Authentic Replicas: Football and the Franchising of Place


The English Premier League is proposing an extra 39th game per season. After each team has played each other home and away, the extra game would be played in random pairings in stadia around the world. The rights to host this game would be auctioned.

It's an idea that's both an inevitable conclusion of the EPLs global appeal, and a ridiculous conclusion of a history of football clubs whose identity is so specific to histories of localised communities.

If - as the post below argues - football pitches are an abstraction of the landscapes of medieval folk football, they are abstractions of the specifics of place. It means that a consistent territory can be laid out anywhere flat enough and large enough. It is a model that can (and obviously has been) multiplied an infinite number of times.

Of course, it would be interesting if the pitch hadn't been invented, and instead stadia were full of pieces of transplanted landscape as this fantasy image of the Emirates Stadium shows.

Football pitches work like other kinds of conceptual abstraction such as global capitalism where the idea of value is separated from the object, material or labour - allowing it to become separate from things, people and places.

The global atomisation of the Premier league means its kick offs are observered on subscriptions channels and in bars around the world.

This is happening in a wider context of the globalisation of geography, what you might call a kind of franchising of location. Thus we see remade version of places: Thames Town, The Venetian, multiple Tuscan resorts and many, many other examples all of which replicate existing places to varying degrees of accuracy.

In this light, perhaps there is a solution to part of the EPLs proposal. Football teams should build second homes - copies of Ashburton Grove, Old Trafford and Anfield (to make it easier, the immense reach and capacity of HOK Sport most new stadiums are almost indistinguishable).

New stadia come with large-scale developments of retail, housing and infrastructure - think of the perhaps presciently named Chelsea Village complex around Stamford Bridge with its hotels and restaurants or of Evertons plans for a new stadium located somewhere beyond the deli counter in a massive Tesco superstore.

This could mean that replica stadia also come with replica neighbourhoods. Emirates II could have a replica of Islington, of pubs like the Highbury Barn that are so integral to matchday experience, perhaps a replica of the Holloway Road, of Highbury Fields, the Gunners Fish Bar and the Arsenal pet shop. Of course, the Emirates II would inevitably be somewhere in the UAE.

Perhaps a new city would be home to replicas of Premiership grounds - three demolished each year in line with relegation and three new grounds built for the newly promoted teams.

I used to love the unintentionally ironic label on my Arsenal shirt which read "Authentic Replica". It seemed to say something about the ever stranger nature of football - the manner in which corporate culture continues to warp, distort and remake what was originally a folk activity, rooted in local cultures and customs.

Posted by sam at February 10, 2008 7:41 PM

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