Football, Place and Migration: Foreign Footballers in the FA Premier League

By Storey, David | Geography, Summer 2011 | Go to article overview

Football, Place and Migration: Foreign Footballers in the FA Premier League


Storey, David, Geography


ABSTRACT:

The connections between sport and geography are many and varied. This article explores one facet of this focusing on the increasing number of foreign-born players in football's Premier League in England. In recent years the league has seen a sizeable influx of players from outside Britain and Ireland, a reflection of an increasingly commercialised game with a global reach. From data on players' places of birth the internationalisation of the game in England is readily apparent, though distinct spatial patterns are clearly evident. However, as the article shows, when information on where players are purchased from is taken into account it becomes clear that the Premier League is more limited in its global reach, with the majority of foreign imports being signed from just six western European countries. The flows of migrant footbaiiers appear to be shaped by various networks and channelled through specific routes.

Introduction

There is a myriad of connections between sport and geography. These include the geographic distribution of sports and sporting facilities, the economic, social and cultural importance of sport in specific localities, and the connections between culture, identity and sport (see Bale, 1994, 2000, 2002; Vertinsky and Bale, 2004). Looking more specifically at football such issues as the spread and diffusion of the game, and the connections between club, place and community can be explored from a geographical perspective. Football also provides much scope for an exploration of themes of identity at various spatial scales - national, regional, local -whether evident through intense loyalty to a club or bitter rivalries between teams (Finn and Giulanotti, 2000; Armstrong and Giulanotti, 2001). In considering ideas of place and identity in sport in general or football in particular, one area of enquiry is that of the connections between sportspeople and the club or place they represent. Originally teams tended to be composed of players drawn from the club's immediate locality. However, the evolution of scouting networks and a transfer market in players has meant that professional teams are now composed of players drawn from elsewhere in the country and (increasingly) from further afield. A few years ago English club teams were likely to contain at least a sprinkling of players drawn from the locality; now they are much more national, and indeed international, in their reach.

Migration is an important social geographic issue but, despite the pioneering work of John Rooney (1987), the migration of sports people is a relatively under-explored phenomenon. This article explores the comparatively recent influx of players from outside Britain and Ireland into the Football Association (FA) Premier League in England. The increasing transnational mobility of football players might be seen as symptomatic of the globalisation of the sport and an indicator of the lessening of bonds between club and place (Duke, 2002). For the major professional clubs, their players are no longer drawn from the immediate locality or indeed from within the UK or Ireland. The player pool now appears global rather than national and it is this increasingly diverse make-up that this article examines. More particularly the article maps the geographic origins of players in the Premier League and assesses the extent to which this might be deemed a reflection of broader trends of economic globalisation and transnational migration (see Bale and Maguire, 1994). The analysis is further developed by identifying those countries from which players are bought (as distinct from their native countries), thereby casting light on the migrant routes traversed by footballers.

Football has always had important linkages connecting places. Some clubs were formed by, or as a result of, British migrants, and in some instances this is still reflected in contemporary club names or colours. Athletic Bilbao's origins and English name are due to English migrant workers in the Basque country (Ball, 2003) and a similar explanation accounts for Young Boys in Switzerland, Go Ahead Eagles in the Netherlands and The Strongest in Bolivia, among others (Goldblatt, 2007). …

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