x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Little to separate the two

It is a fool's errand to try and prove which system works best – that of the English Premier League or the NFL.

Blackburn Rovers will not win the English Premier League football title next season.
Blackburn Rovers will not win the English Premier League football title next season.

The English Premier League peasantry ate good cake over the New Year's weekend. Underlings kept beating plutocrats in a sudden burst of adorableness.

Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal all lost until the whole apparatus briefly came to resemble something other than the world's most brutally capitalist league.

Fans from Sunderland down to London and back up to Blackburn went home giddy. A heart could warm if it wished.

Of course, nobody has any illusions of anything approaching parity, with that realism among the charms of English football, which doesn't dwell in fairy tales thus doesn't wind up spreading a lot of fairy-tale sugar that winds up causing fairy-tale nausea.

The NFL play-offs began over this weekend. There are no underlings and no plutocrats, even if clubs sometimes resemble one or the other out of ineptitude or prowess.

The Cincinnati Bengals, Houston Texans, Detroit Lions, Denver Broncos and San Francisco 49ers all make play-off appearances even though they combined last season to win 26 games out of 80, with one draw. Upwards mobility rules. Of the 12 teams in the knockout stage after the 16-game regular season, six did not appear last time.

A nation that treats "socialism" as a profane word adores its socialist American football league with its per-club salary cap and its rampant parity, with that romanticism among the charms of American football, which doesn't mind establishing an order and then upending it, even across just four hair-raising play-off weeks.

One of these systems would have to be superior to the other. Or, not.

The American system trumps the English system because almost every fan can wake up in August with realistic hope.

Imagine you are a lingering fan of the Detroit Lions, which would demonstrate an inner fibre almost inconceivable to medical science.

Your team went 0-16 in 2008, which given the parity is an achievement of failure almost inconceivable to all mathematics. They went 2-14 in 2009 and 6-10 in 2010, an 11th successive playoff-less season. Still, in August, you knew your team operated in a league of flux. You knew that with recent-years roster improvements such as a budding young quarterback and a rampaging young defence, they could reach the high drama of the play-offs. You could think all of this without being foaming at the mouth.

If you woke in August as a fan of Blackburn Rovers and reckoned your team could, say, finish in the top four and qualify for the Champions League, you ... You should not be out conversing in public.

No, the English system is better because the rigid form makes unexpected wins matter more.

At the same time, Blackburn's stirring 3-2 win at Old Trafford resonates. It supplies hearty fanatic nutrition. Its mirth could last all through the season.

People who witnessed in the visitors' section can spend years boring generation upon generation with the tale. People who did not witness, well, they can always say they witnessed.

In the NFL, Green Bay lost only once this year, but that "upset" means far less to Kansas City fans because the whole thing is a (riveting) hodgepodge anyway. Rigid form brings firmer definition, thus greater meaning, even in an FA Cup generally formulaic this century.

No, the American system is better because of its superior measure of managerial skill and cleverness.

NFL fans have a superbly lucid idea of which masterminds are most masterful. The Pittsburgh organisation, nowadays with coach Mike Tomlin. New England and coach Bill Belichick, even if doubt bubbled when he got caught cheating. To some degree, the Green Bay organisation. Lately, Tom Coughlin in New York, John Harbaugh in Baltimore, Sean Payton in New Orleans, maybe soon Jim Harbaugh in San Francisco if he persists.

Fans know even though those organisations endure years when they miss the play-offs altogether. They have surmounted the fracas more than enough across time.

English fans know Sir Alex Ferguson is very good, and they think they know how good, except that they don't actually, because they can't possibly. He has succeeded wildly - don't forget Aberdeen -but he has never had to forage year-in, year-out without budget advantages over most.

No, the English system is better because it makes the fans nobler.

That true-hearted Blackburn fan, probably an English realist, craved top-half or mere survival at most. Yet in so many of the hopeless towns, so many of the deathless fans sit through so much of the dismal drizzle with so little promise of reward. They are tougher than NFL fans, and if you wanted to get sentimental in this indecipherable contrast, England might just inch ahead on their sturdiness.


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