With the new Premier League season only a week away, it seemed appropriate to write something on football. Rather than analyse the game itself, however, I want to look at the locations of teams for a moment.
Using quikmaps to plot markers on Google Maps, I’ve marked all of the teams for the 2009-10 season of the Premier League in red and all of the teams in League 2 in blue – the top and bottom divisions in the English Football League.
Looking at League 2, it seems as though there is a fairly even spread of teams across the country. There is maybe a bit of a gap when it comes to the East Anglia region, but all in all, there seems to be representation from all over England.
The same cannot be said for the top-flight in English football. Apart from just 3 teams (Portsmouth, Hull City and Sunderland), all of them are located in London or the Greater Manchester and Birmingham metropolitan areas.
This begs the question – why is this the case? One thing we know for a fact is that London, Birmingham and Manchester are the 3 most populous areas in England. This explains the reason as to why there are so many football teams in these regions, but does not explain why the top teams in the country are almost exclusively from these regions.
Another theory is that football is the predominant sport in England, and is especially popular with those from a lower socio-economic class. Cities and metropolitan areas in England are usually the principal locations of ‘slums’ and less economically prosperous estates – and these are often areas in which football thrives. This could suggest that these are the places where the best clubs are established.
However, the flaw with this theory is that although lower ranked teams usually rely on locally based staff and players, the top teams in the country have a large proportion of foreign staff and players.
Perhaps a more likely theory could be that the proportion of overall GDP in England (or usually in any country) is clearly concentrated within the major cities. The start-up costs of a football club are fairly high, with infrastructure as well as resources needing to be established from the outset. Therefore, it seems likely that the wealthiest investors were/are located in major cities, and so chose to set up football clubs within their proximity. The wealthiest clubs can then spend more on their players and coaching staff, making them more successful overall. Still, many clubs towards the bottom of the Premier League do not have much more money then a team the next league down (The Championship). The wealth theory can probably explain the locations of Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea, but not the teams that seem to work their way up from lower leagues, and also seem to be from the North Western areas.
Although I don’t hold an answer to this one, it is an interesting observation. Because of the dominance of the top few teams in the Premier League, geographic concentrations of football teams in the English top league have not changed a huge amount over the years, and are unlikely to change in future.
If you have any ideas as to why we seem to have a disproportionate representation of geographical regions in top-league English football, send your answers on a postcard. Alternatively (and more sensibly), leave a comment.