The London effect: Why the capital's football teams are increasingly dominating the Premier League

Arsenal vs West Ham. The shape of things to come? Image: Getty.

The premier league has gone all egalitarian. Recently there has been a great levelling off with perennial, nouveau riche, title challengers Chelsea languishing just above the relegation zone. Meanwhile Leicester City, a relatively recent (re)arrival to the league, is throwing its weight around in the top three, and West Ham is taking scalps from all of last season's top four.

The end of the annexation of the top spots by the big clubs, and the Hollyoaks-isation of Chelsea, makes for great viewing for those of us who are neutral. But it's distracted attention away from one of the processes that has flattened out the league's hierarchy: Londonisation.

A lot of pundits are saying that this season has been just what the premier league needed – new teams coming to the fore, breaking the homogeneity of the top of the table.

But it's interesting to note that the majority of these "plucky" teams are from in and around London (Watford, Crystal Palace, West Ham). That'll consolidate the hold over the top six that the capital typically has.

Will this trend continue? If economic geography has taught us anything it will.

The London factor

As the age of narcissism in football continues apace, footballers are joining the rest of society and thinking about themselves and their lifestyle when it comes to choosing a club. London has a lot to offer, not only in terms of football clubs but also in terms of enjoyment. In fact, if you're earning £100,000 a week, there are probably few better cities in the world to live, particularly in an age when society's primary demand of us to enjoy ourselves at all costs.

Londoners are well acquainted with the costs of congestion: overpriced housing, packed trains, the hipster blitzkreig of once salt of the earth pubs to name but a few. If you're a footballer earning £100,000 a week, though, the costs of congestion are likely to be offset by the benefits of agglomeration: access to high end housing, cultural amenities, green space, an international hub and a cosmopolitan community.

Foreign players are more likely to find a sizeable community from their native country in London than any other city in England. Note the case of Alexis Sanchez, who purportedly chose Arsenal over Liverpool because of London's large Chilean community.


Migation flows in England and Wales (click to enlarge). Image: Centre for Cities.

Research from the Centre for Cities suggests that people in their 20s move to London to find employment, and for the thrill of living in an international city. Of all of the twenty somethings who decided to relocate in recent years, almost one in three moved to London.  

This means that there was a large net inflow of people aged between 22 and 30 into the capital. The majority of footballers fit into this age bracket, and they are no exception to this trend. So, if footballers increasingly follow this pattern, it will feed the success of London-based clubs.

Migation to and from London by age (click to enlarge). Image: Centre for Cities.

As it stands, five of the top ten teams in the league are from London, compared to just three a decade ago ago.

In other words, the things that put the rest of us mere economic mortals off London are less likely to apply to moneyed footballers – but the capital's advantages still do. There are clearly other factors at play here but the appeal of London is having an effect.

How does Londonisation work?

The Manchester clubs' money, reputation, and success mean that there will always be a northern powerhouse in football. But Liverpool provides a potentially interesting example which shows how the Londonisation mechanism is working.

The attractiveness of Liverpool as a club is no longer built on success (they have not won the league in twenty five years), but rather reputation, and a hip new manager. As it stands they are below West Ham and Crystal Palace in the league, two clubs without much of an international reputation, but in a city with a global reputation.

For a player choosing between clubs in the premier league, all other things (particularly sporting success) being equal, this London factor has begun to swing their decision. The prospect of being a moneyed young man in London, at a club that enjoys a similar level of success to a club like Liverpool, is proving to be a decisive factor. Just look at the ability of traditionally mid-table, or even relegation-threatened, London clubs to attract talent that was formerly the reserve of the top four clubs and subsequently shoot up the table.

As mid-table London clubs' ability to lean on the London factor continues to attract top players, so they will continue to achieve more success on the pitch: that will ultimately become an appealing factor to potential transfer targets in itself. If this mechanism continues apace, we are likely to see more and more London clubs in the top half of the table.

This leads us to a fundamental question in economic geography: would we be happy to let failing clubs fail in the same way certain authors suggest we should let failing places fail? Or is there something inherently good about having national league that is spread across the country/truly national? Football really does imitate life.

Joseph Kilroy works in Policy & Research at the Royal Town Planning Institute. He writes here in a personal capacity.


Here’s how we plant 2 billion more trees in the UK

A tree in Northallerton, North Yorkshire. Image: Getty.

The UK’s official climate advisor, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), recently published a report outlining how to reduce the 12 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions that come from land use by two thirds by 2050. Alongside recommending cutting meat and dairy consumption by 20 per cent, the report calls for the annual creation of up to 50,000 hectares of broadleaf and conifer woodland for the next three decades. This would increase forest cover from 13 per cent to at least 17 per cent – a level not seen in Britain since before the Norman invasion.

Reforestation at that rate would mean creating roughly the area of the city of Leeds every year for the next three decades. At typical stocking densities of 1,500 stems per hectare, the ambition is to establish some 2.25 billion additional trees. Given that the UK, as with most of Europe, is in the grip of ash dieback, a disease likely to prove fatal for many millions of native ash trees, the scale of the challenge is massive.

On a crowded and intensively farmed island like Britain, unlocking a million and a half hectares of land will be no mean feat. But it’s not impossible – and is an unprecedented opportunity not only to tackle the climate crisis but also the biodiversity crisis that is every bit as detrimental to our wellbeing.

Trees and farms

One million and a half hectares is just 6 per cent of the mainland UK’s land area. To give some sense of perspective on this, 696,000 hectares of “temporary grassland” were registered in 2019. So if land supply is not the problem, what is? Often it’s cultural inertia. Farmers are firmly rooted to the land and perhaps understandably reluctant to stop producing food and instead become foresters. But the choice need not be so binary.

The intensification of agriculture has caused catastrophic declines in many species throughout the UK by reducing vast wooded areas and thousands of miles of hedgerows to small pockets of vegetation, isolating populations and making them more vulnerable to extinction.

Integrating trees with the farmed landscape delivers multiple benefits for farms and the environment. Reforestation doesn’t have to mean a return to the ecologically and culturally inappropriate single-species blocks of non-native conifers, which were planted en masse in the 1970s and 1980s. Incentivised under tax breaks to secure a domestic timber supply, many of the resulting plantations were located in places difficult or in some cases impossible to actually harvest.

Productive farmland needn’t be converted to woodland. Instead, that 4 per cent of land could be found by scattering trees more widely. After all, more trees on farmland is good for business. They prevent soil erosion and the run-off of pollutants, provide shade and shelter for livestock, a useful source of renewable fuel and year-round forage for pollinating insects.

The first tranche of tree planting could involve new hedgerows full of large trees, preferably with wide headlands of permanently untilled soils, providing further wildlife refuge.

Natural regeneration

Where appropriate, new woody habitats can be created simply by stopping how the land is currently used, such as by removing livestock. This process can be helped by scattering seeds in areas where seed sources are low. But patience is a virtue. If people can learn to tolerate less clipped and manicured landscapes, nature can run its own course.

A focus on deliberate tree planting also raises uncomfortable truths. Most trees are planted with an accompanying stake to keep them upright and a plastic shelter that protects the sapling from grazing damage. All too often, these shelters aren’t retrieved. Left to the elements, they break down into ever smaller pieces, and can be swept into rivers and eventually the ocean, where they threaten marine wildlife. Two billion tree shelters is a lot of plastic.

The main reason for using tree shelters at all is because the deer population in the UK is so high that in many places, it is all but impossible to establish new trees. This also has serious implications for existing woodland, which is prevented from naturally regenerating. In time, these trees will age and die, threatening the loss of the woodland itself. Climate change, pests and pathogens and the lack of a coordinated, centrally supported approach to deer management means the outlook for the UK’s existing treescape is uncertain at best.

An ecologically joined-up solution would be to reintroduce the natural predators of deer, such as lynx, wolves, and bears. Whether rewilding should get that far in the UK is still the subject of debate. Before that, perhaps the focus should be on providing the necessary habitat, rich in native trees.

A positive response would be to implement the balanced recommendations, made almost a decade ago in a government review, of creating more new habitat, improving what’s already there, and finding ways to link it together. Bigger, better, and more connected habitats.

But the UK is losing trees at increasing rates and not just through diseases. The recent removal of Victorian-era street trees in Sheffield and many other towns and cities is another issue to contend with. As the climate warms, increasing urban temperatures will mean cities need shade from street trees more than ever.

Trees aren’t the environmental panacea that the politicians might have people believe – even if they do make for great photo opportunities – but we do need more of them. Efforts to expand tree cover are underway across the world and the UK will benefit from contributing its share. Hitting the right balance – some commercial forestry, lots of new native woodland and millions of scattered trees – will be key to maximising the benefits they bring.

Nick Atkinson, Senior Lecturer in Ecology & Conservation, Nottingham Trent University.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.