions also led to an increased concentration of cash to a small number of big clubs which led to deeper squads, giving the genuinely talented young home-grown players greater riches but less playing time (Scott Parker at Chelsea anyone?).

So Sam seems to have got this one wrong. The game in the UK didn’t falter because Margaret Thatcher took away the playing fields, it faltered due to a variety of factors that were beyond the control of any government.

If you do want to blame her for something though (and believe me I do) then you can at least blame her for cultivating a society that prized financial value over all else, a political philosophy that was surely the catalyst that helped to create the cash driven behemoth that modern-day soccer has become.

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4 responses to “When Big Sam Met Maggie”

  1. Mr Berrisford, lets be honest, as someone from the States. Ronald Reagan came in the States the same time as Thatcher came in the UK.l; Nobody, loved glorifying financial value more than Reagan in the political world of thatchers time

  2. Rhywun says:

    Laughable. I know it’s still as fashionable as ever to hate on Thatcher and Reagan, but really – it’s been a couple decades. One would think that the world had recovered from their twin evils by now – yet, money rules sport all over the world as never before.

  3. John Bladen says:

    CH: They were two peas in a pod. Could there be a greater condemnation of Friedman economics than the recent bailouts??? (and that’s as far as I go off football in this forum)

    Russell: Good piece. I read that and thought “ever our Sam, never afraid to stand up and…. point the finger of blame somewhere else”

    The reality of England’s (and many of it’s contemporaries) decline in world football status is not rooted in any political realm outside it’s own FA. Yes, when countries rise to positions of wealth (or just out of stark poverty, as both England and Germany did after the second world war), there is a tendency for that new found affluence to lead school children away from sport. Invariably, these new found pastimes are not as useful in developing future athletes and footballers. (Visit any true third world country and see how many hours a day kids play football. Now compare that with our wealth driven video game generation…) In that, Sam is correct. It is about the time spent playing and training.

    But that was not a decree of Thatcher. She simply did what she was ideologically compelled to do. The FA could quite easily have picked up the slack for the decline in publicly funded grassroots football programs (in fact, it was astonishing to me that they didn’t do so… surely they could see that their free ‘pipeline’ of youths had been curtailed, if not cut off completely?) It is not, of course, the taxpaying public’s responsibility to produce feedstock for the footballing world.

    And yet, the FA did essentially nothing (other than funnel the money that could have gone into a privately run national football academy system to foreign clubs and players). Sam, as ever, needs to look in the mirror. They new footballing youth of Germany seems to be doing just fine.

  4. Russell Berrisford says:

    John- Yes. great point about clubs really being so slow to take responsibility for their own future.

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