THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

25 July ~ In a conversation with the press this week, Sir Alex Ferguson talked about who he thought would be Manchester United's main challengers for the title this coming season. The candidates most of us would expect were duly mentioned, Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal. Ferguson also commented that: "One of those four will always be a thorn in our flesh... History doesn't change. No matter where it comes from, somewhere along the line we are going to be faced with a big challenge from one of those four great clubs."

They are all big clubs, historically successful, and he's correct in what he said, that generally at least two of these five clubs will be in contention for the title. But there's a broader assumption increasingly commonly made now, that the Big Four are an unchanging group, a closed shop of success that it would be pointless to even attempt to break into. The financial muscle wielded by them prevents any hope of a serious challenge by an outsider.

However, it is ridiculous to believe that nothing can change and that nothing can ever have changed. There is no guarantee that what is true today will also be true tomorrow, nor either that it was so yesterday. Let's look at history, say the 1920s. Ask a Huddersfield Town supporter, whose club won three consecutive titles between 1924 and 1926 then finished second for the next two seasons, whether their dominance changed in the following years. How about Bury, who finished in the top six three times in the latter part of that decade, or Portsmouth, who won consecutive titles in 1949-51?

All a long time ago, you might say. Money's changed the game, it couldn't happen now. The thing is, money always determined who was successful, it just found its way to players in different ways then, in paper bags or in the form of a well-paid summer job. What we see now with the huge sums sloshing around the game isn't a new application of economics to football, just inflation.

There's actually a case to be made that the opposite is true. TV and prize money offers a historically unparalleled opportunity to over-achieve, compared to what clubs might have expected in the past using mainly their attendances as a source of income. Financial Fair Play will prevent oligarch owners blowing everyone else out of the water in terms of their budget, but it'll also prevent those others overspending to achieve the level of success where it becomes self-perpetuating.

That means gradual improvement will now offer the way to break into the gilded elite rather than by finding a sugar daddy as new entrants have managed it recently. The increased availability of money to all won't reduce its impact as a way differentiating between clubs, but it will mean different clubs can gain success. Whether anyone will permanently become a genuine power in the immediate future is anyone's guess. Looking back from the future, perhaps our grandchildren will find it strange that our current elite ever dominated as they do. Mark Brophy

Comments (8)
Comment by JimDavis 2011-07-25 13:09:20

"There's actually a case to be made that the opposite is true. TV and prize money offers a historically unparalleled opportunity to over-achieve, compared to what clubs might have expected in the past using mainly their attendances as a source of income. Financial Fair Play will prevent oligarch owners blowing everyone else out of the water in terms of their budget, but it'll also prevent those others overspending to achieve the level of success where it becomes self-perpetuating."

Except, as Villa found out recently and Spurs are finding out now. If you don't have the money, getting 95% there is no good as those with the ability to absorb a short term financial shocks will still go and wave the cash at your best players and unsettle them until you are back with the bottom feeders. I'm forever reminded of the players from the "almost team" that West Brom built in the 70s/80s who ended up at the likes of Real Madrid and Manchester United and I'm sure history has many more of these gems scattered throughout it.

Comment by ChrisBud 2011-07-25 13:37:42

"The Big Four" is clearly outdated, as is the supposed assumption that it cannot be broken into. As Alex points out, Man City have clearly managed to break in to what was then the "Big Four" of a couple of years ago.

Comment by 1974ddr 2011-07-25 17:30:50

In the 80s I seem to recall it was the 'Big Five', but Spurs and Everton have been relegated from that particular elite long ago, being replaced by first Chelsea and now Man City. So of course the 'Big Four' can be broken into. All any aspiring clubs need is a 'philanthropic' multibillionaire, ideally one who isn't too concerned with trophies, as ultimately there are only two or three competitions up for grabs each season and no matter how many millions are spent, someone has to come second.

Comment by Dalef65 2011-07-25 18:42:21

The reality of the matter is that we have a Big 6 in English football at the moment....Not 4.....

The reason why people persist in refering to the big 4,is probably something to do with the fact that 4 teams qualify for the Champions League,and the media are obsessed with that particular monstrosity of a competition...

Comment by madmickyf 2011-07-26 04:49:32

Who cares if there's a big four, six or ten? The whole Premier League is a big steaming pile of shit!

Comment by phnompenhandy 2011-07-26 05:59:38

You can argue the minuciae over whether it's a Big 3, 4, 5 or 6 - the main point is that the only way to gain membership is having obscene amounts of wealth. A modest club with a great manager can't afford to take the risk to compete, and player power will undermine attempts to mould a squad. UEFA's FFP is supposed to help, but we're already seeing how easily Man City can undermine that.

Comment by Sundeporino 2011-07-26 17:43:27


Money may well have always determined who was successful but when Huddersfield n Bury n Pompey were top dogs their oppositions players could'nt upsticks and leave whenever they felt like it due to the contracts prevalent at the time. Meaning the top clubs couldnt cherry pick the oppositions up'n'coming prospects or ready made stars.
Plus there was no European Competitions for competing clubs to double their Football League generated earnings. Meaning everyone was singing from the same hymn book financially speaking. Though some undoubtedly had a few extra pages tucked up their sleeves.

Plus there was no League Cup generating money for the winners, no TV money based on appearences, no megastores, no pile em high and loan em out system, etc etc

For anyone outside of the big big big city clubs the dream is now to sneak as many seasons in the Premier League as possible.....and then it is all over.

Comment by sw2boro 2011-07-26 20:56:51

...*sobs...

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