x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Parity makes dreams happen

As Newcastle United fans contemplate 83 years of futility, American supporters know titles are not beyond their grasp.

Newcastle fans celebrate victory over Sunderland – and dream of how they would rejoice if their team won the Premier League.
Newcastle fans celebrate victory over Sunderland – and dream of how they would rejoice if their team won the Premier League.

This very Tuesday morning, the pretty American city of San Francisco might go into widespread exultation. If that does not occur, the not-especially-pretty American metroplex of Dallas might revel a few days hence.

One or the other soon will know one of the best possibilities in all of sport, that of parched fans finally quenched, a long title drought finally curtailed, a title that lends peculiar value to the protracted misery of the drought.

The San Francisco Giants have never won a baseball World Series since they relocated from New York in 1958, and the Texas Rangers have not won either since they Rangers relocated from Washington in 1972. The fact that one will win shortly calls to mind a question: what is the world's best prospective title still lurking out there in the dreamy future?

"It would be a party to end all parties," Dave Spours said, and with that, the graphic designer who habitually watches Newcastle United with his group of Dubai-based Geordies referred to how the city of Newcastle, England, might look upon a Premier League title sometime in this lifetime.

Combine a city that routinely makes top-10 lists in the party division with a league-title drought 83 years deep and you have a winner in the rowdiest-prospect division.

In fact, the big club in Spours's family bloodstream has won the top league or the FA Cup or the League Cup or anything in Europe in his 37 years.

The most they have done is bandage relegation pain by winning the second tier and bouncing back upward.

Just the thought of it, then: "I really do think that everyone would be going crazy," he said. "Everyone would be out for days. Everyone would be in the streets. People would have the flags. Beeping their horns …"

It would be a place to be on planet Earth, and entrenched in the mirth might be an oddity regarding the Premier League versus, say, American sports.

The United States of San Francisco and Texas likes its culture heavily capitalistic but its sports heavily socialistic, while the United Kingdom, Spain and others like greater social programmes from their governments and shark-tank capitalism from their sports.

In a feat of socialism, the National Football League and the National Basketball Association of the United States have parity-enforcing measures that cap the amounts clubs can spend on players, levelling the opportunity for managers and general managers to demonstrate acumen.

Major League Baseball lacks such a scheme but tilts in that direction with a complicated "luxury tax" lending mild penalty to lavish spenders.

More or less as a result, American sports have brimmed lately with drought-quenching.

The New Orleans Saints of the NFL won the Super Bowl last February for the first time in a lamentable 43-year existence. Drought quenching in recent years has come to the Indianapolis Colts (37 years), the New England Patriots (a lifelong 42 years), and the St Louis Rams (49 years), who sprang from extended wretchedness to the summit in a single, absurd 2000 season.

In any August, a fan of almost any NFL team can hope with a rationale at least marginal.

Newcastle or any Premier League interloper, though, would have swum in a harsher climate, for Premier League fans quiver at the mercy of unfettered capitalism.

Boardroom volatility reigns. Portsmouth won the 2008 FA Cup but soon nearly vanished, ricocheting among four ownerships in overspent turbulence. Manchester City fans woke one day to a dream from Abu Dhabi and commenced fresh reverie. In any August, a rigid caste system - big four, big five - means that fans of Wigan Athletic or Bolton Wanderers or even Aston Villa coldly comprehend their zero title hope.

But then, the burden of the NFL's socialism is the benefit of the English Premier League's capitalism. A win over New Orleans in the 16-game season has limited meaning because of the regulated equality while a win over Chelsea or Manchester United in the 38-match season can buoy fans for months because of the unregulated inequality.

Any Newcastle storybook will come after navigating hard, hard waters for a long, long time.

"I don't think people would turn up to work for a few days, really," said Spours, whose boyhood memories shimmer with St James' Park, his father, his gaggle of buddies relishing a 5-0 win over Swindon Town.

Fast-forward to his fellow grown-up Geordies in Dubai - 15 just watching the 5-1 pasting of Sunderland, 30 or 40 sometimes. Fast-forward in their best visions, and you get another picture of truancy or, in this case, people not being anywhere near their offices.

"People from all over the world from Newcastle" would return to Newcastle, he said. "If it looked like it was going to happen, everybody would come home" in anticipation. They would know the poignancy of droughts and in that vein, they would know they had better exult because, as he said, "It could possibly be another 50 years."

cculpepper@thenational.ae