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The Ugly Game By Martin Calladine

Release date: 12th February, 2015
Publisher: Pitch Publishing

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After graciously agreeing to pocket billions of pounds of broadcaster’s cash for another three years, the Premier League leapfrogged US baseball to become the second most valuable sports league in the world.

You wouldn’t think you could teach the people running such a hugely cash-generative operation anything new, but in The Ugly Game, Martin Calladine makes a cogent, often entertaining case for football to look west and discover what it could become, one capable of handling money and fame without compromising open, fair competition.

Football’s ‘elegant simplicity’, says Calladine, once contributed to its universal appeal, but the game is, he says, “showing its age, led astray by money; its self-interest making it increasingly a stranger to its audience.”

Calladine was once an avid football fan, but like so many others he fell out of love, describing his gradual disillusionment and break from the game as a divorce, a word which will feel wholly appropriate to many readers. He opted to ‘return to his childhood love’, American Football and the NFL.

Gridiron’s appeal, he argues, stems from strict adherence to a series of rules which ensure it remains ultra-competitive. For example, club spending is tightly controlled, “to prevent billionaires buying success”; television receipts are shared equally; smaller clubs can hold onto their players and buying a team franchise is “more like a tightly-regulated business than a used car auction.”

Each of the book’s twenty chapters comprise sub-headings, highlighting the NFL’s appeal: stability of ownership; television analysts who tell you things you didn’t already know; the operation of a genuine, well-policed salary cap which means owners cannot buy the title.

It could be argued that the Premier League has tried to emulate much of what it sees as good in US sport, but unfortunately, it’s succeeded in concentrating commercial power amongst a handful of clubs. Sure, American Football is a glitzy, commercially-attuned sport, but it’s also remarkably egalitarian which is why it remains so competitive. Perhaps this is also why the NFL remains, by some distance, the world’s richest league.


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