Posted by: davidjmarlow | 08/08/2015

What the economic geography of the 2015-16 soccer season can tell us about local growth…

I have established a short-ish tradition of welcoming each football season with a look at the Premiership (EPL) in regional terms. Although the resulting predictions have been pretty poor, an economic geography perspective for 2015/16 might look something like this.

In terms of the historic nine Government Office regions, the 2015/16 EPL will comprise five clubs from London, four from the North West, three from the West Midlands, two from East of England and North East, and one each from the South East, South West and Wales. With the loss of Hull City last season, Yorkshire and Humber reverted to being an EPL-free region. This is an extraordinary position (given the soccer traditions and passions of Yorkshire) that has become something of a norm in the last decade.

In terms of LEPs and Combined Authorities (CAs), 12 LEPs are now represented at EPL level (so 27 are NOT); and the five CAs host almost half (9) the EPL clubs. Four core cities remain EPL-free (Bristol, Leeds, Nottingham and Sheffield), and Key Cities have almost as many EPL clubs (5) as the remaining Core Cities (6).

Only two clubs are from two tier areas – Norwich, whose unitary status was frustrated whimsically and vexatiously in 2010 as the first act of Pickles’ ‘Year Zero’; and Watford, wholly within the M25 and more akin to London than the patrician oligarchies of leafy Hertfordshire.

Looking at trends over time, London is pretty stable at 5-6 EPL clubs per season. The most striking trend has been the steady concentration and diminution of the North West from 7-8 clubs in the noughties, down to four clubs – two each in Liverpool and Manchester – in 2015/16. London and North West have provided 58% of EPL participants over the last decade, 100% of top four finishing positions, and 88% of top eight positions over the last five years. In terms of relegations, North West has accounted for a third of relegations in the last six years, as it contracted to its core cities – whilst Birmingham City has had the maximum number of (three) relegations over the last ten seasons – albeit these were in the five years from 2006-2011.

Those of you who read this blog for some professional insights into local growth may now be asking yourselves the ‘so what?’ question. So….

There really has been no rebalancing away from London over the past decade. Government’s patronage of Manchester has been coupled with a dramatic decline of polycentricity across the North West; whilst the weaknesses in the North East, Yorkshire and Humber have major implications for any pan-regional ‘northern powerhouse’.

The strengthening position of ‘Key Cities’ highlights the need for enhanced devolution regimes that allow ‘regional cities’ in general to prosper (rather than core cities in particular). County Councils are a long way off the pace in ‘premier league’ terms. This is reinforced in the Championship where each of the ten additional LEPs represented are anchored by either a Core City, Key City or both (and only four have County Council membership at all!).

Whilst twenty two LEPs represented across the two top tiers of English football might suggest a reasonable breadth, the absence of 17 ought to be a concern for the long-term viability of the 39. Six further LEPs have their highest representation at the third tier of English soccer; six at the fourth tier, four at the fifth tier, and Cornwall (sui generis as ever) have Truro City flying the flag at the sixth tier.  The concern of LEP capacity, capabilities and potential mirrors the spread of soccer prowess, albeit with different implicit league tables.

My predictions in this blog have been poor, but, looking ahead, it is difficult to see new entrants breaking the top four and top six strangleholds – although Southampton and Swansea may give it a shot. In terms of relegation, there must be fears for two former heavyweight regions (and prominent LEPs) around Villa, Newcastle, and Sunderland – who have increasingly been flirting with the drop in recent seasons. Could the North East replicate the 2008-09 annus horribilis when both Newcastle and Middlesbrough went down?

Of course, the new entrants are always prime candidates to yo-yo. I rather hope Bournemouth survives as the only South West club in the last decade  – although this is more a comment on their economic geography attachment to Solent (and the Greater South East) than their South West partners. I also have soft spots for Norwich and Watford, although both will be precarious. Leicester, too, will struggle to sustain an East Midlands presence. Perming any three from those seven may not be radical or free-thinking – but will probably not be too far from the outcome.

For the championship, I still await and hope for Bristol to express its undoubted economic strengths in football terms, and for a credible, sustained resurgence of Yorkshire fortunes. It would be good to see MK Dons do well – projecting probably the UKs premier ‘new city’ on a global stage.

With my own club kicking off shortly, if MK Stadium is to be a home for EPL action, I greatly prefer that to be showcasing the Dons, rather than as an unloved, unwanted and pathological temporary home for Spurs. The EPL exiling Spurs to MK is somewhat akin to Government’s dysfunctional, ‘making it up as they go along’ policies for economic rebalancing and local growth. It might well happen – but it will be a symbol of much that is wrong with ‘the beautiful game’.

As I finished a recent blog, ‘the game (whether soccer, politics or life) should be about glory’, and never more so than at the start of a new season. I fear I may feel somewhat differently by 1445 this afternoon, but for now…let’s aim for passion, purpose, and product in both soccer and local growth over the coming season….COYS…


  1. Always supportive of a fellow Spurs supporter but, as others often do, you seemed to have overlooked the East Midlands. In synergy with the East Mids being the bellwether of the Uk economy, the emergence of the Midlads Engine, and Derbyshire and Notts the first 2 tier area to submit CA proposals and being green to go for Devolution, we witness Leicester at the top of the prem and really Derby should have got promotion last year if Mclaren’s head hadn’t been turned.

    Perhaps a short addendum to your blog on the rise of the East Midlands both economically and as a force in football is appropriate?

  2. Thanks David,

    As an East Midlands resident and business myself of course I hope our footballing fortunes prosper…the devolution proposals are a longer conversation!

    Hope all is well…


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: