Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Liverpool's Indian Hope Trick

Liverpool FC recently announced the launch of a new academy in India. The Steve McMahon Football Academy, a franchise of the Liverpool International Football Academy, will open its doors in Delhi later this year and three more are planned for other areas of India. After that, Liverpool plan more academies in other Asian countries and beyond.

Unfortunately for the Reds, they seem to have got off to the worst possible start in their quest for world domination of the football academies market. Some journalists stormed out of the press conference for the launch of the Delhi soccer school as Steve McMahon, not known for his PR skills, stonewalled some of the more probing questions about the structure and aims of the academy. Unsurprisingly, a very unfavourable article about Liverpool's plans appeared in The Economic Times of India. If you have visions of urchins from India's infamous slums being noticed and propelled to stardom in a heartwarming rags-to-riches story, then think again. At $1,000 a pop, this academy is for India's burgeoning middle class only.
Some snippets below from the article which can be read in full HERE

What the club is essentially doing is lending its instantly recognisable brand name (for a fee, of course) to local entrepreneurs who would run training camps for well-heeled urban kids who could afford to fork out good money to learn to play the "Liverpool Way"

No screening, no talent spotting. If you can pay, come and kick a ball. This is football as fast-food franchise.

The issue McMahon, and other representatives from Liverpool, were trying to dribble past was that the venture's aim is to simply sell more Liverpool merchandise than produce better footballers.

Spanish giants Barcelona have a programme running for the past couple of years, and not to be left too far behind, arch rivals Real Madrid too started a similar campaign earlier this year. But the different styles adopted by the English club and its continental rivals reflects the EPL's "greed is good" attitude as opposed to the stronger community development commitment clubs in Spain have.

That last line is particularly damning. Remember this comes from the Economic Times, not the Morning Star. When a pro-capitalism, pro-free-market broadsheet is castigating you for putting profit first then there can be little doubt as to Liverpool's motives. And it again underlines that Liverpool's reputation as some sort of community-focused, left-of-centre, people's club in contrast to the rampant commercialism of Chelsea or Man U, is totally misplaced.
But we shouldn't be surprised. On Liverpool's official website, this is the blurb designed to entice investors to open a Liverpool branded international football academy franchise:  From a standard ‘pay as you play’ clinic or school holiday camp through to the ultimate offering with our International Football Academy. Our Academy franchise packages can provide you with the opportunity to develop an integrated brand presence by giving you the option to both (sic) Liverpool Football Club retail merchandising and food & beverage opportunities.

No mention there of helping under-privileged kiddies in poor countries make it to the big time; no mention of helping to improve the standard of football in the countries which Liverpool hope to colonize through their academy scheme. Just talk of selling merchandise and food & drink.
Spirit of Shankly? Spirit of Maggie more like.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

"Regional Tours are good for Asian football" and rebuttal (Jakarta Globe)

Dan Johnson: enemy of Asian football.

Two recent articles below from the Jakarta Globe. The first quotes the EPL's Dan Johnson saying that pre-season tours are good for Asian football. Below that is the rebuttal by Antony Sutton. Mr Sutton is a regular football writer for the Jakarta Globe and has his own SEA football blog HERE

EPL Says Regional Tours Help Develop Asian Game
English football clubs on preseason Asian tours benefit the sport in the region rather than taking the shine off the local scene, the Premier League’s chief spokesman said on Thursday.

“We’re here and we’re adding interest to the game, adding interest to football generally,” Dan Johnson said in Hong Kong, where a trio of top flight English clubs are competing with a local side for the Asia Trophy.

“I think if you can leave a legacy there as well as generating interest in the game, that’ll help develop the game here and we take that very seriously.”

Chelsea, Aston Villa and Blackburn are competing in the Asia Trophy with Hong Kong club Kitchee at Hong Kong Stadium.

Villa beat Blackburn 1-0 in its opening match while Chelsea on Wednesday thumped the locals 4-0.

The four-team event held every two years is in its fifth edition, and is hugely popular in the region. More than two thirds of the 80,000 tickets on offer were snapped up within five days.

Johnson said that despite the Premier League growing globally, Asia remained a key market for the clubs.

“Yes, the Premier League has grown across the globe, and teams are going to America and we’re big in Africa, but I think the passion and the knowledge and the understanding of fans in Hong Kong and the Asia region is still at that level up,” he said.

Johnson’s thoughts were echoed by former Aston Villa player Ian Taylor.

“This is where the most growth is and obviously you can see with the likes of Chelsea, Blackburn, Liverpool and Manchester United all coming over, obviously they see it as a big, big part of their brand management,” he said.

Original Article

Can we all spot the obvious contradiction? First Johnson spouts the usual guff about helping to develop the local game and leaving a 'legacy' (the most over-used and mis-used word in management-speak today) and in the next breath says that Asia remains a "key market for the [EPL] clubs". How can you possibly have it both ways? You're either helping the local game to develop or you're expanding the reach of EPL clubs. The two are not mutually compatible. Dan Johnson speaks with a forked tongue and is an enemy of Asian football.

Thankfully, Antony Sutton wrote an excellent rebuttal:

EPL Summer Tour Brings Little Good for Host Nations
It’s been quite a summer for fans of the English Premier League who live in Asia. Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea, Aston Villa and Blackburn Rovers have all swung through the region while Manchester United, determined not to feel left out, sent a couple of players to show the flag — and the FA Cup.

The EPL’s argument is that these tours benefit local football. Spokesman Dan Johnson, speaking from Hong Kong, where Chelsea, Aston Villa and Blackburn were competing in the Asia Trophy, said, “We’re here and we’re adding interest to the game, adding interest to football generally.”

Of course, there is no way of quantifying that. The EPL doesn’t do anything without running the numbers first, just like any other commercial organization. So how does it come up with the notion that local football is getting more popular because its teams are in town?

How can Aston Villa playing Blackburn in Hong Kong benefit the game in Hong Kong? How can a Chelsea team playing a mishmash All-Star Thai team help the local game, especially when the Thai national team is playing Palestine in a crucial World Cup qualifier? It may seem unimportant to Chelsea, with its big money players and its chairman and his fancy yacht, but the qualifiers are important to Thailand. By having Chelsea play in town on the same weekend, it diluted the experience.

Malaysia played Arsenal and Liverpool ahead of its World Cup qualifier against Singapore. It scored 10 goals in those two friendlies then proceeded to get thumped 5-3 in the first leg. Those EPL matches helped how, exactly?

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, the so-called Professor with his unrivaled knowledge of the world game, went into the friendly against Malaysia knowing nothing about his hosts. That’s how lightly he treated the game. The traveling press pack, no doubt keen to impress the local johnnies, asked plenty about Cesc Fabregas and nothing about the Malaysian team.

You could argue that the last thing local nations need from the EPL are these high-profile, highly profitable tours. Indonesia’s last two home games have drawn crowds of 88,000 and 96,000. Malaysia’s last two have attracted 90,000 and 86,000. Turkmenistan and Singapore may not seem that attractive in English eyes, but for locals, these are massive games.

The Thai Premier League is stalling somewhat after a couple of booming years. That boom had nothing to do with any EPL team waving to the cameras in Bangkok. It was the decision to make teams more representative of their area rather than just acronyms of corporate entities.

In Indonesia, teams like Persib Bandung, Persija Jakarta, Arema Indonesia and Persebaya Surabaya regularly draw big crowds in spite of football’s incompetent managers and with no thanks to any EPL team on the ground. The Malaysia Cup final regularly draws 80,000 plus.

No, the Asian football federations don’t need EPL tours to raise interest in their respective leagues. What they need is competent management, savvy marketing and an exciting product.

200 up on Facebook

We reached the 200 Likes mark on Facebook today. Considering the page is only 20-days-old, that's pretty good going and compares very favourably with other like-minded groups. There's a Facebook group called Anti-EPL based in Malaysia. They've managed 453 Likes since last September, and a group called United as fans against the Premier League has done 51 Likes since May.
If you haven't done so already then please visit the page and click Like. Thanks.

Criticism #3. Blame the Football Associations

Photo: Not a rhetorical question: What's an officially branded Man U motorbike on sale in Thailand got to do with developing and helping local football?

The third part in our series where we tackle some common criticisms aimed at our movement and its point of view.

Critic: Don't blame the EPL for the relative unpopularity of local Asian leagues: it's the fault of the useless, incompetent, corrupt governing bodies in those countries. They failed to properly develop their own leagues leaving a vacuum for the EPL to fill.

SEPLCiA: We agree! In particular, the football associations in Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia need to ask some serious questions of themselves and be asked some serious questions. Corruption and plain incompetence are issues in Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia whilst in Singapore there has almost been an unwillingness on the part of the FAS to promote their domestic S-League. And the suits still don't seem to get it. In July we were treated to the sight of the FAM and the FAT rolling out the red carpet for Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea. Shouldn't these people be doing absolutely everything in their power to promote their own leagues instead of giving yet more publicity to some of the richest clubs in the world?

Yes, the respective FAs should take a lot of the blame for the popularity of the Premier League in South-East Asia. But, as much as they've been part of the problem they have the potential to be part of the solution; EPL clubs can NEVER be that. For all the problems that remain in Thai football, for example, the league has come a long way over the past couple of years. Increased publicity and professionalism have led to a huge rise in interest and attendances. Man U, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal have played no role (and nor should they) in the boom in Thai football.
Despite their high-minded talk of 'legacies' and 'development', EPL clubs have absolutely no positive part to play in the future of Asian football. As they are so keen to tell us, they are businesses now. So for them to claim that they want to help to build and develop local leagues goes against their own declared business principles.
If they truly care about the future development of football in the region then they should stay out – no more pre-season tours; no more megastores; no more one-sided 'partnerships' with Asian clubs – and allow the domestic Asian leagues to develop in their own way and in their own time without the European giants forever hovering in the background looking for new 'customers'.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Chelsea v TPL All-Stars preview on BKK Football blog

An article from the middle of July posted on the BKK Football Blog previewed the Chelsea v TPL All-Stars match which took place in Bangkok on the 24th July. Here's an excerpt:  
The Thai media generally get quite excited about these glamour matches and there will be plenty of hype in the build up for the game next week. The match gives an ideal opportunity for self-important Thais to have their photo taken with uninterested Chelsea stars. The majority of the Chelsea players will see this trip as an inconvenience. Gone are the days when British teams could use these foreign trips as an excuse for a piss-up. The EPL stars will most likely be in and out of the country as quickly as possible.

Click HERE to read the full article.

Criticism #2. "Why can't fans support both?"

Photo: The red of Muangthong is beginning to replace the red of Man U and Liverpool in Thailand.

Critic: "What's wrong with Asian fans supporting an EPL club if they also support a club from their domestic league? It's possible to do both."

SEPLCiA: Certainly that scenario is preferable to just 'supporting' an EPL club. Of course, it is possible for fans to support both, and many do. Whereas yesterday's criticism regarding the J. League was met with cold statistics, today's argument is more a matter of personal opinion. Put frankly, I simply don't understand why fans who support a club in their own domestic league also feel the need to claim to 'support' Liverpool or Man U or Chelsea or Arsenal. I'm not saying that just for effect: I genuinely don't understand it and would be grateful if such a fan would post a comment on here or on the Facebook page to explain his/her motivations.

I think it's probable that as fans elect to support one of their local clubs, and follow that team home and away, their support for an EPL club will start to wane. It stands to reason. Staying up until the early hours to watch a match taking place on the other side of the planet on your TV in your living room can surely not compare or compete with the human experience of being at the stadium and being part of a local community of fans and supporting a club that represents where you live or where you come from. Comments made by recent converts to the Thai Premier League in THIS ARTICLE seem to bear out the view that fans will be less interested in the EPL if they follow one of their local clubs. Some telling extracts:

Interviewer: Why Sisaket?
Sisaket fan: "They’re my home town team. I’m so proud that we’re cheering for a local team, not for foreign teams, like the English premier league. I also like their style of playing."

Interviewer: What do you have to say to those who haven’t attended a game yet?
Muangthong United fan: I’d ask them to try. It’s not nearly as dangerous as they might think. Supporting local teams is way better than cheering for foreign leagues. You can see them for real, not just on a screen. We can touch them.

Interviewer: How does the football affect your life and your business?
Food vendor: It relaxes me and gives me something to do. Before this, I watched the English league. I wasn’t into it that much because I could only watch it on TV. But being able to see the real thing live is a superb experience. Not to mention I can sell a lot more, so it makes coming to work a lot more fun.

Interviewer: How do you feel about the Thai League?
Thai Port fan: I like it better than other foreign leagues because it represents Thai-ness and I get to be involved fully. It’s something tangible. I feel I can touch it.


Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Criticism #1. "What about Japan?"

The first part of an ongoing series where we respond to some common criticisms and objections to our cause.

Critic: What about in Japan? There the Premier League is really, really popular and yet so is their domestic league. If the EPL is bad for domestic Asian leagues then why is the J League so popular?

SEPLCiA: It depends what you mean by "popular". We're not going to be totally blinkered and say that the J League isn't popular; it is – at least by Asian standards. But let's have a look at some figures. The most recent figures we can find for a whole season is for 2009. In that season, the average attendance was 19,126. Pretty good (although, remove Urawa Reds and the figure drops to around 15,000) but just under the 19, 827 acheived by the Eredivisie in the Netherlands. The Netherlands, a football-mad country, has a population of 16 million. Japan, an equally football-mad country which had the added boost of recently co-hosting the World Cup, has a population of 130 million. That 19,126 figure begins to lose some of its lustre.
So far in the 2011 season in the J League Division 1 (the top division), we find 12 of the 18 teams have recorded attendances of under 8,000. The average home attendance so far in 2011 is 15,107. Only two teams average home attendances of over 20,000.

Drop down a division to J. League Division 2 and the 'popularity' argument loses even more force. The average attendance in 2009 was 7,072, fewer than the Uzbek League. In 2011, the average so far is 6,314 with the lowest attendance of 1,273 recorded by Mito Holyhock. The best supported club in Tokyo – a city of 13 million people – is F.C Tokyo who are currently averaging 16,436. Tokyo's second club, Tokyo Verdy, averages 5,758 with a low of 2,164.

Yes, the J. League is popular compared with many in the region. But most stadiums are still usually only half full. There are clearly a lot of fans not supporting their local leagues. 

Welcome to 'Stop English Premier League Colonialism in Asia'

This blog has been launched owing to the popularity of the Facebook page bearing the same name. I felt I needed a place where longer articles could be posted and so the idea of a blog suggested itself. And it seems a good idea to use every Internet tool available to us in our campaign.
So what are we all about? The text below has been copied and pasted from our Facebook page.

About: We are against EPL colonialism in Asia. We are for Asian football fans supporting their local league clubs. We are based in Thailand

Description: We believe that the influence of the English Premier League in Asia, specifically Southeast Asia, has a deleterious and retarding effect on local leagues. In countries such as Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore the domestic leagues are unable to fulfill their potential owing to the omnipresence of the English giants.
TV coverage, merchandising, pre-season tours: these are the tools that Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal (amongst others) use to boost their brand to the detriment of the local game.
We know that these clubs are businesses and, as long as they abide by the laws of the countries they do business in, are entitled to conduct their business however they see fit. We know that a Facebook page and Twitter account will not halt their activities.
All we are saying is that if you think people in Asia should support their local leagues and teams then join us. It's as simple as that. When our support grows, we will hope to organize various protest events with pre-season tours in particular to be targetted.

Mission: To encourage Asian football fans to support their local league clubs.
To highlight and criticize the activities of Premier League and other European clubs in Asia.

So that's basically it. Anyone who disagrees with our point of view is more than welcome to leave comments and join the debate, but, obviously, any abusive, offensive or pointless posts which do not contribute to the discussion ("Man U is da best" etc etc) will be removed. But before you jump in with your criticisms we will be posting an article soon where we take on the common criticisms which have already been aimed at our movement in its short existence.

Enjoy the blog; take part in, and initiate, discussions and Like our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter
if you haven't done so already. Thanks.