Football is a game of opinions. The stories that dominate the back pages of the newspaper are often the topic of conversation on social media and in pubs up and down the country.
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The magic of the FA Cup is one that many football fans talk about extremely fondly. The oldest cup competition in Europe has had so many magical moments and for the neutral many fantastic upsets along its way. When we talk about the domestic cups now in England it seems like it is an opportunity for the clubs in the Premier League and even the top teams in the Championship to rotate the squad and have a look at players perhaps on the outskirts of the first team squad or promising youngsters coming through the ranks. What has happened to teams attacking the cup, wanting to bring the prestige of winning a trophy and medals to add to the history of the clubs or players wanting to count the medal collection when they retire rather than the money in the bank.
The FA Cup 3rd round matches took place all over the weekend and all at various times, this for one has took away from fans, punters and the media interest from covering these games. TV Rights have taken the air of enthusiasm away from people at this stage of the competition. Show the matches yes, but why have a handful of games early on the Saturday, more at 3 o’clock, then another handful alongside the televised match later on in the afternoon. This makes it much harder for fans to keep up to date with all the scores that are happening on the Saturday and Sunday.
Supporters of some Premier League clubs must watch their team when it comes to the FA Cup with a sense of disappointment and confusion. The money in the Premier League is extortionately high which allows even clubs who struggle with relegation and with mid table ambitions to have extremely large squads, this in turn has managers using the competition as a springboard to give some squad players minutes on the pitch, and to almost see how far the fringe players can get them before introducing the more established, the starting eleven players into the team in a hope to win the competition.
When it came to this weekend with 3rd round games, there was 4 Premier League clubs that made a swift exit from the competition, 2 clubs that are in a relegation fight, Fulham and Huddersfield, 1 team from playing another Premier League club in Bournemouth, and Leicester City who have no worries of relegation as they sit 7th in the Premier League. With Newcastle who historically do not emphasise a cup run and Southampton both being taken to replays. The major question for fans of Bournemouth and Leicester should be why we were not fielding are strongest possible line-ups, or at least several more of the ‘better’ players. Bournemouth are coming off the back of a very poor festive period, and this would have been a massive opportunity to gain momentum and a cup run would have brought the confidence back among the players. Leicester were guilty of the same approach in the Carabao Cup defeat at the hands of Manchester City, making a host a changes and despite drawing the game if they had attacked the competition, playing the likes of Maddison from the start they could have potentially been playing Burton in the semi-final of the competition.
The clubs in the Premier League now are focused on what can bring in the most money, staying in the Premier League is obviously worth more in the long term than success in the FA Cup, but what about spirit and getting confidence among the players, Fulham especially had a fantastic opportunity to push on and build a platform for positive results, now after getting beat by league 2 Oldham at home the club will be a real downer, fans wondering if they have enough to really make a fight to stay in the Premier division. The fans of Newcastle need a lift, something to feel positive about in terms of the season ahead; they now face an extremely difficult fixture at Ewood Park against a Blackburn team that should have knocked the Magpies out of the competition completely, yet again. The fans of these clubs need to feel the optimism at the clubs, in the cup you need a bit of luck to get far, and get the right draws, but who is to say if a Newcastle drew a top six team that the top six team play a full strength eleven? Then there is a perfect opportunity to progress to the latter stages of the competition.
The giant killings of the FA Cup is what draws the most anticipation and has the historic memories for most when we talk about the prestige of the FA Cup. The atmosphere last night at Rodney Parade from the start there was a sense of we can win this, Newport fully deserved their victory over previous Premier League winners Leicester City. The talk about the quality of some of the players was relentless, and then we remember these are league 2 footballers earning considerably less than even the back-up Leicester City players. Barnet beating high flying Sheffield United of the Championship is a result looking at the weekend results that must be considered a giant killing, and the boos around Bramall Lane at the final whistle showed the fans displeasure of the lacklustre display on such an occasion, especially knowing the history the club has with the competition. These results still happen, last season saw Lincoln City then of the National League put out a Burnley team that were flying high in the Premier League.
These lower league clubs put so much into the competition, even in the qualifying rounds that it can be hard to see clubs using the cup as an experiment tool. The lure of testing themselves against the best clubs in the country, managers wanting to show their own credentials against perhaps managers that they look up to. The TV money should they get it and from progressing is obviously fantastic for them, but watching that Newport performance against Leicester, a club who would benefit greatly from the money they will receive, the players looked like they wanted to showcase their ability, they played with a fight, a hunger to work together and show their fans that they care for the club. That is what can be great about these cups in the cup, fans who do not follow or watch lower league games can become familiar with the players, almost find a second club, where they enjoying watching them, can become embroiled with this and want to feel a part of it, all these factors can enlighten and enhance clubs from the bottom tiers.
Previous clubs among the Premier League have shown what can be done in the competition, should they take it seriously and try and have a go at winning the competition. In 2008 Harry Redknapp won the cup with his Portsmouth team, Wigan in 2013 beat the odds to overcome an extremely strong Manchester City team to lift the trophy. Only 3 teams in the last twenty five years have had the glory of winning the FA Cup outside of the top six in the Premier League, the other team was Everton back in 1995. The top clubs Arsenal, Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City have all tasted success during this time, teams wanting to have extra success, so they make the FA Cup a priority of the team once they reach the latter stages of the competition. Everton should be one of the clubs looking to use the cup this year as a platform to build on in terms of winning a trophy. The feel good factor at the club would be enormous, especially after the last few years which has seen many Everton fans become disgruntled at the club they support. The debate of finishing in the top four or winning the FA Cup, what is more important to Tottenham Hotspurs? Well they should finish in the top four this season given their current position , but how good was it to see Mauricio Pochettino line up with Son Heung-min, Dele Alli and Harry Kane coming off the bench at Prenton Park, a real sign that he is in a trophy hunt this season.
The FA Cup is one that needs to be reviewed, not in terms of what the FA can change with it but by clubs among the Premier League and how they prioritise it. Could they integrate a system that would stop clubs making wholesale changes to line-ups? We want to still have the moments of giant killing in the competition, so getting rid of replays is not the answer especially for the clubs lower down in the divisions who can benefit greatly from the financial gain. As a fan it would be great to see everybody taking the competition seriously and looking forward to FA Cup weekends rather than almost turning a blind eye to this. Having the majority of games on the Saturday 3 o’clock kick off time would bring back an atmosphere, with obviously a few televised games along the way.
MONEY, money, money, It’s a rich man’s world.
No, I’m not still harping on about Scudamore’s bonus. Why of course, it’s UEFA this time and the inception of a new European competition. They seem to have a thing for these at the minute. Europa League 2.
No, this is not a joke. It’s real and it’s coming live to you on Thursday nights from 2021.
How will it work? Will this spell the end of European football as we know?
Apparently, it will, in fact, do the opposite. UEFA claim to have listened to clubs in the region and say it will make European football more inclusive, with no fewer than 32 countries being guaranteed group stage football in both Europa League and Europa League 2.
Here’s the plan. The Champions League format will not change and every country’s champion will still enter it. However, only teams from the 15 top-ranked countries will go into the Europa League (Europa League 1, I think?) group stages or qualifiers, meaning sides from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, will be dumped down into the third-rate competition – Europa League 2.
Meanwhile, champions from these countries will still get their play-off ties to qualify for the Europa League, and failing that, UEL2, as it is now branded. So that’s three bites at the cherry for European football. Hmmm.
UEL2 and UEL will have the same format, with eight groups of four teams in both competitions. The winners will progress to the last 16. Here’s where it gets interesting though. Teams finishing second in the UEL2 group will face play-offs against teams finishing third in the UEL groups.
The winners of Europa League 2 will qualify for the Europa League, just as the UEL winners are granted automatic entry into the Champions League.
Easy, no? So what’s the problem? The smokescreen of inclusivity. UEFA has admitted a shake-up of European competition has been needed for some time now but this competition is probably not the best way to do it.
In a throwback to the days of the Cup Winners Cup and the Intertoto Cup, UEFA’s return to three midweek competitions serves only to isolate the plucky Icelanders or Faroese from their dates with the big clubs.
A format which allows only clubs from the 15 top-ranked nations takes away the David vs Goliath ties and instead relegates the minnows even further from a dream match against the Barcelonas and Bayern Munichs of our continental game.
Sure, things needed to change. Many supporters have called for the Champions League to return its original structure. A knockout competition solely for champions. Two-legged ties. No ranking or seeding system. Give the champions of Luxembourg their opportunity to face Real Madrid. None of this protection.
Yes, we might end up with the odd drubbing or two in the earlier stages but how do the smaller clubs progress and grow stronger if the quality of the sides they face is limited.
You also find the joy of gaining access to European competition watered down and what will it mean to a side like Burnley or Crystal Palace if they one, qualify for the UEL, but are then dropped into UEL2 after finishing third in their group?
Well, it would mean a potentially easier route to a European final against the lesser ranked countries but it means a hell of a lot of football and a limited level of competition. Such glory days await us all.
Burnley are currently suffering the consequences of their success. Having finished seventh in the Premier League last season they were rewarded with a place in the UEL second qualifying round. Their competitive season started on July 26 and after six European ties, the Turf Moor outfit crashed out of the competition in the play-off round to Olympiacos.
And having one of the smallest squads in the top flight, Sean Dyche’s men sit 19th in the league with just two wins to their name. Success. Many would say quite the opposite.
With the money earned by finishing higher in the Premier League more of an incentive than the potential cash cow UEL2 proffers (still to be confirmed), sides will be doing their best to avoid European football, especially if the proposed 3.30pm kick-off times are anything to go by.
While these will be limited, of course, it shuns fans once again. How many supporters will be leaving work early to get to a game when there’s a 3.30pm kick-off on a Thursday afternoon?
This is another way for UEFA to rake in money. Their moneybag elite clubs are protected from trips to the smaller nations, unless of course they fail in the Europa League and get handed a 3,000-mile round trip to Astana in the Europa League 2 play-off round.
It remains to be seen whether fans will get behind this concept but while UEFA head of competitions Giorgio Marchetti says there will be no losers, I cannot agree.
The stronger clubs from associations 16-55 will certainly benefit in the UEL2 but will be robbed of their fairytale excursions and I for one, in case you haven’t grasped it yet, am not a fan.
Watch this space.
HOW harmful can a handshake be you might ask? When it’s golden and worth £5m it certainly raises the blood pressure somewhat.
Many businesses across the UK have a tradition to offer someone a golden handshake – a contribution given to a retiring employee after many years of service.
So, what then is the problem with the Premier League doing the same for outgoing executive chairman Richard Scudamore you might ask? Let’s get into the details.
FIVE MILLION POUNDS? That’s at least 5,000,000 reasons why it’s not right just there. Premier League clubs have been asked to foot the bill, a staggering £250,000 from each club – some of whom are in only their second or third campaign in Scudamore’s domestic super league.
Couldn’t this money be used for grassroots football or even contributed to the rising numbers of homeless people and shelters in the cities these clubs are based?
Who is Richard Scudamore and why the need for such a hefty exit bonus? I’m pretty sure Britain won’t get anything near that when Theresa (May) and Co drag us kicking and screaming from the EU in March.
It was in 1999 that Scudamore joined the Premier League and he became executive chairman in June 2014. It is fair to say he’s done a good job. TV rights have skyrocketed during his time at the helm, from an estimated £670m to a mind-blowing £5.14bn.
After 19 years though, with a reported wage of £2.5m per season, is a two-year salary payment too much? Most firms would tend to offer a two- or three-month salary bonus. So, in simple terms, Yes. It’s too much.
The announcement has been met with anger among supporters, while initially five of the league’s 20 clubs said they wouldn’t pay up. By the end of the week, all 20 had coughed up.
And as the domestic game returned on Saturday, it was Liverpool fans who led the protests during their 3-0 victory at Watford.
The banners read: ’11,662 Premier League season tickets. 56,180 weekly shops for food banks. Scudamore’s £5,000,000. Greed.’
And that says it all. 56,180 weekly shops. Homelessness in our country is at an all-time high. Reports claim no fewer than one person in every 200 in Britain in 2018, with London seeing numbers of one in 53, Birmingham one in 73 and Manchester one in 135. Five million pounds. What could that money do?
So what exactly did the Premier League or FA contribute? Sweet FA you could say. If they were so pleased with his services, wasn’t it for them to make this payment? I know when an ex-employer of mine was dishing out redundancies and farewell gifts, John, Steve nor Diane from the copy room were not asked to contribute, so why can’t the Premier League take from their own coffers?
The gap between the Premier League and the English Football League has been growing since its inception in 1992. Fans are being messed around with surging ticket prices, TV deals see matches that have been scheduled for Saturday afternoon for four months, suddenly swapped to a Monday night and generally, fans have had enough.
The supporters are not sat in an ivory tower with the means to throw an extra £30 – if you find the best bargain – at another train so they can attend their beloved side. They are the everyday man, many of whom are towing the breadline, who has to ask his boss if he can leave the office at 2pm to get the train down to London for a Newcastle United away match on a Monday evening.
Critics will say, watch it on TV. But not everyone can afford to do that either. Pay over the odds for a subscription to see your team on the box four times in the season while the top six feature in every second match? No thanks.
I don’t actually have a problem with Scudamore getting a parting gift. It’s the amount I have a problem with. Grassroots football has been crying out for support for many years. Premier League clubs claim to use up all their budgets, without having any excess? But when one of the clubs’ chairmen puts it before a vote, all 20 can just magic £250,000 out of thin air? OK then.
Don’t get me wrong, a lot of these top-flight clubs do a lot of work in the community but many, myself included, see it as a two-fingered salute to everyone outside football’s top table.
Just this weekend a Kendal Town FC sponsor made a plea in their matchday programme for supporters to return, claiming difficult times lay ahead as fewer people turn up to games. They are grassroots. They are your local team. A meeting will be held in the New Year for supporters to bring their ideas forward in a bid to revive the club and take it forward.
It is the same the country over. More and more clubs are struggling. Non-league sides dropping out of the game. Once-strong football league hopefuls, now withering away in the tenth and 11th tiers of British football. Something has to change.
The golden handshake sums up the type of incessant back-slapping that has been all too familiar since the Premier League got going. Kudos to Scudamore for how he has developed the Premier League on a global stage, but in doing so, the everyday football fan is being priced out of the game.
What will they do when they have no supporters in the ground for the games. It is time the FA, Premier League and football clubs around the country sit up and take note of their supporters. More and more people are turning their backs on football and if the big wigs don’t listen there won’t be a league for them to bury their treasure in.