Last on MOTD: Supermarket sweep

IT was Chadwell Heath’s finest export, Jessie J, who once told us: “Forget about the price tag.” (And before you argue: Dudley Moore was from Dagenham.) I’m guessing Jessie must have had a traumatic experience trying to find a cheap carton of orange juice at Tesco.

As Laurie Anderson never said: Oh, supermarkets. I do all my food shopping in them, but they don’t half get on my nerves. Take Sainsbury’s for instance. At the moment, they are trying to get planning permission for a 35,000 sq ft store slap bang in the middle of one of the busiest parts of Penwortham, the Lancashire town where I grew up.

There is absolutely no need for a supermarket there. Firstly, it will create traffic chaos in a part of town that is already a traffic nightmare at rush hour. Secondly, it will threaten the many small shops nearby. Thirdly, there’s already a Sainsbury’s about 20 minutes’ walk away.

“The new store will create jobs,” trill a series of Sainsbury’s spokesbastards to the local paper. Yes, perhaps even as many jobs as it destroys.

In response to the argument that the store will create traffic jams so hellish that drivers will only enter the are if armed with a full Thermos flask a week’s supply of Kendal mint cake, Sainsbury’s have pledged to widen a nearby road. Because if there’s one thing a traffic bottleneck needs in addition to a new supermarket, it’s extensive roadworks.

But the new store will probably still get built, because they usually do in the end. And people will flock there, and the nearby shops will close, and in a few years’ time someone will write a blog post or a letter to the local paper moaning that there’s no sense of community any more.

Someone like me.

I live in south Manchester. Within 10 minutes’ walk of my house, there are two Co-op stores and a Tesco Express. I’ve got another two big Tesco stores within five minutes’ drive. And I’m less than 20 minutes in the car from an Asda so big that it should have its own postcode. I have more supermarkets on my doorstep than I could possibly need. And it’s me – among others – who is keeping them all in business.

While popping from big Tesco to little Tesco to another big Tesco, I started to notice something. I could buy the same product for different prices in different Tesco outlets. The Tesco Express stores – the ones that have driven local convenience shops towards extinction – are the most expensive, as you’d perhaps expect. But prices differ even from one big Tesco to another.

So a carton of orange juice at Tesco in Didsbury (which is a very well-to-do part of Manchester) costs more than the same carton at Tesco in Gorton (which isn’t).

This is, apparently, part of a strategy called ‘price flexing’, which helps big supermarket chains wear down the local competition. And it taught me this: The price you pay for something need not bear any relation whatsoever to its quality. This is worth bearing in mind the next time someone shouts ‘What a waste of money’ at Fernando Torres.

Last on MOTD: Norwich 0 Chelsea 0
Commentator: Guy Mowbray

Some more thoughts on shopping: I remember, some time around 1994, going into a high-street sports store in central Preston and being able, if I wished, to buy a Notts County away shirt. (It was the tartan one they wore on their way to relegation from what is now the Championship.)

Here’s a sign, perhaps, of how much shopping habits have changed in 18 years since. I could still buy that 1994 Notts County away shirt on the internet today if I wanted to. (It’s on sale here. Look!) But my chances of walking into a high-street sportswear store and finding the current replica kit of a struggling Championship side based nearly 100 miles away are next to zero.

Sure, I can walk in off the street and pick up Brazil shirts and Barcelona shirts and Holland shirts and Manchester United shirts and anything else from Nike’s top-level range. But I’d struggle to find a Norwich City replica shirt in any sports retail store outside Norfolk. That’s Norwich City, who are ninth in the Premier League.

Chelsea are only five places higher. But you can buy their shirts on just about any high street in the country. Given the effect the shirt seems to have had on Torres, it’s a wonder any get sold these days.

“The Torres in red would have put that into the net first time,” said Match of the Day’s Guy Mowbray as the not-at-all-prolific striker took two touches before whizzing a chance wide from 10 yards against a team who hadn’t kept a clean sheet all season.

It does seem as if a Chelsea shirt is to Torres what Kryptonite is to Superman, or ITV to Adrian Chiles. It should be pointed out, though, that the striker is not the only party to suffer following his exit from Anfield. Indeed, Liverpool have since shown themselves to be so reliant on Luis Suarez that the whole club allowed themselves to attract near-universal condemnation just to show their misguided support for him.

Much of the criticism of Torres surrounds the fact that he cost so much. Well, perhaps it’s easier to laugh at his goal record (he’s scored fewer times over the last three months than Everton keeper Tim Howard) than it is to question how Roman Abramovich came to acquire enough money to be able to blow £50m on a striker in the first place.

You see, £50m is an unimaginable amount of money to us. (Well, it is to me. If you feel differently, all I will say is: Can I have a go on your yacht?) It’s a significant sum to Abramovich, but it’s a sum he can afford to lose.

There’s another question to be asked here, especially at a time when Darlington are in danger of going the same way as the local convenience store. What sort of game has English football become whereby clubs can only compete at the top level if run by the sort of person who can afford to blow £50m?

Torres has been a flop at Chelsea, but he was a gamble the owner could afford to take. His signing was never going to drive the club out of business, even if he didn’t score a single goal.

My point is this: If Torres had cost £2m, would he have been seen as a waste of money? In the Premier League, probably not. You see, Jessie J, it really is all about the price tag – even if, to a man of Abramovich’s wealth, Torres is arguably no more a waste of money than buying a carton of orange juice from Tesco Express instead of Lidl.

Gubbometer 2011/12

1. Fulham: 5 (2L: 1, 3L: 2)
2. West Brom: 4 (2L: 4, 3L: 4)
3. Aston Villa: 4 (2L: 4, 3L: 3)
4. Norwich: 4 (2L: 3, 3L: 2)
5. QPR: 4 (2L: 1, 3L: 1)
6. Swansea: 3 (2L: 4, 3L: 4)
7. Sunderland: 3 (2L: 4, 3L: 0)
8: Wolves: 3 (2L: 2, 3L: 4)
9. Stoke: 3 (2L: 1, 3L: 4)
10: Liverpool: 3 (2L: 1, 3L: 3)
11. Wigan: 2 (2L: 6, 3L: 4)
12. Blackburn: 2 (2L: 2, 3L: 3)
13. Tottenham: 2 (2L: 1, 3L: 0)
14. Newcastle: 2 (2L: 0, 3L: 0)
15. Bolton: 1 (2L: 3, 3L: 4)
16. Chelsea: 1 (2L: 0, 3L: 3)
17. Everton: 0 (2L: 5, 3L: 4)
18. Arsenal: 0 (2L: 2, 3L: 1)
19. Manchester United: 0 (2L: 1, 3L: 0)
20. Manchester City: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 1)

2L = On second last (Sunderland 2 Swansea 0)
3L = On third last (Stoke 1 West Brom 2)

(Teams receive one point every time they are last on MOTD. Teams level are separated by the number of times they are on second last, then by the number of times they are on third last. MOTD2 not included.)

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