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Soccer: An International Game

Something very odd is happening to our national game, which we call football but you call soccer. It's being bought up by Americans. The way things are going, even we'll be calling it soccer soon.

This week a fourth premier league club - that's the top rank of the game here - has just fallen into the hands of a group of investors from your side of the pond. Derby County was acquired by General Sports and Entertainment. The question is: Why Derby? Why buy a club which is bottom of the table and just about certain to be relegated to a lower league?

Perhaps the buyers were confused by the name. So let's put that right to begin with. Derby County does not mean they have bought the County of Derbyshire; and it's nothing to do with our prestigious Derby horse race.

Well it has happened before, although it might be an urban myth, but the story goes that in 1968 an American bought the old London Bridge across the River Thames for 2.5 million dollars, thinking it was the much more impressive Tower Bridge.

I don't suppose it makes much difference if you are going to put the thing in Arizona, but Londoners enjoy the story. But I suspect General Sports and Entertainment do know precisely what they have bought. They have bought an entry ticket into one of the richest sports leagues in the world.

Malcolm Glazer, American owner of Tampa Bay Buccaneers, has already taken over Britain's biggest club Manchester United. Two more Americans with stakes in the NHL have bought up Liverpool, another world famous soccer name. In both cases, they financed the deals by plunging their bewildered new British acquisitions into oodles of debt.

American Randy Lerner, the man behind the Cleveland Browns, now owns a smaller soccer team here called Aston Villa. He broke the pattern by using his own money - 125 million dollars of it. They all bought in not because they just love owning a chunk of little old Britian, but because they saw that owners of soccer clubs in this country can make big money.

So can the players of course, which is why you hardly see a British player on the field in some games these days. Many of the best players in the world now play for British teams, but few of them are actually British. And of course many of the best coaches in the world are also here, but most of them aren't British.

So now we have a national game to be proud of - a game where nearly all the top players are foreign, in which the clubs are owned by foreigners and coached by foreigners. Our only contribution to the process is that we pay a fortune to watch them every week. So bear this in mind before you come over here with your bulging wallets - whatever you think you're buying up, it's not British.
By Peter Allen