Economic Theory explained by Football – Disruptive Influencers


Back in 1997 DC United won the second ever MLS Cup, beating Colorado Rapids on home turf. Avid fan and Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen was so compelled by DC United retaining their title that he sat down and and mused as to whether this could be the start of something beautiful for his side and US Soccer in general. Looking across the pond at the dominance of Manchester United plus the emergence of the Galacticos in Madrid he wondered if a new force could emerge to take world football by storm. His theory on disruption theory has been called “one of the sexiest theories ever written” by The Lady magazine, high praise indeed and has since been adapted for wider economic models, but it should always be remembered that it’s humble beginnings were in the beautiful game. So what’s all the fuss about?

Christensen’s theory is based around the principle that innovators with cheap solutions to a vexing market problem can unseat larger, more established rivals. So in the case of DC United’s squad, assembled at a fraction of the cost of United’s or Real’s, could their domestic dominance and momentum carry them across the pond and further in the global game. His theory was hailed as the answer to everything from making health care more efficient to reducing poverty by some of the world’s greatest thinkers, and Elton Welsby, and was the talk of the dressing and boardrooms from Rio to Rome.

Christensen wrote that disruptive innovations, such as Social Media websites, Rainbow looms and snoods tend to be produced by outsiders from their industry. The business environment of market leaders does not allow them to pursue disruption when they first arise, because they are not profitable enough at first and because their development can take scarce resources away from sustaining innovations (which are needed to compete against current competition). So when FC United won their first MLS Cup back in 1996, nobody outside of North America took them seriously – it was after all a small domestic league of ageing imports and unproven domestic talent. But back to back wins, and two more final appearances in the next two seasons allowed them to pursue that disruption and potentially start eat the global giants breakfast.

Alas, DC United’s dominance didn’t last as long as Facebook although it did outlive the crazes of plastic bracelets made by our kids and neck scarves worn by hardy professional footballers. Christensen’s theory was debunked by some who pointed to Apple’s continued dominance in the device market, or Amazon’s in terms of online shopping. We’ve seen pretenders to the footballing global dominance throne very occasionally come forward but money talks in today’s game. There is no coincidence that the clubs with the deepest pockets in England, France, Holland, Spain, Germany and Italy walk away with the honours year after year. Despite salary caps, centralised contracts and no meritocracy structure, the US domestic game is no different today. The LA Galaxy have won three of the last four titles whilst the New York Red Bulls, with the backing of the global energy drink company, lead the way this season.

Christensen’s five minutes of fame may still resonate with some economic thinkers but in terms of the world of football it’s the same old story – money talks.

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On the sixth day of TBIR Christmas – The best food at football


Food and football go hand in hand like Turkey and Stuffing, X-Factor and talent-less Diva’s and the Premier League and lack of morals.  Interestingly, there is a little-known theory, formulated by those clever chaps at, hmm, let me see…ah yes, ME, that says the more you pay for a ticket, the worse the food will be.  It is relatively logical as the more fans that you have in a ground, the more you have to go down the mass produced route.

But clubs still try and make out their food is “gourmet”.  My good friend Tom Dickinson even documented his one-man journey to take 92 different pies in one season and he has some real horror stories.  I remember a few years ago when West Ham described a plain boiled hot dog in a stale bun with a spoonful of overcooked onions as:-

“Experience the finest German smoked sausage, hand-picked by our tasters, sat in a freshly toasted fine white bun with french white onions, sauteed in butter and a selection of condiments”.

But at the Non League level food tends to be cooked with love.  Margins aren’t the be all and end all of everything.  It is about making the food we eat part of the whole footballing experience, and that is what we are celebrating on day six of our annual awards.

3rd best food at football – Lewes FC
3360905423Yes I know I am slightly biased but if you want some locally home-made produced food then head on down to the Dripping Pan.  There are the Rooks Pies, made fresh each match-day and features classics such as Steak and Harvey’s Ale, Lamb Tikka and a sweet Hot Apple Pie.  In addition there are the Sussex Pasties, the home made soup and the burgers where you have a choice of cheddar, normal burger cheese or some freshly crumbled stilton…or all three.  Whilst we may be in the Ryman League on the NonLeagueChips scale, we are Premier League champions in savoury snacks.

2nd best food at Football – Alemannia Aachen
7826259400_6063b68a5e_bGerman football just about knocks the spots off anywhere when it comes to food at football with the biggest sausages known to man, full off proper meat and grilled right before your eyes.  At Aachen’s New Tivoli stadium there are dozens of options, piled high with crisp fries.  My personal favourite is the Frikadeller, the German-style burger made of spiced pork and serviced with a huge slice of gerkhin.  Your’s for just €2.  Yes please.

Best food at football – New York Red Bulls
7439894836_53b89d9645_bIs there any surprise that the winner is in the US?  You could try a different item from the various menus on offer at the Red Bull Arena at each match day and still not get round to doing them all in a season.  Turkey drumsticks, fries, chicken “tenders” (big goujans), fries, burgers, fries, pizza, hot dogs and various other ethnic takeaways.  Did I mention the fries as well?  Outstanding options all round and worth the trip alone.

On the second day of TBIR Christmas – The worst game in 2012


For every six goal cracker we have seen there have been a number of games that were immediately forgettable. Whilst we have traveled hundreds, even thousands of miles to watch the beautiful game, you cannot guarantee the match will be decent. So let’s celebrate those games which gave football a bad name in 2012.

3rd worst game in 2012 – Aveley 0 Lewes 0
7054392011_6a5b1b20cf_zLewes were dead and buried in the hunt for a play off spot until mid March, and then all of a sudden the squad discovered their mojo and went on an amazing run that saw them move into the play off spots with just a few games to go. Despite other teams having games in hand, the Rooks could almost touch end of season glory with a win in deepest, darkest Essex. Aveley’s Mill Road ground has seen better days. In fact it is one of the most desolate grounds in the Non League, held together with sticking tape and hard to love. Anything less than a win for the home side and they would be relegated. Banker away win, surely? Alas no. It was one of those games that you want to create a time machine and go back two hours and visit Lakeside instead.

2nd worst game in 2012 – New York Red Bulls 0 Sporting Club Kansas 2
8006064292_8089eb5917_bNothing demonstrates American’s love of sport more than a scheduled midweek game in the MLS on the same night the Yankees are playing. With a few minutes to kick off you could count the crowd in the Red Bull Arena with your hands and toes. Whilst the club have build a brand new stadium (albeit in the middle of nowhere), and have marketed themselves well in the Tri-State area, the fans don’t really appreciate them enough to make a mid-week game at 7pm when the Yankees are also playing. But this game was bad, not just because of the lack of atmosphere but because the home side, with talented players such as Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill simply couldn’t be bothered to raise themselves to play. It was a torrid game, punctuated by two goals from the away team that gave them all three points.

Worst game in 2012 – Ilford 0 Thamesmead Town 0
8060623821_af061df1c4_zIt is incredibly hard for Non League clubs in the area around west Essex/London borders to build a supporters base. Within a ten minute drive of Ilford there is a Premier League side, two nPower clubs and over a dozen Non League teams. Consequently clubs like Ilford have to fight for every fan. This game paired the two of the worst supported teams in the Ryman League North, with average attendances of 54 and 49 respectively. I’m sure the fact that they play at a municipal athletics ground hardly encourages floating fans, but games like this don’t help either. I watched for 45 minutes before I had to depart but in that time I didn’t see one chance on goal from either side. One half is not a reflection of a season, and I appreciate the predicament they are both in, but there has to be a loser for every winner and this year it is Ilford and Thamesmead Town. Sorry chaps.

“When the chips are down…


…I’ll be around
With my death-defying love for you”

Three months ago I made my first trip west from New York to the barren lands of Harrison, New Jersey where the shining beacon of the Red Bull Arena lit up the decaying industrial landscape of an area of New Jersey that was desperately in need of investment, inspiration and excitement. On that day, the New York Red Bulls won a pulsating game against rivals DC United in a matchday atmosphere that really surprised me. I stood corrected in my view that the Red Bulls had no fans or identity and thoroughly enjoyed my visit.

Three months on and I was back in New York for work with the Englishman in New York, Luge Pravda. As luck would have it, the Red Bulls were at home again, this time against those Wizards from Kansas. Or, the team that used to be called the Wizards. It appeared that a PR agency, probably headed by a Siobhan Sharpe-type decided that “The Wiz” wasn’t a MLS-type name anymore, so they were rebranded as “Sporting Kansas Club”, or SKC for short. Another “franchise” struggling to know who it really was. Continue reading

Red Bulls find their wings but not enough to fly to the top of the table


It seems like an eternity since I saw Dartford lift the Blue Square Bet South Play Off final trophy back in May.  In fact it is only 6 weeks ago, but that was my last game of football.  Game number 104 of the 2011/12 season.  Since then I have tried to amuse myself with cricket, Rugby (league and union), motor racing.  Damn, we even went to Harry Potter World.  But here at last was a game – the 105th and final game of the 2011/12 season.  There has to be a start and end date for each season and to us it is the 1st July.  So goodbye this season and hello next in just 14 days when we travel to Enfield Town to watch the mighty Rooks take on Fisher for the Supporters Direct Shield.

But back to the present.  I am not saying I was desperate for a game but I had traveled 3,461 to North America for this one.  My destination?  The Garden State, home of Jersey Shore, the programme that spawned us The Only Way is Essex, Geordie Shore and all of those other shit shows that the only contribution they have made to the world is encouraging young girls to stick fake diamonds around their twat.  Oh, sorry, I forgot.  Twat is a very rude word here in America.  I have been warned before not to say or especially write the word Twat.  Apparently it can really cause offense.  So I wont say Twat anymore.  Ironically I can say Fanny, as that just means arse over here and, not as Keith from the Office once said, “your minge”.

Yes, you have guessed it (of course you did), we were heading for New Jersey, home of such stars as Count Basie, Frank Sinatra, Jon Bon Jovi and Whitney Houston.  All of these are of course now dead (well in JBJ’s case he is wheeled onto the stage every so often and plugged into the mains) but all contributed massively to the musical history of the USA. Continue reading

That Sounds like Bull


Luge Pravda takes us on a journey west from New York to the barren wastelands that were once home to Bruce Springsteen, Whitney Houston and Tara “mmmmmmm” Reid for the opening day of the 16th MLS season.

A few weeks ago I had one of my oldest and dearest friends over from London, Rich (aka @rich_swin on twitter for those of you into cycling, death metal and Manchester City). I did not take any time off work, as I had my boss in New York also, but we did have a busy evening schedule for the week packed with our two loves – live sport and live music. That week saw me see The Pogues twice and I am sure The Ball is Round will not mind a shameless plug to a blog review of the St Patrick’s night show here.

Picturesque New Jersey

The Saturday evening saw the New York Red Bulls open their Major League Soccer season against the Seattle Sounders. Our attendance was a no-brainer, with Rich keen to sample some MLS action. He needed some respite after seeing my team, Manchester United, in his words, fluke a win against Bolton earlier that day. Late in the afternoon we made our way over to Harrison, New Jersey, home of the New York Red Bulls. This is the thing with New York City sports, due to a lack of (affordable) stadium space in the “5 Boroughs”, the NFL franchises – the New York Giants and Jets and the MLS franchise – the New York Red Bulls – all play across the Hudson River in New Jersey. I last found myself in New Jersey for sporting reasons for an NFL Giants game last year. Continue reading