Saturday, September 10, 2005

 

Following the Primera Liga in India

It is confusing to a few of my friends as to why English soccer is more famous than Spanish soccer in our country. Most of the people in the world like skilful football, and would rather like the ball being kept on the ground than in the air. In terms of quality of football, there is hardly a comparison. The English Premier League has about three consistently excellent teams, and about five others who can at least pull their weight in international club football. The rest of the league is all fake, and is filled with teams which could at best be called below-average. Apart from a few, say Dennis Bergkamp, Thierry Henry, Arjen Robben, Ryan Giggs and the likes, skill is hardly a feature here at EPL. I would actually accept that lacuna, if there are good combinations and passes and awesome moves. But well, they too are a dime a dozen. A match between two bottom-ten teams of the EPL is a ridiculous long-ball and brute strength skirmish. On the other hand, the Primera Liga has genuine skill, has wonderful passing, the ball is more often on the ground than in the air, and almost every team has at least one talismanic player to do a bit of magic everytime. Also, there are about seven teams which compete for the main prize… well, in the last six years, I remember Valencia, Real, Deportivo and Barcelona winning the championship, and Celta and Mallorca and Villarreal threatening to do so, and coming into the top three at least once. So skill level and competition could not be reasons. And of course not big names either.

Is it history then? Hah. Are you kidding? We are talking Real Madrid here. We are talking Barcelona here. Point taken?

Is it the passion? And the competitiveness of derbies? But as any self respecting Liga follower would know, The passion for the game is as big in Spain as in England. And You are talking about the stories behind the fights? Well, we are again talking the Spanish and the Catalans and the Basques here. That is the equivalent of international matches for the fans, and if one knows a little bit of history (and of course the commentators would not stop hammering history into the viewers’ heads anyway), one could easily understand that a Barca/Real match is the equivalent of the Catalans standing up against the Spanish. And the Basques hardly think of themselves as a part of Spain anyway, when there is a match between Bilbao and Real. Can you imagine, a player can play for Athletic Bilbao only is he is a Basque! No, no other part of Spain would do. You. Have. To. Be. A. Basque. So competitiveness, as a theory, goes down the drain too.

The language the players speak does not play too much of a part either. What is the difference between an Henry speaking English and a Zidane doing the same anyway? The players are supposed to play, not to speak. And anyway, what are the translating machines for? ESPN is good.

And yes, Marketing could be a good reason. Yes, it is true that the Spanish league has not been marketed as brilliantly as the EPL. But that can not be the only reason, could it? Because the Spanish Primera Liga has been marketed quite well too. And well, the Rauls and the Ronaldos and Zidanes are far bigger brands than any of the EPL big wigs. Then?

One very big reason, as my friend Mohan often says, is John Dykes. Clear, precise, with a thorough understanding of the game and a knack for making the nuances of the game easy for the viewers, he is quite brilliant. And is a very big reason for people to get interested in football in the first place. Also Andrew Leci, the Sportscentre man Jason Dasey, Paul Masefield (a personal favourite), Jamie Reeves, and even the less-than-good Shebby Singh, do add up to quite an ensemble cast. And also, whenever you hear “Let’s catch up with the action of the first half, it is Richard Keys and Gerry Armstrong commenting”, you know that it is going to be a good day from then on for you. But then, the same guys do the same for the Spanish Primera Liga too. Then?

Here’s my argument (applause, applause). The reason is…… location. And that the earth rotates about its axis.

Huh? What? Excuse me?

OK, let me explain myself. It is because the EPL in shown on ESPN at between 1730 hrs to 2330 hrs. And the Primera Liga from about 0030 hrs to 0330 hrs. So you are almost never seeing the live action as for the Primera Liga. And you would, if you are an EPL fan. And even an average game of football seen live is more exciting that unbelievable skill seen the afternoon of the next day. And football is such a game where below-average matches are rare. The previous example of two second-rate EPL teams playing a match is, true, not spectacular when comparing with an Arsenal-Chelsea, but is often faster and more thrilling than a normal 50-overs-a-side international cricket match. And there are not too many crazy fools like me who would set an alarm for 0130 hrs and go off to sleep, so that they do not miss a Sevilla-Atletico match.

And also, the biggest followers of sports, and especially football are young school-or-college-going kids. And since they stay with parents, even if they would have wanted to, they most often would not be allowed to watch a match starting at 0130 hrs. EPL though has convenient timings even for these young guns. And these young guns become ardent followers of the sport after a few years of religious watching. And well, if you are watching even WWE regularly, you would become a fan, because the game is not just a matchup then, it is also about the coaches and the fans and the past records…. basically now, the game is associated with a storyline for the supporter. And that is addictive.

So that is my theory. What is yours?

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