Thursday, November 29, 2012

Breakaway used to be known as a biscuit, not a league.

If i were Welsh i may have far more enthusiasm for European football than the tiny amount i currently manage to muster. Local supporters, the average for a League of Wales game being around the three hundred mark, have a fair chance of mixing a wet league game on the Saturday with a competitive midweek away day (or long weekend on the beer) in Georgia, Estonia or Malta to name but a few. I believe there are a possible four places up for grabs for the Welsh, three in the league and one for the winners of their domestic cup competition. Only the champions can enter into the prestigious Champions League, the other three in the often mocked Europa League (second, third and either fourth or cup winners). I'd love a Thursday night voyage into the Europa League but alas there is very little chance of that unless they take up my notion of awarding a place to the winners of the Johnstone's Paint trophy.

The only experience i have of European competition is Sutton United's relative success in the amateur version of the Anglo Italian Cup during the early eighties. Similar sized crowds to that of the Welsh sides today, Sutton also played for the love of the game and the honour of representing their community rather than the breathtaking amounts of prize money the big guns aim for. In many cases cash strapped clubs struggle to negotiate the pitfalls of financing a trip abroad. You have to admire Guernsey for their valiant effort in the Combined Counties League and the fortnightly trips they make to the mainland.

Life at the higher echelons of the game is, as one would expect, far more glamorous. Is it so glamorous though that all identity and history becomes insignificant? The Beatles once said, to their cost a little, that they were bigger than Jesus. I sometimes wonder if the likes of Chelsea and Barcelona feel that they may be bigger than the leagues they play in. UEFA always give the impression that they are bigger than the game itself.

The European Cup was a wonderful competition, open only to the champions of each UEFA member. The Cup Winners Cup was obviously working on the same format, and then we had the Inter Cities Fairs Cup (later to become the UEFA Cup) for the also-rans who just missed out on domestic silverware. As great a distraction as these competitions were, they always played second fiddle to our first division and the grandest of all cup competitions, the FA Cup. Unfortunately the European game has mirrored the changes of our domestic game. As the Premier League has become the only trophy worth winning in England, the Champions League has become the only place to be for capturing the wider audience and it's rewards.

The irony in the name of the Champions League is famed enough, yet it would appear even more of a mockery is on the horizon. This season 76 clubs have contested the competition coming from 52 nations. The 76 is soon whittled down to an elite 32, all guaranteed an amount of revenue from the group stages. This week the 'delightful' Michel Platini announced plans to increase the group stages from 32 teams to 64. That means a possible seven teams could qualify for the 'champions elect' tournament from each England Spain and Germany. Scotland could even get five places instead of two! I'd like to think the Welsh along with the Faroe Islands and Iceland would get to double their entries to two.

It is still in the development stage but pressure is certainly on UEFA to come up with the goods. Barcelona president Sandro Rosell spoke whilst at a conference in the home of football, Qatar, demanding that if things don't change within the next couple of years the richest European clubs will form a breakaway league. An old age argument we've heard before i know, but if the Champions League is expanded clubs will be forced to play less domestic football. I dread the day that Champions League fixtures appear on the fixture list with a three o'clock Saturday kick off.

There is little doubt something will change as money dictates the game more and more. Take last night's Premier League action for example. Never has the game appeared in a more ridiculous fashion in my eyes.

Liverpool are not only finding victories hard to come by, it would seem shirt sales are hard to materialize too.
I don't believe in a city like Liverpool that the two are linked in any way, Liverpool fans like Newcastle are as passionate as they come and the red home shirts are selling in as high a number as they ever have. The away kits on the other hand need as much exposure as possible in an effort shift units. How else can you explain Liverpool arriving at White Hart Lane to face Tottenham in anything other than their classic, iconic, all red strip? The whole concept of colours clashing still managed to raise it's head due to the visitors wearing all all black away strip, the officials therefore having to change. As you can see from the photo above, Phil Dowd had to officiate the match wearing a red shirt. You couldn't make it up!

As a footnote whilst on the subject of footballers attire, the cold weather is coming upon us know and gloves and the like will become more and more common, although thankfully not snoods. There is still a strong element of players running out in short sleeve shirts but why oh why can't players wear a long sleeved version when they feel the cold? Current fashions, not to mention the advancement of sporting materials, dictate that players now parade themselves on the pitch in an awful under shirt and short combination. A tight fitting item commonly known as a base layer, nothing in football (again with the exception of snoods) has ever looked so ridiculous. Hang on, Peter Crouch's moustache does but let's not go there. The shirts remind me of an Olympic ski suit and appeal plummeted to an all time low last night when i saw Swansea's Spanish striker Michu wearing one that covered the palm of his hands, little holes cut out for his thumbs.

If the top players of the day are going to wear this kind of atrocity under their over used away kit thus forcing the ref to wear the colour of the home kit, then maybe, just maybe, Europe are welcome to them. Let them form their break away league and let the real week in week out football fans enjoy proper football in traditional competitions for the pure joy of playing football rather than to make their millions. Anyone fancy a weekend in Guernsey?

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