The topic has been brought up in the past and subsequently quickly dashed. But in modern football, or any sport, there is no place for regular season games to be played on foreign pitches.
It’s becoming the norm for domestic league Super Cup games to be competed abroad. It was also frightening to hear about the proposal for a 39th Premier League game, which would also take place abroad. Sometimes there can be good vibes from such an event and perhaps nothing but positive ambition for the game. But on the whole, it just looks like a money-spinning idea that really should never have been entertained.
What are fans paying for? Supporters hand over their cash for a season ticket, or even the opportunity to witness the first game of the season. And although there are yet to be ideas for the first game of a Premier League season to be played abroad, it is something which takes place in Major League Baseball.
The Oakland A’s opened their season this year against the Seattle Mariners in Japan. Opening day in baseball is sacred. It was America’s sport until football took over, and for those who are still clinging onto America’s pastime, the league have decided to strip away one of the elements which make that sport great.
Japan is a country that loves baseball. Yu Darvish, a superstar in Japan, is now playing for the Texas Rangers, and the Mariners took Ichiro Suzuki back to his homeland for opening day. Maybe the idea would have been a little more hideous if the sport was taken to a country where baseball is not so high up on the agenda. I’m thinking somewhere like Qatar.
The NFL do it at Wembley every season and it’s great for the fans of the sport in this country. And although there is a great deal of interest, you can’t help but feel sorry for the real fans across the pond; those who have stuck by their team and who genuinely can throw out the customary “I’ve been a season ticket holder for 50 years.” “Thank you sir, but you’re only 39.”
Imagine the uproar if Manchester United were to play one of their key games on foreign soil. Would we be so dismissive of the anger felt by fans of other sports? Like Baseball for America, the Premier League is England’s game and England’s league. We’re not gifted with the choice of four major sports competing throughout the year, and have you ever heard anyone lose their sanity over a lack of rugby?
Sports need money, that much is clear. We have to accept that there are going to be positive proposals for the game and others which make you want to give up altogether. And taking the game abroad falls into the latter category.
Growing the game internationally is important, which is why clubs tour America or the Far East in pre-season, and it‘s great. But isn’t that enough?
The argument for the idea is that the Oakland A’s, for example, experience poor attendances at their home games; although that may have a lot to do with the fact that the Dodgers and Angels are their neighbouring teams. The game against the Mariners drew a crowd of over 40,000 and in turn gave much more credit to the idea over the long-term.
But then it comes down to markets and the demand for the sport. Unlike America, England can’t move sports clubs to better suited cities, and we just have to deal with that. However, taking a chunk of the season away, even if it is a considerably small chunk, doesn’t sit right. Sure, I won’t feel any pain if United play a boxing day fixture in Qatar against Sunderland, but it’s the principle. What next? One game turns to two and then four and so on. What happens when Wembley does not host the FA Cup in the future?