British football’s slang lexicon has never been short of insults. From plastic fans to tinpot clubs, bottlejobs to oil merchants , it seems an entire language exists to facilitate the endless mud-slinging experience that constitutes supporting a British team. The unearthing of new jibes, the replenishing of the great vast reservoir of words and phrases used to slander fellow football supporting members of this little Isle is essentially a popular national pastime.
Farmer’s League, however, the latest in a long lineage of retorts to achieve ubiquitous status within the game, is a little different. Here is a phrase not to be directed at your fellow Briton, but instead one that allows for a perverse kind of nationalistic unity, for Leeds and Luton and Liverpool fans to stand together, Little-Englanders-in-arms, and sling mud at the rest of the world.
The term Farmer’s League is used to denote a league that lacks both quality and competitiveness. That was the original meaning, anyway. The reality, however, is that language is fluid and evolves quickly in the hands of an unruly mass blithely throwing the phrase at any and every league in sight. Now, it would seem, a Farmer’s League is basically just any league that isn’t the Barclays Premier League.
The original Farmer’s League, of course, was the French Ligue 1 – a league so uncompetitive it has seen 8 separate title winners this millennium. For contrast, the Premier League has seen 6. Moreover, this is the same Ligue 1 that produced and nurtured the vast majority of the talent in the reigning World Cup winning French squad – a tournament England haven’t won since the early 1400s.
The facts, of course, do not matter – Farmerism is spreading like a wildfire.
Reductive stereotyping abound in the collective imagination of English Football, all leagues but ours are easily reduced to their lowest forms. Serie A, for example, with its many great and storied clubs, its 12 European cups, is now essentially a retirement home for Premier League has-beens – a place for Victor Moses and Ashley Young to go and join Antonio Conte in his little Milan-based BPL expats club, drink wine and reminisce.
La Liga, stripped bare in the post-Ronaldo/Messi dominance era, is basically walking football, lacking the pace and power that characterise our own superior division. And what’s a move to the MLS but some kind of cushty media gig, an act of self-promotion about as close to ‘real football’ as appearing on A Question of Sport or singing Three Lions with James Corden in his car as you cruise around LA.
They’re all farmers, all of them.
It’s a doubly-suitable metaphor, farming, as not only does it conclusively demean and diminish any football at all played beyond the shores of Blighty – in the name of propping up our own inflated sense of worth, it also allows us to conceive of the vast array of leagues and teams that populate the international footballing landscape as an endless network of fields ripe for harvest, to be picked apart and plundered to satiate our transfer glut.
Indeed, the dual success of Erling Haaland and Kylian Mbappe in the Champions League last week triggered such a response. Scoring 2 goals and a hat-trick respectively, the feats of these two rising starlets were met by an immediate clambering of journalists to pen “Where Next For…?” articles, itching to speculate over whether a United or a City could gobble them whole into the Premier League’s hungry belly.
Of course, these protestations may sound a little naive, a little overly romantic. It’s well documented at this point that a 75 million euro release clause in Haaland’s contract becomes active in 2022, and with Mbappe’s contract into its last 18 months the sharks will inevitably circle.
Plutocracy is inevitable, this is modern football (indeed, this is modern life), but to pillage a land for all its worth, strip its clubs of all their assets and then mercilessly mock them for being asset-less? It seems a bit much. But then, as they say, then sun never sets on British teenagers on Reddit forums calling foreign footballers a bunch of farmers.
The faint whiff of Imperialism notwithstanding, this notion that a player’s career can only truly be validated by coming here, by proving it in Britain, undeniably remains. Richard Keys demonstrated such on his blog last September, questioning Everton’s signing of James Rodriguez as the player is not “top drawer”. The tiresome adage was then dusted off – “I wouldn’t fancy him at Stoke on a wet Tuesday evening”. And then, for good measure, Keys recommended the signing of Troy Deeney, as he’s “a proper bloke”.
That’s ex-La Liga Team of the Season, World Cup 2014 Golden Boot winning, over 100 appearances for Real Madrid James Rodriguez. Not a proper bloke. The centrifugal logic of some British pundits is frightening.
It’s true, at this point in time, the Premier League does lead the way. The Sky money that came gushing in in 1992, the litany of oligarch owners that now populate the league and the current monopoly on elite managers have all contributed. It’s important to remember, though, that football is cyclical and success comes in waves. In the antediluvian days of Pre-Rupert Murdoch English football had its own agrarian phases, and inevitably they will come again. In the meantime, we’d be wise to ditch the Little-Englander ideology, and show our fellow farmers a bit of love.