Mark Pougatch shares his thoughts on the English Premier League
When I was at Durham in the late 1980s, First Division football (as it was quaintly called, of course) was a game played by British players on behalf of British owners in front of spectators who could watch a game once a week on British TV. You'd struggle to conjure up an adjective that could adequately describe just how much the game here has changed in the interim but here are a few facts to help us along that road of understanding: Liverpool and Manchester United spent over £50 million in the summer, Manchester City - who haven't won a thing for over thirty years - and Tottenham more than £40 million and West Ham in excess of £23 million; all those clubs have now fallen under foreign ownership; you can watch a live game virtually every day of the week and more if you live abroad; the Premier League now boasts 65 different nationalities and 60% of those playing in England's elite this season aren't eligible for national service under Steve McLaren.
While the Premier League has undoubtedly brought many positive things, it's that last fact that should terrify those for whom the England national football team remains a cherished entity in this country. The cupboard is looking increasingly bare for the man in charge. The quality of coaching in England has been heavily criticised, obesity levels are soaring, the GameBoy generation is growing up and in the words of Birmingham manager Steve Bruce, "the well (of indigenous) talent is running dry." By the time you read this, England may be looking good for Euro 2008 - but it's hard to put together a cogent argument for England winning something meaningful in the near future.
But do you care? Sure, every 2 summers we buy flags for our cars and paint St George's flags all over our faces but judging by the blogs, message boards and phone-ins that I can access people care much, much more whether Chelsea can win the Champions League for the first time ever or whether Newcastle can win anything. "Club before country" is what I hear around the country nowadays. That's fine, if that's what you want, but however thrilled I am when my team wins, nothing comes close to the collective ecstasy or despair that's prompted by England in a major tournament, to the feeling of complete togetherness when England are on a roll. It's why my last night at Durham in July 1990 was a sombre affair as we hauled ourselves disconcertedly into what was then called Q Ball after England lost to West Germany in Italia 90. You give up on your national team and you lose the glue that binds football fans together in this country.
Mark Pougatch is one of the BBC's leading sports broadcasters and a permanent fixture on national radio and television.
He graduated from Durham in 1990 with a degree in Politics (and The Baxter Prize) and is a member of Hatfield College.
As well as hosting Five Live's flagship Sport on 5 show on Saturday afternoons, you can catch Mark on TV as part of the BBC's sports broadcast team which covers everything from the Grand National to the Six Nations, the Ryder Cup to the World Cup and, of course, Match of the Day.