1. A large tent, often with open sides, used chiefly for outdoor entertainment.
2. A roof like structure, often bearing a signboard, projecting over an entrance, as to a theatre or hotel. Also called marquise.
adj. Exceptionally popular or skilled: The team is hoping to sign a marquee player.
The origin of the term ‘marquee signing’ in football parlance is shrouded in mystery. It’s long been an accepted idiom of the game through silent acquiescence, so much so that it has now forced its way onto online dictionaries. A cursory search of the word marquee now lists it as both a noun and an adjective, the latter specifically existing to describe someone “exceptionally popular or skilled.”
When people consider the word ‘marquee’ they often think of the grand tents set up as shelters for summer events, predominantly shows, weddings and festivals. When the word marquee is bandied around you know the event is taking itself seriously and it’s pulling out all the stops. But it’s the other meaning of marquee that the sporting world has adopted.
It’s the marquee sign that is commonly placed over the entrances to hotels and theatres, which advertises the name of the venue in flashing lights. Its intention is to stand out, to serve as a physical and aesthetic landmark that separates that venue from its competition. When put in those terms its transfer to footballing jargon is more understandable but no less wholly regrettable and absurd.
Before continuing it is perhaps worth exploring the three stipulations that might make a new signing marquee:
1 – The exchanging of a large amount of money for a prime asset; upwards of £30million in old money but now likely to exceed £50m. Not, however, the defining feature of a marquee signing.
2 – The context and significance of the signing; a wider acceptance that this signing will raise the club’s appeal and ability to compete to another level.
3 – The bandwagon that develops around the new signing from within the club and its supporters; an intrinsic belief that this new signing is a game changer for the club.
So how and why did this begin? How did this clumsy piece of vernacular bludgeon its way into everyday discourse, and why has its rise gone relatively unchecked and unnoticed for so long now? Message boards, online forums and social media are awash with keyboard warriors banging the drum of the marquee signing.
So widespread has it become that the average fan no longer seeks a big summer signing, they seek a marquee signing. Journalists openly refer to them, and managers openly state that they want marquee signings. No one questions this state of affairs, instead they blindly go along with it. In Rugby League, Super League clubs have just voted for a new marquee player rule, with the term marquee specifically included in the proposal.
What does your club need this summer? A clearer pathway from the academy to the first team? A more coherent back-room structure with all directors working toward the same, clearly defined end-goal? A focus on training ground routines and improvement of the first team squad? Nah, fuck the strategy, let’s have us a marquee signing.
While it’s a completely insane way of describing a big football transfer, the prevalence of the word and its connotations with grandiosity hint at a worrying trend in the psyche of football fans. It has come to dominate transfer talk, transfer talk that remains on a continual 12 month loop and ratchets up to nauseating levels during the fallow summer months with no actual football to distract us.
The fascination with the marquee signing has distorted everything about football. Pre-seasons used to be a laugh, a chance to unwind and take some time out. A chance for football clubs to spread their wings, experience foreign climes, go cycling in the Alps and hiking in the Pyrenees; forget about football, essentially.
Now it’s all money-spinning post-season tours followed by pre-season tours. The endless cycle of round-the-clock football fed by the insatiable desire to see your club spending money has led to the glorification of transfer windows. The idea that fixing things with lots of money is the shortcut to success has become unconsciously ingrained; a short-term quick-fire solution by papering over the cracks rather than surgically addressing the root of the problem.
We’re doing football wrong. Marquee signings need to be put in the bin before it’s too late.
Is James right? Is ‘marquee’ a dirty word? Or is he old before his time, an obstinate stick-in-the-mud who can’t keep up? Let us know. [email protected]
You can follow James Dutton on Twitter (@JRGDutton)