I think Alan Curbishley began this debate with his comments
reported on the BBC website today. Anyway, it started a discussion
on the messageboard, which I got involved in, and prompted me to this fuller rant…
Sport thrives on excitement. Close-run matches, great fight-backs, last minute equalisers – these are the things that keep up levels of interest. They were epitomised by the recent Ashes, for example, where bar the first test all four matches were close, and it was this as much as the England win that generated interest. The opposite is predictability, and this is boring. This is why, unless a game is truly great, few would want to watch it again once they know the score/what happens – the excitement is lost.
We see this all the time. Scottish football, dominated by Rangers and Celtic, is generally viewed as pretty boring to those south of the border. Even Hibs manager Tony Mowbray expressed a similar need to break this two party duopoly on today's Football Focus (17/09/05). To the neutral, it’s much like an election – the ‘choice’ of Labour or Conservative, but the result is often predictable, and many would say they’re as bad as each other.
When there’s only one winner in it, things are even worse.
The complaint is NOT that Chelsea play boring football. Sometimes they’re defensive, at other times they play free-flowing attacking football with exciting players like Duff and Robben scoring lots of goals. I’ll leave this aside for now.
The problem is that, while they might lose the odd game (such as Man City last season), unless something dramatic happens, it’s hard to see them NOT winning the league for the foreseeable future.
Until this season, Formula 1 saw a similar problem – the almost unrivalled dominance of Michael Schumacher. I’ve always been something of an admirer. He is the best driver of his generation, and it’s always nice to see a quality driver secure deserved wins. While he can still show moments of driving brilliance, and we can still have exciting races (matches), when it’s so predictable who’ll come out top at the end of the season, a lot of fans are put off. (A view variously expressed here
- though I admit there is some disagreement about just why the sport is boring, e.g. Villeneuve's comments on the lack of characters here
This is what I see happening with Chelsea. Sure teams have been dominant before – Man Utd won a lot in the 90s, and Arsenal went the 2003-04 season unbeaten
. These weren’t the same though – they were always close, you always thought at any moment they could lose. With Chelsea, you rarely feel that in most individual matches, and over the course of a season it seems unthinkable.
It’s the Schumacher problem again – yes, we like to see the best team win, but when it becomes so predictable as to be almost inevitable, the sport loses its excitement and appeal. Formula 1 eventually had to change the rules to break Ferrari’s stranglehold – what football will or can do, I can only guess.
I don’t think this is a phenomenon peculiar to sport. A contest with only one (possible) winner isn’t a contest. A two-party election, for example, is less of a contest than one in which a full range of viewpoints are adequately reflected, and stand a chance of winning. Since 1993, the misfortunes of the Conservative Party have been such that the only question in UK elections has been how much Labour will win by. It’s no wonder voters are as turned off as sports fans, and turnouts low. Predictability brings disillusionment – if things can’t be changed, why bother?
Maybe there’s nothing we can do about that short of drastic constitutional reforms – which would take a long time. It’s interesting to observe, though, that the ancient Greeks – who originated democracy – took equality so seriously that if anyone seemed too rich or powerful they were ostracised (exiled). While this obviously denied the community a powerful member, it was felt such imbalance distorted the whole.
When it comes to football, however, the FA is in a position to act. Maybe they’ll have to take a leaf from F1’s book, and change the rules. Salary/wage caps or required homegrown players, for example, might do something to restrict Chelsea’s dominance.
Others will say it’s unfair to change the rules and penalise success. Maybe it is, but unless something’s done the sport as a whole will suffer from predictability and lack of competition. This, not the style of game they play, is why Chelsea are bad for football.