In today’s lesson we are going to pick a topic from the British headline news and talk about it using everyday English vocabulary. It’s about football, and we learn English speaking through listening to the conversation with a focus on how the words are spoken. Listening to this lesson several times will help you with your automatic English comprehension.
Although we design all of our English lessons to be interesting, that does not always mean it is something you agree with. Today we are going to talk about a lot of very rich people (The average monthly salary of a Premier League player is around 240,000.) who are asking for UK tax payers money during the UK shutdown. Now the argument is,
not everyone who plays football in the UK is wealthy and some smaller clubs need help to stay in business.
I think one issue football has in the UK, is the media portray footballers as extravagant and spoilt. And footballers and football clubs don’t help themselves with some things they say and do.
I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars. The rest I just squandered.
⭐ George Best, George Best was considered one of the best wingers of all time and even was praised by the great Pele.
Rovers Fulham Wigan Hotspur
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Let’s look at a topic this week that’s in the British news. Well, the pandemic is continuing and still having all kinds of effects. There’s obviously an effect socially and on people’s health, in all kinds of ways, but there’s also economic effects too. And the British government is called upon weekly to help one group or another, one sector of the economy or another. There’s always in the news, someone calling for financial aid, financial support, asking for money to help them out.
So this week in the news, it was the turn of British football to call for government assistance, government help. From March to June this year, no football games were played – and then from June onwards, the 2019-2020 season was completed with matches played ‘behind closed doors’. That phrase ‘behind closed doors’ means that the matches were played, but with no live fans present, no tickets sold to people watching in the stadiums. So of course this is a problem because football clubs make money in part from ticket sales.
Now when we think of English football, most of us think of the Premier League. It’s the most-watched football league in the world. So Premier League Clubs are those that you’ll have heard of, like Manchester United, Arsenal or Chelsea, huge clubs who pay their players huge salaries. And we think ‘Uh, those clubs surely don’t need government help to survive, with all of their money?’. And it’s hard to think of using tax-payer’s money, the money which we all pay to the government – to rescue football clubs who make lots of money themselves.
Premiership teams make a lot of money from sponsorship, advertising, television deals and so for now, that money is still coming in. ‘Sponsorship’ means when football clubs are paid by businesses like Nike, AXA, Puma, Hyundai, Emirates or Adidas. Players may wear these company names on their strip. The ‘strip’, S-T-R-I-P meaning the clothes that they wear when they play football. So ticket sales for matches, means money coming into clubs and this makes up only part of the income for Premiership clubs.
In the 2020-21 season, the September matches were all played, but they were shown on TV, shown on television instead of live in front of fans. From 3rd October this year, there were meant to be live fans in the stadiums again, tickets being sold again – but now that date has been pushed back, because of the continuing pandemic. So despite the money, there is a crisis coming in English football.
What about football clubs lower down in the leagues? The word ‘league’, L-E-A-G-U-E in English usually refers to a group of people or a group of organisations, who come together, organise themselves together for a common purpose. And in sport, ‘a league’ is where a group of teams are organised so that they have matches, they compete against each other. Teams of similar ability play matches against one another and the winner is the team at the top of the league at the end of the season. This is different from what are known as ‘cup matches’ – like the FA Cup – where the teams aren’t always of similar ability.
You can get quite uneven matches in a cup, so sometimes the small teams beat the big teams – and people enjoy watching these types of games. They’re exciting and you see unexpected wins sometimes. The FA Cup – FA stands for Football Association – is the oldest football competition in the world. It started in 1871! And the teams are selected randomly in part – so even amateur teams enter the competition. This makes football more colourful and exciting – instead of being predictable and always the same teams. The big professional teams of course have automatic entry into the FA cup at a later stage.
So as we’re saying, teams in the Premier League of English football are the big ones, the ones which sometimes play internationally and they’re the teams that you’ll know. Some more examples are Liverpool, Crystal Palace, Fulham, Burnley, Tottenham Hotspur, Leicester City. These are not the clubs who ought to need help in the time of pandemic. They’ve got huge income normally, with TV and sponsorship deals. So we feel they ought to be able to look after themselves in these times.
A photograph of an unhappy man after his football team is relegated. A topic of discussion in this learn English speaking lesson.
The Premier League includes 20 football clubs and then below that is the Championship, which has 24 clubs. And below this, there is League One and League Two. And then there are even three more leagues below this – and two of these are still full-time, professional leagues. You may have heard of some of these clubs, even in League One or League Two because they may have been in the Premier League or the Champions League in the past. At the end of each season, teams move around.
So the bottom three clubs from the Premiership move down to the Championship – that’s called ‘relegated’ or ‘relegation’. And the top three clubs in the Championship move up to the Premiership – that’s called being ‘promoted’. And there’s the same movement between the Championship and League One, and then between League One and League Two. So there’s a fair amount of change – and many of the teams are household names even outside of the UK.
So even in League One, there are team names you may know, for example Crewe Alexandra, Doncaster Rovers, Plymouth Argyle, Bristol Rovers, Wigan Athletic. Even in League Two, there are names you may recognise. It saddens me to say that my home team, Bolton Wanderers are currently in League Two. You may know them because they used to be in the Premier League.
So there are financial problems at this end of the English football league. You don’t get lucrative – that means ‘big money making’ – sponsorship deals at this end of English football, so clubs are much more dependent upon their ticket sales, on live fans coming to watch matches. Football is much more local, more community-based, more accessible at this end. But currently famous clubs, with a long history may be about to become insolvent because of the pandemic and no ticket sales. ‘Insolvent’, I-N-S-O-L-V-E-N-T means that a business has no more money left. It probably even has debts and therefore it has to close, it cannot trade any more.
So this week, the UK government were calling upon Premier League football teams to offer financial support to teams further down the leagues, who are in danger. The Premier League is reported to have just spent one billion pounds on player transfers this year – so it sounds as though they can afford to help failing teams.
At risk here is a long history of English football. At the lower levels, the game is much more linked with the local community, with the actual towns that give the teams their names. Teams and players are a matter of local pride and community. But at the top of the football leagues, it’s more like big business. And if the money taken from real live fans, from actual live ticket sales in stadiums and that’s no longer the main income, then will the big teams will simply receive more of their income from sponsorship and television? Perhaps that will change things even more than has already happened. Football perhaps becomes ‘a virtual game’, a product that you consume online.
The link with local communities and history may be lost – and football teams may just operate more and more like big international business corporations. We’re used to the idea that teams are made up of players from all over the world and that they’re geographically not related to the town name that they play for. So in the end, what is loyalty to a football team? Is it to what really is a commercial, business or a ‘brand name’? Manchester United or Arsenal, like Coca Cola or Pepsi?
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Hard to think of it like this, when football is such an emotional game, but is football going to be reduced to an online ‘product’? And where will be that connection with our personal history, that in the past has determined which team we support? Something very human risks being turned into something that just feels like ‘big business’.
And meanwhile, what happens to clubs like Dover Athletic or Yeovil Town, with long histories, but who’re about to be lost? Even if you don’t care much for football, it’s still sad to see that history lost. So what will the pandemic mean? I don’t think it justifies government support, yet it is very sad. And of course, I’m here talking about English football, but the same dynamics, the same sorts of things are probably happening in football teams in countries around the world. If you care about this, or if you have any thoughts on this, let us know. In English of course!
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