Tag Archives: AFC Wimbledon

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.

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Why the Big Bash won’t work in England

One of the good things about January – and there are few – is to wake up in the morning and find there is live sport on TV. This is because January is “Australia month” with live sport from Down Under – which is 11 hours ahead of us – on UK TV. Apart from the Australian Open one of the main highlights has been the Big Bash League (BBL) Australia’s domestic 20 20 cricket competition which has provided great entertainment and which has had much higher crowds than its English equivalent the T 20 Blast. Critics both here and Australia say the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) should try and emulate the BBL but the facts are that this is that this is impossible to do.
First of all the biggest advantage Australia has over the UK is its climate. Anybody who watches Wimbledon will know the UK summer can produce very hot sunshine (1976 for example) or very heavy rain (1997 which was so bad the first round was still being played on day six) or something in between. An extreme example was 1975 when on June 2nd parts of the UK saw snow. Buxton in Derbyshire – which is at altitude – saw an inch of snow. The fact is the UK climate is totally unpredictable and would hinder any attempt to emulate the BBL here.
Another problem is that the BBL is a city-based franchise event while in the UK cricket is county based. A lot of people would like the ECB to bring city based franchises to the UK but it just won’t work. First of all most of Australia’s population lives in or near cities while most of the UK’s does not. And the cities are losing population. One way to measure this is the number of MPs each city elects to Parliament (which is based on population. If population goes up a city gets more MPs when the boundaries are reviewed. If population goes down it gets less MPs.) At the 1955 General Election the five biggest cities in England (London, Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester) elected 103, 13, 6, 9 and 9 MPs respectively. At this year’s General Election London will elect 77, Birmingham 9, Leeds 5, Liverpool 4 and Manchester 3 – reflecting the fact that in the last 60 years the population movement has been from city to suburb. City teams will disenfranchise most of the population. And as for franchises – in the UK it is a no-no. The one US style movement of a sports team in a major UK sport proves this. In 2004 Wimbledon Football Club moved to the new town of Milton Keynes. It caused so much uproar Wimbledon fans formed their own team – AFC Wimbledon – which has done very well and is now just one division below the Milton Keynes Dons who are one of the most hated teams in the UK. No one will dare do that again.
The other difference between England and Australia is that cricket is the most popular sport in Australia. Admittedly that is by default. Football is more popular but their fans are split between four codes – soccer, rugby union, rugby league and Australian Rules football – and as each of them has its own “heartland” it means that in Australia cricket is the only sport that unites the country. In the UK soccer is by far the most popular sport so it gets the publicity and the money cricket gets in Australia.
And that is why the BBL is on free to air (FTA) TV in Australia while its UK equivalent is on Sky – a pay TV channel. FTA channels do not like sport unless it is a huge event like the Football World Cup or the Olympic Games. Cricket is not popular enough to be on a UK FTA prime time scene dominated by soap operas and reality TV shows – however much some people in cricket wish it could happen they have to face reality.
That doesn’t mean we can’t learn things from Australia. Since T 20 cricket is aimed at attracting schoolchildren to the sport it should be played when the schools are on holiday – in England’s case late July/August. To have a sport aimed at children being played when they are at school is nonsense. Also the ECB needs to look at prices. If a family of four wanted to watch a BBL game in Melbourne it would cost them $AUS 42.50 (or £22.69 in UK money). To watch a T20 Blast match in Leeds it would set the same family back £74. The counties should regard T 20 as a “loss leader” not a “cash cow”. As they are all subsidised by the ECB they don’t have to make money anyway so why not make it cheap for a family with children to watch like they do in Australia?
If I was running T 20 here it would be played in late July/August with the 18 teams split into three groups of six playing four teams once and their local rivals twice -making it six games per team plus Quarter Finals Semi Finals and a best of three Final. I would get rid of Finals Day – the day where the Semi Finals and Final are played. It goes on far too long – from 11am to 10 pm – for the attention span of children – who as I keep saying are T 20s main audience.
While England’s T 20 will never be as popular as the BBL it could definitely do better than it has done. It is time – to quote former UK Prime Minister John Major – to “go back to basics”. The format I’m proposing is more or less what it was when T 20 launched so successfully back in 2003. But the counties got greedy and have paid the price. Going back to few matches in a short window is T 20s beat chance of being popular here. Everywhere else in the world does it this way. Why can’t we in England?