Why international football is becoming a nuisance

This is a fortnight where the most boring event of the football season takes place the international break. The two words “international” and “break” are the most depressing combination of words – apart from “Donald” and “Trump” and “Vince” and “Russo” – that the English language can produce. The Premier League season has just got started we’re getting used to the new players and managers we’ve had the Champions League draw – and no we go to sleep for a fortnight. International breaks are so boring. And I’ve got a plan to get rid of them and I’ll get to that later.

If the boredom that the international break was the only problem international football causes that would be bad enough. But it is now causing another abomination that started last night. Namely the  Checkatrade Trophy (what a terrible name!). But that is not the Trophy’s only problem. The competition used to be for League 1 and 2 (3rd and 4th tier) clubs and gave them their most realistic chance of a Wembley Cup Final appearance*. The Football League (FL) in their infinite (lack of) wisdom decided to include Academy teams of Premier League (PL) clubs. But the plan has not gone well to put it mildly. First of all Liverpool, Arsenal,the two Manchester clubs and Tottenham wanted nothing to do with it meaning that Academies from Championship (second tier) sides were put in to make up the numbers. Secondly the fans of lower division clubs did not approve of the idea (to put it mildly). Last night the hashtag B team Boycott was trending on Twitter and attendances were tiny – 392 at Fleetwood, 461 at Wimbledon and 585 at Accrington for example. And to show how seriously clubs took it Wycombe manager Gareth Ainsworth – who is aged 43 and retired three years ago – named himself as substitute for his club’s game against Northampton and came on. Exeter manager Paul Tisdale named himself as an unused substitute and three teams had 15 year olds in their squads one of whom – Luton – had to ask permission of Connor Tomlinson’s headmaster to let him play (in my opinion the headmaster should have refused. As I wrote in a previous post “Hey football! Leave Them Kids Alone!” 15 year olds should not be at professional clubs anyway).

So if the fans don’t want this tournament in this format and the clubs are so disinterested they are filling their squads with 43 year old managers and schoolchildren why on earth does it exist in its current form? This is where international football is to blame. The practice of top division Academy/B teams has been borrowed from Spain where B teams of top division clubs play in the lower divisions. They can go as far as the second tier but cannot be promoted to the top division even if they finish in the promotion spots (which Atletico Madrid’s B team did in 1998-99). Now because Spain won three international trophies in a row between 2008 and 2012 the English authorities have got into their heads that Spain are doing something right so they want to copy Spain thinking it will improve the England team. Conveniently forgetting that before 2008 Spain had won nothing for 44 years and even botched their own World Cup in 1982. Secondly the authorities don’t realise that most football fans -at whatever level of the game – prefer their own clubs to the national team. I don’t think fans should be forced to see their team play Premier League Academy teams or go through yawn inducing breaks or lose their top players just to prop up a form of the game that is inferior to club football-as Euro 2016 proved – and is discriminatory because your chances of winning at international level depends on a lottery of birth which is not fair.

In my ideal world men’s international football would cease to exist. But since we are not in an ideal world we should allow the clubs to play on Saturday, the national team on Wednesday and the clubs on the next Saturday. And there is an easy solution. The European qualifying process for the 2018 World Cup consists of nine six team groups. The group winners qualify while the eight best runners up go into four playoffs for four more places. Why not have thirteen groups of four teams with the winners qualifying?  It would mean countries playing six qualifiers instead of ten (or twelve in the case of play offs.) It would simplify the qualifying process as only group winners would qualify. With fewer games then you could play them midweek or in the summer – as was done in Britain until the Qualifiers for the 1994 World Cup – you could get rid of yawn inducing international breaks. 

Getting rid of the Checkatrade Trophy in its current form and the international break might not please the FA and FIFA – who have a vested interest in international football as it maintains their power – but most football fans prefer club football and they should not have to put up with the Checkatrade Trophy in its current form or boring international breaks on the (unlikely) chance it helps a team they don’t give a toss about be able to beat Iceland in a last sixteen game in a future international tournament. 

*However fourth teir team Bradford City did get to the League Cup Final in 2013. 

**Originally there were seven groups of six and two groups of five but Gibraltar and Kosovo were added to the tournament after the draw was made. Ludicrous. They joined FIFA too late and should not be allowed to take part – especially Gibraltar which is not even an independent country and will only get hammered anyway.

Stick to your season

Time was that in August the only international cricket that was played was in England. All the other Test countries – mainly in the southern hemisphere – were in winter hibernation unless they were touring England.

That started to change in 1992 when Sri Lanka – where the climate was suitable for cricket most of the year – hosted Australia in August. The main reason they did that was the traditional winter months of November to March were overcrowded and countries found it hard to fit in tours to Sri Lanka in that time. For a long while after 1992 Sri Lanka hosted Test series in August and September but they were the only other country to do so (apart from England obviously).

But that has totally changed. This August – apart from England v Pakistan and Sri Lanka v Australia – there have been Test series in Zimbabwe (v New Zealand), West Indies (v India) and South Africa (v New Zealand). Of the ten Test teams only Bangladesh have not been in action this month. To think that twenty five years ago in 1991 the only Test teams that were in action where England, West Indies and Sri Lanka and the only country that Test cricket was played in was England! 

But there are consequences of doing this. This past week saw Test matches scheduled between West Indies and India in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and between South Africa and New Zealand in Durban. Both Tests were the first played in these cities in August and both were total disasters. In Port-of-Spain only 22 overs were bowled-all on the first day – while in Durban only 99.4 overs were bowled-all in the first two days. So combined the two Tests lasted for 121.4 overs – lees than two days – and seven of the ten scheduled days were completely washed out. A total mess.

And an avoidable mess. The game in Port-of-Spain was arranged for Trinidad’s rainy season. So is anyone surprised when it rained? And although Durban has below average rainfall in winter the numbskulls that run South African cricket obviously don’t know that when it does rain in winter it is heavier than in summer. An example : Between 1899 and 2007 there were 135 floods at Worcestershire’s New Road ground – which is on the banks of the River Severn – but only nine occurred during the prime cricket months of May to August. And sure enough Durban was hit by record floods in late July and the wet weather continued into early August.

And another problem with playing out of season is that the grounds are not prepared for rain because they usually play in the summer where there is less of it. In Durban’s case the outfield was relaid recently which made the outfield soft and harder to dry. It was relaid at the end of May after the Comrades Marathon – soon enough if the cricket season stuck to its normal time but too late for a Test starting in August. This meant although there was no rain after overnight on the second day the combination of a soft wet outfield and a weak sun – again Cricket South Africa should know the sun is weaker in winter meaning it takes longer to get rid of water – meant that despite three dry days the outfield could not dry and the Test limped to a watery grave.

And the same thing happened in Port-of-Spain. Again a spell of rain again the outfield could not cope. Again the reason is the people that run the ground are not used to rain since they usually play in the summer when it doesn’t rain so when they were moved to what is normally the off season they were not prepared for it. The rain in Durban and Port-of-Spain is mother nature’s way of telling cricket to stick to its season. 

There is another reason not to play in your off season. The public is not interested. The attendances in both Durban and Port-of-Spain were tiny. Hardly surprising considering cricket was competing with the Rio Olympics where both the West Indies (Jamaicans Usain Bolt and Elaine Thompson) and South Africa (Wayde van Niekerk and Caster Semenya) had significant athletic successes and in South Africa’s case the start of the Rugby Championship featuring the Springboks, the Wallabies, the All Blacks and Argentina – a big deal in rugby mad South Africa. The public were not ready for cricket. Again the authorities should know this. When Australia tried playing winter Tests in 2003 and 2004 the public didn’t want them and the attendances were tiny so Australia had the sense to abandon them and go back to playing in summer.

The fact is cricket has an off season for a reason. In most countries the weather in August is simply not suitable for cricket. Playing cricket in South Africa and West Indies in August is about as sensible as playing baseball at Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium in January. The weather and the attendances in Durban and Port-of-Spain should convince the cricket authorities in both countries that off season cricket is a disaster. Cricket has been a summer sport throughout its existence. It needs to stay that way. It needs to stick to its season.

Too many sports? 

So today the “Greatest Show on Earth” the 2016 Olympics start in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. The Opening ceremony is tonight and tomorrow the sport begins*. Over the next 16 days the athletes will be competing for 306 titles in 28 sports (up from 302 titles in 26 sports in London 2012 with the addition of golf and rugby sevens – I’ll get to them). Now you might think 28 sports are too many but guess what? The International Olympic Committee (IOC) don’t agree. 

On Wednesday the IOC announced that five new – well four new and one returning sport – will be added to the Olympic programme. Baseball/softball (the only sports that have been in the Olympics before from 1992-2008), Karate, Surfing. Skateboarding and Sport Climbing will all join the Olympic party in Tokyo in 2020. Between them the new/returning sports will bring 18 more events and hundreds more athletes to the Games. They will not replace any of the existing sports. 

That is not really a surprise as before baseball and softball were voted out in 2005 the last sport to lose Olympic status was polo which was last an Olympic sport in 1936. The Olympics are a bit like what critics say about the England cricket team. It is hard for a sport to get into but even harder to get out of.

Now you might think a baseball fan I would be pleased that baseball is back in the Olympics. Well no actually. The reason is the same reason that I don’t think men’s football should be in (see previous post “Olympic football. Women yes men no”). The best baseball players will not be there as unlike the NBA in men’s basketball (which is in its off season during the Olympics) or the WNBA in women’s basketball (which plays in the NBA off season and takes an Olympic break) the MLB players won’t be there as the 162 game season is too long to take a break (and in any case if the 2020 Olympics are held at the same time of the year that the last Tokyo Olympics were in 1964 – October – that means it will be in the postseason and no franchise would release their star players in that scenario). So while I would love to see Texas Rangers star pitcher Yu Darvish pitch for Japan in his own country it will not happen. And in my opinion unless a sport makes its best players available it should not be in the Olympics. 

Softball I have a different problem with. Namely that it exists at all. No I don’t think the sport should be banned it should be rebranded as women’s baseball. Which as it uses bases, balls and strikes and the aim is to score runs it is. Rebrand it as women’s baseball give it the same rules as it’s “big brother” – same size ball, same style of pitching, same distance between bases for example –  and I would have no problem with it.

Of the other sports Karate, Surfing, Skateboarding,  and Sport Climbing I have no problem with them assuming that they have women’s events too. Except that with thirty three sports there are too many. So what sports would I replace?

Just to be controversial I wouldn’t replace any. But what I would do is get rid of the male halves of sports where the Olympics is not the pinnacle of the calendar but the women’s event is. Three examples of this are football basketball and baseball where for the men it is not the most important event but for the women it is. And the main example of this is the most controversial of the two new sports in 2016. 

The appearance of golf in Rio might be a success. But it has had a rotten build up. Fourteen male golfers – including all of the world’s top four – have withdrawn from the games. Ostensibly this is because of the Zika virus but it is funny that hardly any athletes from other sports have withdrawn. Even US goalkeeper Hope Solo – who thought of pulling out – has turned up although she copped a barrage of abuse from Brazilian fans on Wednesday.  And all the elite women golfers have turned up. 

Which could lead to a major injustice. While golf’s place in Tokyo is secure who could blame the IOC if they voted out a sport whose star players clearly don’t give a toss. At least the male star players don’t. But the women do.  For women’s golf the Olympics are the pinnacle. Why should innocent female golfers pay the price for the arrogant selfishness of their male counterparts? 

Answer : They shouldn’t. So if I ran the Olympics I would say that every sport must have a women’s event but does not to have a men’s event. There is a precedent for this. There are two disciplines that are already women only – rhythmic gymnastics and synchronised swimming – so why shouldn’t there be more? 

So while there are too many athletes at the Olympics I would not cut any sports. Instead I would cut out the men’s events in sports where for the men the Olympics are not the pinnacle but for the women they are. That means no men’s baseball, basketball, football, golf or rugby. 

This idea of mine has two advantages. It cuts down the number of athletes without cutting down the number of female athletes. It would reduce the gap between the number of male and female athletes (in London there were 10768 athletes taking part 5992 (55.6 per cent) were male and 4778 (44.4 per cent) were female). Maybe getting rid of male events where the Olympics are not the pinnacle will lead to gender equality at the Olympics. And isn’t that what everyone wants? 

*Typical of football’s arrogance the football events started on Wednesday (women) and Thursday (men).

How I would have booked the opening segment of Monday’s RAW

As anybody who watches WWE’s flagship show Monday Night RAW will know it used until fairly recently be a joke that the show always opened with mind numbingly dull promos by the Authority – Triple H and his wife Stephanie McMahon. To be fair that tradition has declined recently and this past Monday saw something different with the show being opened by new women’s Champion Sasha Banks who was then interrupted by the woman who she took the title off Charlotte. Ah great WWE are trusting the women to open RAW and showing respect for their female competitors. The “New Era” really was here….

Er no. The women were interrupted by a man – Chris Jericho – for some reason. He bad-mouthed Banks (telling her to be “quiet”). Banks then got rescued by another man Enzo Amore who seemed to imply he wanted sex with her. RAW General Manager Mick Foley interrupted this farce and for some reason booked a mixed tag between Charlotte/Jericho and Banks/Amore. A mixed tag means it can only be man v man and woman v woman. Now mixed sport does not in my opinion work (as I wrote in previous post “Mixed Troubles” it does not work in tennis so it will not work in another sport). Basically the segment was rubbish and was only used to further a men’s feud between Jericho and guest commentator for the mixed tag Kevin Owens and Amore and his partner Big Cass. Yes the women were used only to further a male feud. It was sleazy and sexist and I can do it better. Well anyone with a brain could….

Assuming that the aim was to use the women to further a male feud here is how I would have done it. First of all I would not change the Sasha/Charlotte part of the segment. But instead of Jericho entering the ring I would have had Charlotte’s henchwoman Dana Brooke attack Sasha from behind and then Charlotte and Dana would double team Sasha… until Summer Rae* came to Sasha’s rescue (remember Sasha and Summer Rae were former allies in the BFFs on NXT so the story makes sense). Foley interrupts but instead of the mixed tag he would set up a women’s tag between Charlotte and Dana and Sasha and Summer Rae

Since Summer Rae and Brooke are not at the same level as Sasha and Charlotte the last two would carry the match in a mini version of their match from the previous week. The finish would however come when Charlotte and Sasha start fighting each other outside the ring leading to Brooke pinning Summer Rae. This stops Sasha being pinned which happened in the real match which fans disapproved of.

OK if you want to involve the men here is how you do it. Have a backstage skit where Jericho and Amore are watching the women’s match. After this match the following conversation would take place.

Enzo tells Jericho what an amazing match Charlotte and Sasha had last week. Jericho agrees saying the women are far improved from his earlier time in the WWE (true). Amore says that he saw how good these women were in NXT so it did not surprise him and he was glad he didn’t have to wrestle them. Jericho says that he has wrestled women before and he’s been there done that(again true).. He then tells Amore the reason that he does not want to wrestle the women is that Charlotte would have him tapping out like a baby to the figure eight. Amore retaliates by saying to Jericho that he can talk because Sasha would have him tapping out like a baby to the Bank Statement. An enraged Jericho can’t take this anymore slaps Amore the two men brawl and then as usual a number of oficals try to separate them. After they eventually succeed Amore shouts to Jericho that he has a partner (Big Cass who was not at RAW on Monday) and Jericho hasn’t. He challenges Jericho to a tag team match but adds that he won’t be able to find a partner as everyone will remember he dumped his last one (AJ Styles earlier in the year).

From there you could have Jericho asking various wresters to be his partner but they turn him down. Then later in the night you could have Jericho in a match (against the Big Show say) where he is being overpowered. Kevin Owens steps in and beats up Big Show and voilà Jericho has Owens as a partner to fight against Enzo and Cass either in a future RAW or at SummerSlam later this month – just like in the real show.

Where this improves on the opening segment of Monday’s RAW is that the women don’t get interrupted and overshadowed by the men and you don’t get the sexist innuendo from Amore to Banks. Nor do you get the mixed tag match which is too artificial since you can’t mix the sexes. You also have a couple of men boosting the women’s division by praising the women saying how good they are and that they are scared to wrestle the women. It benefits the women and puts them “over” with the crowd and would have been far better than what the WWE actually came up with.

*I would actually have booked Paige who has made as many appearances on RAW lately as Lord Lucan but the British woman is injured.