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Looking back, and ahead, in English football

Today's Telegraph has a fascinating conversation between Arsenal old boy Alan Smith, hero of Fever Pitch, and Nick Hornby, the book's author. Here's one bit, in which Hornby touches on the cultural transformation in football over the past few decades:

As a young boy, [Hornby] fondly remembers paying 30p on the train to get across from his Maidenhead home, then another 15p to stand on 'the Schoolboys', the old terrace at Highbury earmarked for youngsters.

"I know it was a long time ago but it was the time when, I don't know, a newspaper cost 5p. So that's three times the price of a paper to watch Arsenal.

"It's more of a treat now to go two or three times a year. If you haven't had that basis of being completely committed in your teens and twenties, I don't know how those kids are going to have the same relationship with the club when they're adults."

The answer, in all likelihood, is that they won't. If things stay the same at the big clubs at least, supporters such as Hornby are in danger of gradually dying away altogether to be replaced by a more casual version that floats in and out; they'll go when they can, otherwise watch it on the box.

Hornby also rues the decline in competition manifested in England's top division:

[I]n your day if you got a draw at Aston Villa it was regarded as a decent result, but now it's the end of the world. I don't think it should be like that. Arsenal didn't lose a league game last season and Chelsea have only lost one this time. You can see that it's going to be the same next year. Then you're in a situation where clubs will be looking abroad for the real competition.

No doubt that's what's going on, and is the likely play that Glazer has in mind with Man United. UEFA will try and block the formation of a European super-league, as indicated by the recent rule designed to increase the number of "home grown" players on teams, and rulings enforcing the "domestic-only" nature of European leagues. But the economics behind the transformation that Hornby describes - call it globalization - make the super-league inevitable. A super-league would reduce the opportunity for mid-level teams to compete with the cream of the crop in England's top league. That loss is real and regrettable, but as Hornby's description implies, it's virtually gone already.