Sunday, 17 May 2009

One Iain Dale, There's Only One Iain Dale

But there are two Iain Dale blogs.

So perhaps we can present Britain's best known Tory blogger with a dilemma, with our research showing how English football changed from a fluid, open competitive meritocracy where any club might dream of glory to the stratified caste system we have today.

Readers of Iain Dale's diary will probably find this all a bit Fabian. Its obviously well informed research but the conclusions sound like the fairness and inequality stuff you expect from the left. The era of the "level playing field' lasted through the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s - both its best symbol, and last act, are Brian Clough winning the League with newly promoted Forest and the European Cup at the first time of asking. In May 1979, as it happens (though we find quite a contrast between the 1980s and 1990s and the current decade). And we argue that the FA runs the Premiership from the FA Hayek textbook of equality of opportunity. There might be a risk of turning this into a political football.

But the other Iain Dale website is called West Ham Till I Die.

West Ham have one of the great football traditions. They have a trump card in arguments with fans of any other club, because we all know that West Ham won the World Cup for England. Anybody who ever went to a floodlit game at Upton Park, especially before the all-seater era, will know it had a good claim to have the best atmosphere anywhere in the South.

They might never have won the League - their club song almost forbids it - but West Ham have done more than dream of glory. They won the FA Cup in 1964, 1975 and 1980 - and won a major European trophy and reached a final too. The Hammers have never been immune from relegation but Tony Cottee and Frank McAvennie took a serious title challenge into May when finishing third in 1986.

So West Ham are among the clubs most disadvantaged by the tilting of the playing field, alongside Spurs, Everton and Aston Villa and others.

Those four clubs won three league titles, four FA Cups and a full set of European trophies between them in the 1980s.

Since 1996, only Portsmouth's FA Cup victory of 2008 stands out from a big four clean sweep of the Premiership and FA Cup honours. 26 out of the last 27 trophies to the same four clubs contrasts with twelve different clubs winning the major domestic trophies in the 1970s alone. (The league was an open competition too; it was not just the Cup).

It isn't impossible to win something. West Ham were very unlucky to lose a great Cup final on penalties to Liverpool in 2006. It may not be a coincidence that this was the only Cup final of the Premiership era not to disappoint neutral fans, standing comparison with the best of the '70s and '80s. The elite clubs now dominate the Cup almost as much as the league.

The point is not that we need a big six or eight. But the history suggests that once that many clubs can regularly win trophies, a great many teams have a realistic shot at glory - others like Forest, Leeds, Derby, Blackburn who have won things in the not too distant past, surprise contenders who could emulate Ipswich, Watford, Wimbledon and Coventry, and sleeping giants like Newcastle, Man City, Bolton, Sheffield Wednesday, Sunderland or Wolves.

Our coalition for change has Platini swinging the ball in with his French left foot, and Andy Burnham holding the middle of the park for New Labour. Leading commentators like Patrick Barclay think there is the makings of a good side here. Throwing on Dale to make a few darting runs down the right could really give the opposition something to worry about.

Indeed, this is a test that the Tory modernisers should pass. David Willetts and Oliver Letwin now recognise that inequality matters.

Indeed, calling for UEFA and the FA to share out the Champions League and Premiership resources may be an example of that Cameroonian holy grail - redistribution through civic society, not by the state.

So, how about it Iain? Fortunes always hiding, as you know. But might those bubbles not fly that little bit higher if we levelled the football playing field again?


Exit pursued by a bear said...

Bubbles with their champagne associations amid the current political climate are unfortunate.

Iain Dale needs a more down to earth team, peraps 'Tractor Boys' Ipswich, as long as it's a British tractor and is over 10 years old so he could claim £2000.

James Graham (Quaequam Blog!) said...

Actually, there are three Iain Dale blogs. The other one can be found at

Julian Dobson said...

Nice post. With our bankrupt Icelandic owners, 'fortune's always hiding' is more appropriate than ever.