The Run of Play is a blog about
the wonder and terror of soccer.
We left the window open during a match in October 2007 and a strange wind blew into the room.
Now we walk the forgotten byways of football with a lonely tread, searching for the beautiful, the bewildering, the haunting, and the absurd.
The Southgate Parallel is an attempt to quantify the subjective sense of belonging that accrues around a team over time, and that changes slowly, in response to a mystifying range of factors. It’s based on the assumption that there is an ineffable but shared perception of each well-known team’s “real level”: to take the Premier League as an example, we sense that there are teams that definitely belong in the top flight, while other teams survive there, or not, only by accident and desperation.
The difficulties of enumerating all the elements that contribute to a team’s aura of cultural prestige—recent success, historical success, age, finance, size and quality of fan base, player popularity, kit design—shouldn’t preclude our attempting to define a precise hierarchy of clubs based on our own vague apprehensions. You could make Southgate Rankings for any range of participants and quality levels for which definitive belonging could function as a criterion—SgR for greatest living dinosaur hunters, for instance, would seek to determine which living dinosaur hunters were numinously felt to belong in the category of greatness—but for the present I’ve stuck with English clubs in or near the Barclays Premier League.
The table below contains a list of the 24 clubs that either played in the Premier League last season, will do so next season, or still have a chance to do so depending on the outcome of the Championship playoff. In the middle of the table is a red line: the Southgate Parallel. The teams above this line are the teams that, whatever their recent history, are felt, in a way that could almost be called spiritual, to definitely belong in the league. The teams below are not. Teams can rise above or fall below the line over time, but only based on a change in general social perception—losing by itself can’t affect a team’s position unless it lifts away the vapor of their ghostly, indefinable prestige. The line itself can move, too.
SgR fact: The Southgate Ranking number (SgR) indicates how near or far the team is to the Southgate Parallel. Thus Man Utd, the top team in England, have an SgR of +13, indicating that they are 13 spots above the line of mere belonging. Birmingham, by contrast, have an SgR of -6, indicating that they are six spots below the same line.
The rankings take their name from Gareth Southgate, the manager of the second-to-last team in over the line, who I suspect is the SgR1 top-flight boss in England (at least in terms of job security).
Since the SgR concept is so new, I’m offering this as a provisional list. (I threw it together without thinking too much, since excessive thinking can numb your connection to the field of collective apprehension on which SgR depends.) If you think a team should be moved, I’m willing to listen to your reasons.
Provisional Southgate Rankings, May 2008
|-7||West Brom||+||Ch. 1|
|-8||Stoke City||+||Ch. 2|
|-10||Bristol City||+||Ch. 4|
|LPos=League Position +=Improving -=Declining /=Static|
by Brian Phillips · May 16, 2008