Sunday, 13 February 2011

Want to play for England? Make sure you were born in the right place.

The other day I was daydreaming, as you do, and thinking about what seems to me to be a disproportionately high number of England footballers over the last ten years or so that come from my local area- the Essex/East London borders.

David Beckham (Leytonstone), John Terry (Barking), Joe Cole (Romford), Tony Adams (Dagenham- though admittedly pushing it for 'last ten years') and Frank Lampard (Romford) are all from round here. You don't have to cast your net too much farther to find Rio Ferdinand (Peckham), Sol Campbell (Stratford), Ashley Cole (Whitechapel), Glen Johnson (Greenwich) and Jermain Defoe (Forest Gate) either.

Then, I thought, there's the Scousers (Michael Owen, Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher) and the Mancs (Gary Neville, Phil Neville, Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes) and before you know it, from just three locations you have almost all of the most capped players of recent times. Now this is off the top of my head rather than an exhaustive list, and moreover goalkeepers seem to be an odd exception, but that's still a huge number of England players from just three areas- East London, Greater Manchester and Greater Merseyside.

You might say that is no great surprise. Those are three of the most densely populated urban areas of the country that contain some of England's biggest clubs. But there are other highly populated urban areas of the country that are either bigger or the same size as Merseyside that just don't produce the same numbers. What about cities like Leeds, Sheffield, Birmingham and Newcastle? They may not have as many of the very top performing teams but dozens of professional clubs are in and around those areas. Of course there are famous footballers from these second string locations, especially, so it seems, Newcastle, but not in anywhere near the same numbers. I think.

With this in mind I took to Google and found a 2008 unpublished research paper from the London School of Economics entitled 'Why is the England team doing so poorly? A geographical analysis' by Stuart and Joanne Colridge, and things started to get interesting. It seems that when it comes to geographical diversity, there is a lot to be said for what the England football team lacks in that area, and it may be to the detriment of the team's much maligned performace.

It's always been a bugbear of England fans that we have been playing the game longer than any other nation, have more professional clubs then any country in the world, some of the biggest and most successful clubs in Europe and yet the performance of the national team falls behind great footballing countries of a similar size population like Germany, Argentina, France, Spain and Italy. Not to mention the Netherlands and Brazil (which have much smaller and larger populations respectively but far fewer clubs). Of course there have been many reasons put forward for this over the years, from national character to coaching flaws to the influx or foreign players, but could English geography have anything to do with it?

Colridge and Colridge looked at places of birth of the 140 players that have played for England in all 27 World Cup finals games between 1950 and 2006 using sources including the FA, Wikipedia and They found that increasingly, England players have been drawn from less and less diverse geographical locations as years have gone by. Every outfield player (what is it with goalkeepers?) who started the first game of the 2006 World Cup finals was born in Greater London, Greater Manchester or Greater Merseyside. In contrast, in the first game of the 1958 World Cup finals, all the players were drawn from Blackpool, Bolton Wanderers, Burnley, Fulham, Preston North End, West Bromwich Albion (3) and Wolverhampton Wanderers (3) and all but two (Bobby Robson who played for West Brom but came from County Durham and Derek Kevan who played for West Brom but came from Ripon in Yorkshire) came from their club's local area. Only one of those aforementioned clubs, Fulham, is in Greater London. None are in Greater Manchester or Greater Merseyside (it may be worth mentioning that the 1958 Munich Air Disaster was earlier that year, without which England may have fielded several Manchester United players from the Greater Manchester area in that game, though one of them, Bobby Charlton, would have been and is a Geordie by upbringing and another, Duncan Edwards, was fom Dudley in the West Midlands).

Indeed, of the 12 founder members of the Football League in 1888 (England and the world's first fully professional football competition), only one (Everton) was from Greater Merseyside. None were from Greater Manchester or Greater London- the remainder were all from Lancashire, the West Midlands or the East Midlands. No London team joined the Football League at all until Arsenal in 1892.

Moreover, when you take into consideration that, according to Coleridge and Coleridge, Greater Manchester, Greater London and Greater Merseyside made up 30.57% of the English population in 1951 but just 22.72% in 2001 (they cite government censuses as the source for these stats), then it's certain that these three areas are making up an increasingly disproportionate number of England footballers in modern times.

Coleridge and Coleridge argue that the inability of especially the West Midlands, Lancashire and Tyne & Wear to continue to prodice top class footballers has contributed to this, something that is certainly illustrated by the contrast in those 1958 and 2006 teams. Indeed, despite its reputation as a hotbed of football, Alan Shearer was the last player from Tyne & Wear to actually play a game for England in a World Cup finals in 1998 despite 18 of the 140 players to have ever played for England in football's premier tournament coming from that area- including such names as Jackie Milburn, Stan Mortensen, Bobby & Jack Charlton, Peter Beardsley, Chris Waddle and Paul Gascoigne. They also cite the increasing importance of a number of East London boroughs as the places of birth for England players. So maybe I wasn't going mad with my local obsession!

Now of course, not the least significant reason for this is that the richest Premier League clubs in 2011 (Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Spurs) which attract the country's best players have been getting disproportionately much richer in the last 15 years- and indeed all those clubs are from the Greater London, Greater Manchester or Greater Merseyside areas. But obviously those clubs buy players who are already first team regulars at other clubs and capture youth players from far outside their local areas (Leytonstone's David Beckham starting his first team career at Manchester United being arguably the most high profile example). Therefore, whilst the increasing wealth of those clubs may explain why players in World Cups are drawn from fewer teams, it doesn't necessarily explain why those players were born in less and less diverse parts of the country since 1950, despite a decreasing percentage of the general population being born in those areas in the last 60 years.

In other words it's not just that the top clubs are getting better and better than the next tier, players born in certain areas are having disproportionately more and more successful careers no matter which club they play for.

The paper suggests that if England want to get better they should focus development of players on areas outside of Greater London, Greater Manchester and Merseyside. Particularly in areas which have a high number of clubs and formerly made a high contribution to the national team but whose contribution has faded since the Second World War. Principally the North East, the West Midlands and Lancashire but also South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire and the East Midlands.

Maybe, just maybe, if the balance is redressed, the extra diversity enjoyed by the likes of certainly Italy, France and Germany may give us the kind of national team that we deserve.

Check out the LSE paper here:

It's not the most erudite academic paper in the world and its conclusions are somewhat muddy (probably why it wasn't published- there are a few typos too) but I thought it made for a really interesting read.

But then, as you may have gathered, I am an enormous and terrible geek. Thanks for reading.


Monday, 3 January 2011

Things to Blog About in 2011 Part Two: Music


My first memory of music is not cool. Not remotely cool. As I said yesterday, when it comes to music my parents were all about the show tunes. It was the Pirates of Penzance or Les Miserables in my house. Or classical music, particularly choral music, most memorably Handel. There was also jazz mind you, especially Dixie Land Dad loves a bit of Louis Armstrong. As far as anything more modern is concerned, my parents quite liked old sixties pop, which we listened to in the car when driving to North Yorkshire on holiday. Moreover Dad did like the Everley Brothers and we also had a few old Beatles LPs- Hard Day's Night and Sgt. Pepper in particular, but that was about it. Dad always says that he doesn't really like the sound an electric guitar makes, which seems an anathema to me.

I guess the most important thing was that there was always music in my house. My mum was, and still is, a top class amateur alto and whilst my dad would admit to not having her pipes, they were in shows to together for 35 years so they were always learning or singing something. My dad's brother, my Uncle Brian, who sadly passed away on New Year's Day after a long illness, was the musical director of Loughton Operatic Society for decades, and my cousins were in all the shows too. To say that it was in the blood would be an understatement.


No, silly. I remember the first time I got really bitten by the "proper" music bug. It was 1989 and I was eight years old and the ITV Chart Show played the video for I Want It All by Queen. Well I just got hit in the guts and never went back. It was the sense of drama that appealed to me I guess ... and the musicianship. I didn't know much, but I knew those boys could play. After that I was hooked. I borrowed The Miracle from Loughton Library and never gave it back (sorry). I devoured all my dad's Beatles albums and then started to buy my own stuff, at first on tape but then I got my first CD player when I was 12. I guess because of the Queen influence I had a predilection for cock rock- Guns 'n' Roses, Bon Jovi and the mighty Meat Loaf. Plus, not that they are cock rock, but I also maintain to this day that God Shuffled His Feet by the Crash Test Dummies and Pocketful Of Kryptonite by the Spin Doctors are two of the greatest albums of the early '90's. No, really. Please don't laugh, this is my blog after all.


Not really. Oasis were ok. Blur were much better after they were finished with Brit Pop and Richard Ashcroft is the most overrated songwriter in Britain. No, I always preferred American bands. Don't know why. I just thought the songs were better, they seemed to have more soul. And American bands always had better drummers, that is very important. If a band has a good drummer then they are most of the way there.

It was around Year 10, when I was 14, that things started to get serious. Basically I put my cock rock away (I literally sold most of it) and embraced alternative rock, specifically grunge. Typically this was all pretty much after grunge 'died' with the suicide of Kurt Cobain, but none the less the combination of nihilism, punk sensibilities and heavy metal crunch was just what this adolescent needed. The Seattle scene lead the way Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Soundgarden (though never so keen on Alice In Chains) and the new wave of Californian punk bands (Green Day, The Offspring, NOFX) and the "better" nu-metal bands (that means Deftones and System Of A Down but not Korn or Limp Bizkit). Not to mention Smashing Pumpkins, Faith No More, Rage Against The Machine, Radiohead, Metallica, Counting Crows, Dave Matthews Band and the peerless R.E.M. When I was 16 and started my A-Levels at Epping Forest College I found a bunch of very like minded people (there were very few at school, more of that another time) and started going to rock clubs in London and Romford as well as gigs- the first of which, somewhat embarrassingly, was Bush at Brixton Academy in 1996. I bought a t-shirt and everything.


Hardly. Machine Head is still a cracking tune though. Anyway, you should know that most of the music I will be blogging about comes from those roots. I feel I am a lot more diverse now. I still love punk, metal and grunge but I also like hip hop, big band swing, folk, jazz, Motown and a lot of the old rock classics. Led Zeppelin, Elton John (only before 1981 and after 2002- the 80's and 90's were not good to him), Hendrix.

I am still up for discovering new artists as well, many of which I hope to share on this blog. It helps that my girlfriend is the marketing manager for Mean Fiddler so I am very lucky when it comes to tickets for gigs and festivals. Did I mentioned festivals? My first was Reading in 1998 (see below- £75 for a weekend ticket! I didn't bother to see Garbage but Beastie Boys and Page & Plant were ACE) and the latest was Download last July. There have been quite a few in between.

Yes, it's fair to say that your won't find any content on dubstep, funky house or garage on this blog. Or bloody Razorlight. No sir. I mean, how did they even get a record deal? I was in band myself for a few years at uni and I have played with bands that never played to more than 200 people who have more talent in their little fingers than that band's entire back catalogue.

Anyway, I'll leave you with this from the last great American rock band, Pearl Jam. As you may find out, I am the biggest Pearl Jam fan in the south east of England at least. And this is part of the reason why (oh and this video is from 2003, not 2008- no matter what the title says).


Sunday, 2 January 2011

Things to Blog About in 2011 Part One: Sport, Loughton and the theatre


In the absence of any sort of original greeting: hello and welcome to my blog. I am a long time blog reader, first time blog ... er ... blogger. I work in digital media in London, which means that the blogosphere has been part of my world for a long time now so I thought it was about time that I contributed rather than just posting other people's content on Twitter and Facebook.


I am 30 (just!) and not yet married but living very happily with my lovely girlfriend in Buckhurst Hill, Essex, which is just down the road from where I grew up in Loughton. Loughton was my first experience of life, so I feel it should also be the first subject in my blog; let me tell you a bit about it.

For centuries just a stop off on the road from London to Cambridge, Loughton was most famous for being next to the Epping Forest, planted by Henry VIII to provide an environment in which he and his Tudor mates could hunt wild boar. But when the Victorians connected a railway line from Liverpool Street, the place exploded as a desired escape from the hustle and bustle of the capital and quickly became a home for artists, writers and bohemian types who fled to its picturesque hills for inspiration and from which, on a clear day, one can see all the way across the Thames to Crystal Palace- views that lead the writer Ruth Rendell to nickname the pretty north west part of the town 'Little Cornwall' ("Loughton" comes from the Anglo Saxon meaning "low town").

After the war, the railway line turned into a Central line connection to London Underground and the town grew and grew to reach a population of over 30,000 today. But the migrants still come from London, though these days as part of the infamous Golden Triangle of Essex with Chigwell and Buckhurst Hill (they are more or less the same place), it's more professional footballers and tanning salons that come to Loughton rather than writers and artists. Have you ever had the misfortune of seeing ITV's The Only Way Is Essex? Then you get the idea. Too much money, not enough sense. That's Loughton in 2011. A town of historical and cultural contradictions- both rich and desolate at the same time. I blame Thatcher for the desolation myself, but more of that later.


Because I am a strong believer that environment shapes character, so to understand who I am and what I want to blog about- you have to know where I am from. You see, all those creative types that came to South West Essex in the 19th century left their influence with countless amateur dramatics societies set up across the region and as a result my first love was always theatre and that is my parents' fault. They have been involved in plays and shows (mainly Gilbert & Sullivan but let's not go there just yet) since they were teenagers growing up in the same area. I grew up going to dress rehearsals, helping to build and strike sets and helping Mum and Dad learn their lines. This lead to me eventually acting, singing and *gulp* dancing myself. A stint at a professional theatre school followed with some bits and pieces jobs on stage and TV. I am the berk in the striped rugby shirt in the video below from October 1991 ...

But I gave up the professional stuff when I was 14. Acting as a job wasn't for me- not enough stability. My future was normal school and the fine institution of Redbridge Drama Centre in South Woodford where acting could be a hobby- and I have learned ten times more about drama in one year at RDC than I ever did at stage school. Apart from five years away at university and in a band, I have been appearing in plays there ever since 1995. The Centre and the people there are a hugely important part of my life that I wouldn't do without. Hopefully I and the others for whom RDC is such a crucial thing won't have to ... but the coalition and their cuts for the arts may have other plans. Again, more about that later.


Not really. I also love following sport, especially football and cricket. Football means West Ham United because all my family support them and despite competition from Spurs, Leyton Orient and Arsenal- they are still the preferred local team round here. If you follow football you will know that the situation down at Upton Park is all a bit depressing at the moment so we'll skate over that for now. Cricket means Essex CCC and heroes from Trevor Bailey and Barry Knight in my dad's day through to Graham Gooch, Mark Waugh and Nasser Hussain in my childhood and Alistair Cook, Ravi Bopara and Ryan Ten Doeschate today. It is the greatest sport in the history of the world so you may hear about that a lot on this blog. In fact it's the only loyalty that I have to my home county these days- most of the blokes that grow up around here dreaming of hair straighteners and designer labels far more than scoring a century at Chelmsford. Such is life.


Yes, yes, alright. I have gone on long enough for now. Theatre, cricket, local issues and football are three of the subjects that will be covered here. The biggest passions of my life though are arguably politics and music, so I will leave those for another time. Hope to see you again.