Tag Archives: Champions League

Put the League Cup out of its misery

People in English football are getting concerned about the diminished status of the FA Cup. This was shown last Sunday when Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini fielded a very weakened team in the fifth round – against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Not surprisingly his team of youngsters got hammered 5-1 much to the disappointed of the BBC TV audience. Pellegrini picked this team because he wanted to prioritise the Champions League tie against Dynamo Kiev on Wednesday and the League Cup Final against Liverpool tomorrow. People have suggested scrapping replays, offering the winner of the Cup a place in the Champions League (whether or not UEFA would allow that is highly debatable) or “rigging” the draw so that if a lower division club drew a Premier League team it would automatically have home advantage). But there is a simple solution staring every one in the face – scrap the League Cup.

The League Cup has existed for 55 years which is a long time for a bad idea to last even by the standards of UK sport. The competition was called “Hardaker’s folly” after the man who proposed it Football League Secretary Alan Hardaker. Hardaker was anti Europe* –  in 1955 he browbeat English Champions Chelsea into snubbing the first European Cup – and saw the new competition as an alternative to European Football. But the Times Newspaper (May 30th 1960) called the League Cup “useless”.  At the start the League Cup was not popular. Plenty of First Division clubs refused to enter and in its first season the Cup’s average attendance was 10,556 barely more than the average third division attendance.

The League Cup might have died a death but two events saved it. In 1967 the League Cup Final was moved to Wembley and UEFA inexplicably offered the winners a place in the UEFA Cup. Only then did all 92 Football League clubs enter the competition but it was never as highly regarded as the FA Cup or European competitions. Examples : No third division club has ever even reached the FA Cup Final. Two third division clubs have won the League Cup (QPR 1967, Swindon 1969) and two Fourth tier clubs have reached the Final (Rochdale 1962, Bradford as recently as 2013). No fourth tier team has even reached the FA Cup Semi Finals. In 1974-75 not one top division club reached even the Semi Finals. Admittedly (see earlier post) 1974-75 was a bit of a “silly season” and two of the Semi Finalists were Manchester United and Aston Villa who are usually top division clubs while another of the quartet Norwich City are a current Premier League club. Only fourth division Chester were real minnows. But still it doesn’t say much for the competition that there was a season where no top division club got to the Semi Finals.

The ridiculous thing about the Football League Cup is that the Premier League clubs are not members of the Football League so they really should not be in it. The big clubs have been fielding reserve teams since at least 1994 where Manchester United fielded young unkowns like Beckham, Neville, Butt and Scholes at Port Vale. Port Vale fans were so angry they wrote to the local paper saying that United should refund fan’s admission money and MP Joan Walley even got involved! United had the last laugh – they won the game 2-1 and the four players mentioned became superstars – but it showed how little the competition was regarded.

Getting rid of the League Cup would have the advantage of freeing up five midweeks. The three rounds of midweek games played in January, February and March could be moved to September, October and November. That would free up five midweeks for FA Cup Replays, rest or even to allow England manager Roy Hodgson to hold a couple of midweek training camps. Incidentally if UEFA staged the last sixteen of the Champions League over two weeks instead of four that would free up another couple of weeks. Hopefully if UEFA get a new President he has the sense to do it.

I suspect if the League Cup did not exist it would not be invented now. Of all the countries in Europe outside the UK only France has a League Cup. Italy, Germany, Spain, Portugal and Holland somehow survive without one. Besides the Football League should go too. Most sports in the UK only have one governing body. Football has the FA, the Football League and the Premier League who spend as much of their time arguing with each other as running football. A single governing body for football would make sense but unfortunately too many nonentities would lose their jobs which makes it a non runner. After all it’s not just in FIFA that turkeys don’t vote for Christmas!

The common sense thing to do to cut down fixture congestion is to put the League Cup out of its misery. For most of its history the big clubs have not taken it seriously. To be honest – like the not dissimilar Benson and Hedges Cup in cricket which was one competition too many – once it is gone it will soon be forgotten. To quote Peter Cook who played a deranged army big-wig “The time has come Perkins for a useless sacrifice”. To cut down fixture congestion and help the FA Cup it is time to sacrifice the League Cup. Let’s put it out of its misery.

*A joke of mine is that Hardaker would be kicked out of UKIP for being too anti European!

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Time for TV freedom for football

There were two big Scottish Cup replays this week. Kilmarnock v Rangers and the Edinburgh Derby between Hibs and Hearts. Both as it turned out resulted in victories for the Championship teams Rangers and Hibs. Either – or both – would have been excellent matches for live TV coverage but neither were shown. More to the point neither were allowed to be shown. That is because there were Champions League matches being played on the same nights (the 16th and 17th) and in a pathetic example of protectionism UEFA do not allow any country to show domestic matches at the same time as Champions League matches. Which begs the question : Why? The Champions League is the globe’s most popular club competition. It does not need protection. Scotland does not even have a team in the Champions League. How on earth would Scottish Cup ties threaten the Champions League’s superiority? And in any case shouldn’t viewers have a choice of what they want to watch? It’s called competition. Every other industry believes in it. The rule is probably illegal anyway. UEFA used to have the opposite rule saying that FAs could ban matches from other countries if domestic matches were on – the infamous Article 14. This rule was eventually declared illegal in court. Sky TV should take UEFA to court to get this rule abolished. It is highly likely they would win.

But this lack of support for consumer choice does not just apply to UEFA. There is a rule in the UK that Premier League matches that kick off at 3pm UK time cannot be shown live on TV (in fact any match that kicks off at 3pm cannot be shown so if say Real Madrid or Barcelona match kicks off at 3pm Sky can’t show that match either). More ridiculously the ban lasts until 5.15pm so that if Real Madrid v Barcelona kicks off at 5pm on Saturday as it did in 2014 Sky cannot show the first fifteen minutes. Pathetic.

What annoys me is that this only applies to the UK. Fans abroad can see the 3pm kick offs live. Even in the Republic of Ireland they get a 3pm kick off live on Setanta Sport. Why should foreign fans get extra games live?

Why football is allowed to get away with this antiquated protectionism is a mystery. Even other sports don’t have blackouts. For example during the cricket season England’s Test and One Day International matches are shown live on Sky but County matches are played during the Tests. The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) don’t black out Test matches to protect County cricket so why should football be allowed to protect the lower divisions? Lower division matches are played on Champions League nights when games are shown live so why not on Saturdays?

If I were in charge every Premier League match would be live on TV. With one caveat. In the US every Major League Baseball (MLB) game is shown live on line. But the matches are not shown live in the home team’s market unless the home team agrees.  A UK equivalent would mean that Liverpool and Everton could stop their home matches being shown in Merseyside, the Manchester clubs could do likewise in Greater Manchester and the London clubs could do the same in Greater London.

The Premier League is missing a trick here. Baseball has an internet site – MLB.TV – and a mobile /tablet app – At Bat (the latter I use and it is excellent).  For a yearly subscription you get every MLB game which is not subject to blackout regulations. Why the Premier League does not have a website or an app to stream it’s games is a mystery. An MLB.TV subscription costs up to $129.99 a year. I’m sure there are a lot of fans – especially abroad – who would be willing to pay to see Premier League games on their computer, mobile or tablet and it would be a useful revenue stream for the Premier League. And if the example of baseball is anything to go buy it will not effect TV rights. An example : The LA Dodgers’ current TV deal is worth $8.35 BILLION (yes Billion!) over 25 years. That equates to $334 MILLION a year for one franchise. Puts the money in the Premier League into perspective. But it shows that the existence of MLB.TV and At Bat has not affected the sport’s TV revenue.

But surely the public should have the right to watch the games they want on TV. In society protectionism is dead and free trade is the principle. What has football got to be scared of by enhancing free trade? In fact they should be forced to. The Government should make both UEFA’s rule and the Premier League blackout illegal. Time to get in line with society.

The male football blob that swamps women’s football

In football it is Champions League final week. This would be a surprise to most people who would say that the Champions League is only at the Semi Final stage but I’m talking about the women’s Champions League – the final of which is on Thursday night between Frankfurt and Paris Saint-Germain in Berlin. The fact that most people don’t know this only proves the sexism that still bedevils the football establishment.

The women’s Champions League Final is usually held on the Thursday before the men’s Final which is held on a Saturday. But not this year. Part of the reason is the women’s World Cup in Canada which starts in June. This meant the women’s final had to be played earlier than usual. But there was no reason why the men’s Final couldn’t have been brought forward as well. The last 16 of the men’s Champions League was played over four weeks from February 17th to March 18th to suit television. They could very easily have played both the last sixteen and the last eight in those four weeks and the final could have been played in the same week as the women’s Final.

Why does this matter? First of all putting the women’s final on in the same week  as the men’s Final gives the women’s final more publicity. Secondly the men’s Final is on June 6th this year. The women’s World cup starts on June 5th. The men’s Champions League Final being on at the same time denies the Women’s World Cup  the oxygen of publicity as we all know the media will concentrate on the men’s event.

And this is not the only example of the men’s game swamping the women’s game. During the period that the women’s World Cup takes place there are also qualifiers for Euro 2016, the Copa America in Chile plus the European Under 21 Championship in the Czech Republic. All of these events will deprive the women’s World Cup of publicity.

This just proves that men’s football is like the Steve McQueen film “The Blob” where an alien monster eats up anything and everything. Men’s football is like that. There is far too much of it. There is no reason whatsoever why men’s football shouldn’t take a break during the women’s World Cup. During the men’s World Cup it was the only football taking place. There is no reason that should also apply during the women’s event.

The reason that happens is the football establishment does not want women’s football to become popular so it swamps the market with male football. For example Michel Platini the president of UEFA is an ex footballer from the 1970s/80s which is a group of people that is not exactly the most sympathetic to women’s football. Same with the English FA. They know they can’t ban women’s football. But by swamping the market with men’s football they deny women’s football – which suffers from a lack of press coverage – publicity.

Its time to cut down male football – especially on TV. The Europa League (as I wrote before) should be scrapped. So should the League Cup in England which was created by Alan Hardaker – a guy so anti European if he was alive now he’d be kicked out of UKIP for being too anti European! Both are examples of stinking puss in the fixture list that frankly would not be missed.

Also another puzzle is why does fifth division men’s football get press and TV coverage  – more than women’s football does? That plainly is nonsense. If I was in charge of football only the top two divisions of male football would be live on TV. I would also insist that if a TV company has a contract to cover the men’s event it MUST also cover the women’s event. The semi-Finals of the women’s Champions League were not covered on UK television. Which is plainly nonsense .

Women’s football could grow – if the football establishment would only allow it to grow. It is time to cut the male football blob down to size. Men’s football on TV should be cut down in the interests of gender equality. And there should be no professional men’s football during the Women’s World Cup or the Women’s Euros. The male football “blob” is so dominant that surely taking a month off every two years will not harm men’s football. Women’s football deserves a stage all to itself every two years. The blob of male football should cut the women’s game some slack.

Don’t ruin City’s Euro dream

After an awful week for UK football in Europe it is nice after all the gloom and doom to note there are still two UK teams left in the Champions League. Of course most people will not know this as I’m talking about the women’s Champions League. Both UK teams are very similar but one is involved in a David v Goliath match that shows off the contrast in women’s football and the fear that the football establishment prefers certain types of female football teams.

The match I’m referring to is Glasgow City v Paris Saint-Germain (PSG). Glasgow City are an independent women’s team (which means they are not linked to a men’s club).  They were founded in 1998 by two women – Laura Montgomery and Carol Anne Stewart with the express aim of becoming the best women’s team in Scotland and one of the best in Europe. They have achieved just that. Although they compete against the women’s teams of Rangers and Celtic among others they have won the Scottish Women’s Premier League (SWPL)  eight times in a row.  They went from November 2008 to  September 2014 with out losing a League game. And in November 2014 they became the first Scottish female club to reach the last eight of the Champions League with two spectacular come from behind wins against Polish and Swiss opposition. Most of the team are part timers and they play their home Champions League games in Airdrie not Glasgow – watched by just 775 (first round) and 698 (second round).

In contrast PSG are the women’s section of one of the richest clubs in Europe. Stuffed with stars – they include most of the French women’s team that don’t play for rivals Lyon plus star names from Germany, Sweden and the USA –  they are full time professionals who train five days a week and the only difference between them and the men is the crowds and the salary. PSG are the only club who could do what has never been done before and win both the men’s and women’s Champions Leagues in the same season as their men are also in the last eight of their Champions League. Ironically the one thing PSG and Glasgow City have in common is that for both of them it is their first appearance in this stage of the Champions League.

Sadly City’s manager Eddie Wolecki Black said something sinister this week (in the Daily Record of March 18th). He told his team to “enjoy their Quarter-Final as it could be their last”. He said this not because he does not think his team are good enough to reach the last eight of future Champions Leagues but because of rumours that the women’s Champions League might be revamped to become more like the men’s with more teams from big countries and a League section. One suspects UEFA are unhappy that Barcelona, Liverpool and Lyon – three big men’s clubs – were knocked out before Christmas and that Glasgow City and Bristol Academy – the other UK club in the Champions League- are still in.

Bristol Academy are also an independent women’s club. They split from Bristol Rovers in 2005 and they are now linked with the Bristol Academy of Sport at the South Gloucestershire and Stroud college (SGS) – hence the club’s name – and they are the only independent women’s club in the English Women’s Super League (WSL). They play Frankfurt in the Champions League Quarter Finals.

Now to my mind there is room for both independent women’s teams and the female sections of male teams in women’s football. The former give women control and the latter allow young girls who grow up watching the big men’s clubs to fulfil their dreams of playing for them – which because of the gendered nature of football they could not other wise do. However they both have to be treated as equals which the football establishment don’t do. The classic example came in 2014 when Doncaster Belles – the most famous women’s club in the world – were relegated to WSL 2 and Manchester City – the women’s team of one of the richest clubs in the world  – were promoted in their place. But they weren’t promoted on merit. They were promoted because of their financial muscle and the fact that the FA prefer women’s teams that are affiliated to men’s teams rather than the independent women’s teams.

I think I know how the football establishment works, They prefer women’s clubs to be affiliated to men’s for one reason. They want to keep women’s football under male control rather than risk having it run by women who care about it. The problem for women’s team that are affiliated to men’s clubs are they are totally at the mercy of the men. When Charlton (male team) were relegated in 2007 the club had to make cut backs. Guess what team got the chop? the women’s team of course (perish the thought that the wages of the men who got them relegated in the first place be cut). Also what happens if a  club changes ownership? Chelsea, Liverpool,. Lyon and Manchester City are four examples (along with PSG) of male clubs whose current owners have backed the women’s game. But what happens if/when these clubs are sold? There are a lot of sexist men about. What if one of them bought any of the clubs involved and decided to shut the women’s team down? Could he be stopped? The way football in England is run – with a gutless spineless FA who can’t even ban a convicted rapist from playing – does not fill one with confidence.

The football establishment want to control women’s football. They also want to differentiate it from men’s football. That is why the WSL in England is played in summer (yet ridiculously the divisions of English women’s football below WSL are played in winter!) and why this year’s World Cup is being played on artificial turf. They don’t realise there is a thin line between  “difference” and “inferiority” – which is a word many sexists use and playing on artificial turf for example plays into the hands of those who think female football is inferior.

What the football establishment need to do is treat the likes of Glasgow City and PSG as equals. They must not gerrymander the rules to suit the big men’s clubs. They must not destroy Glasgow City’s European dream.