What Defines a Big Club?

It’s a controversial debate amongst football fans – the big money acquisitions of recent times throw a curveball, as teams aren’t just judged on historical merit anymore.

Using Chelsea as an example – a team where fifteen years ago you would probably place them just beneath the so-called big top four in English football. Now with their financial esteem, they have acquired 15 major trophies. So many would place Chelsea amongst the very best in the league and proclaim them a ‘massive’ club. Does that put them on the sane level as Manchester United or Liverpool? Can just a few years of silverware superiority equate Chelsea to this level of ‘big’?

Some might say to be defined as a big club, you must have a brimming trophy cabinet. Maybe not – look at Aston Villa, look at Newcastle United. The Toon Army haven’t won a domestic competition in over 60 years, in fact their last league title was way back in 1927. Yet again, Newcastle have always had a place in the top 20 list of the world’s richest clubs. They have a stadium capacity of over 50,000 – up there with the highest in the ciuntry. Aston Villa, are one of the most successful clubs in English football – being only one of the five clubs to win the Champions League (previously known as European Cup). And again their stadium is a UEFA category four (the highest) – placing it, by definition, in the same realm as the San Siro or Nou Camp. Both of these clubs are now playing football in the Championship. They’ll be playing Burton Albion next season – a team whose stadium is 5000 sets less than Bournemouth’s. Does this diminish their capacity as a big club? Does their history still hold a credit of them being big?

Leicester City, having recently won the Premier League title, can by and large place themselves on a higher scale than the teams that haven’t, such as Tottenham, Everton and Liverpool. They have proven themselves as the best team in the league. Yet, it has been said that their fans show a ‘small-club mentality’. The use of clappers in the stands and with many of the Foxes faithful using a match as a family day outing, has been cited as such. It would seem that the heavy use of pyro, flares and loud, manly jumping seem to equate to ideas of a big club. Fan base boasts as a huge factor in determining a club’s size. West Ham, though deemed a lower-part-of-mid-table-club in recent times, still have the prowess of their fan base to challenge any top European team and define them as an elite. Yet with the team’s two relegations in recent years, it casts doubt on the formidability of the club at all.

The length of time a club has in the lower leagues does certainly become a factor; teams can find themselves caught up in the whirlwind and never get out. I for one consider teams like Nottingham Forest, Leeds United or even Derby County to a degree, as sizeable. But the recent graduates to the Premier league, and by recent I mean about ten years ago, such as Stoke or Swansea may stake their club higher than the latter. Presumably even more so now due to the recent parachute payments and the enormous bundle of TV funding they have received this year. Or even the fact that they are obviously well established as a Premier League team now, with their minds off relegation and on Europe. With this in mind, can these clubs stake a claim to being larger than aforementioned Villa and Newcastle?

Size is usually subjective, yet in when in discussion with a fellow fan about the matter of whether the said-club is big or not, you’ll find there are no areas of grey. The club either is or isn’t. This becomes troublesome, as you’ll find yourself having to defend your club with any of these factors: Wealth, history, trophies, stadium-size, or fan base – even though it has never been explored which of these factors trump the other. A Manchester City fan will bring forth his club’s wealth as a sign of the club’s stature, whereas a club like Liverpool, though financially inferior, will point to the amount of trophies they’ve won and their dominant past. Both these are plausible arguments, and ultimately we cannot determine that Liverpool, for example, should be considered a bigger club as their fan base and trophies beat Manchester City’s larger amount of wealth and stadium size.

In order to bring clarity, I believe we must turn to the use of our vocabulary. It simply must change. There is no way we can have a proper debate without using an array of language with can categorise clubs into their tiers. Clubs being either – big or not does not hold a substantial amount of leeway and can provide teams without recent success or without recent financial bearing into being not a big club, which truly isn’t fair. There has to be way to divide to the mass index of football teams into divisions rather than hitting them with simple yes or no.

Now I am not going to advocate a choice of words in which we can define our clubs, but again, I will state that the application and singular use of the word ‘big’ causes the debate to find no end. If you wish to take matters further, have a look at this article in which someone has collected data on all 92 teams in the English league. They have then delegated a certain amount of points per achievement (League title – 2points, Champions League – 5 points) and points per thousand of club’s average attendance. Click here for the results.

By Jacque Talbot

[As seen on GonzoSportsDesk]

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