Archive for the ‘International Football’ Category

The revolution in pricing needs to be permanent

Wednesday, January 7th, 2009

Bradford City draw bigger crowds than English clubs in the UEFA Cup.

There is not great secret or mystery to this. The Bantams following a pricing policy that puts the cost of going to a game more akin to a trip to the cinema than a night at a West End show and reap rewards of 12,000 plus supporters dwarfing the rest of League Two’s support.

This is met in some parts by derision – terms like “dirt cheap” are used – but represents something more impressive than bargain basement way to put bums on seats. It is a revolution in pricing that positions football as once again affordable to all.

Rumour that the FA are to cut the price of watching the national team by 25% as a response to the credit crunch is welcomed in the same way but hard to see having the same effect. Demand to watch the national side is always high and hefty prices maximises the revenues on that. A cut in the cost of watching England is more about ensuring that the next time Gerrard et al play it is not to a one quarter empty Wembley.

Likewise the likes of Blackburn Rovers, Manchester City and Wigan Athletic offer reductions to sections of the support to cover up the acres of empty space that have become common in around half of the Premiership grounds but they do so on a temporary basis. Kids are given reduced entry but do clubs really expect your average 15 year old paying £5 to be able to find an extra £20 the year after to carry on watching his team?

Likewise what does the club have for the man earning a decent wage today put out of work tomorrow? Does he feel the loving embrace of his community or does he look at the budget for next year and seeing rising fuel and heating costs and strike off “football” in favour of paying the bills?

What does that say about football as a community? Do we really want our clubs to be a friend until one is in need?

Football needs the sort of revolution in pricing that is seen at Bradford City and matched elsewhere to be permanent and significant.

For ten years or more football has practised social exclusion. With financial difficulties for all a reality it needs the shift back from maximisation of supporter bases to social responsibility for a community asset.

England is mine, excitement my riposte

Thursday, September 11th, 2008

As far as England wins go the 4-1 duffing of Croatia was one of the more satisfying and Fabio Capello’s telling comment after – “This is the start” – suggested a dawning of kinds for England.

Of course we are constantly told – and will be told again – that England is the country of footballing false dawns and that while a win for the three lions last night is appreciated it is really just a tease – a set up – for failure to come.

Which in a way is true because having an exclusive set of winners numbering less than 1/25th of the entrants the likelihood of anyone starting on the road to winning the World Cup actually winning the thing is slight. As well as England play there is always the propensity that we may come up against another top class side who are on top of their game and not progress. I think they call this quarter-final heartbreak in the print media.

The print media now clouds talking about the England national side to such an extent that results are now less important than good publicity. The printed media in the country long stepped over a line that their remit dictates that they should report the news but not get involved in it and now they procrastinate at how 4-1 takes the pressure off Capello as if it were not pressure they were applying.

They cloud everything about the England team losing sight of the heart of the game – the quickening of the pulse when Walcott fired across the Croat goalkeeper, the fury of seeing Joe Cole poleaxed – and muddy the reason any of us would be interested in the first place.

The last time England lost in Zagreb I had been invited to select my eleven for the game and did so using Scott Parker and Gareth Barry as a midfield. I was told by someone who dreamed of putting Rooney in that mythical “hole” which I have yet to see on a football field that should I pick that side I would be slaughtered by the press. “Yes,” I replied, “but I’d win matches.”

So used are England supporters of looking at the team through the prism of its coverage – or in the case of games being hidden away on pay-per-view channels the lack of coverage – that we have on the whole forgotten the raison d’être of the game. The excitement is the thing. Always has been, always will be.

The notions that success and failure can only be judged on winning a World Cup or a European Championship is something that needs to be addressed. We should reject the notion that we are too stupid to understand if a team is or has not playing well unless we can see its name on a list of tournament winners and reject those who pedal it.

More so than that though we should counter such arguments with a remembrance if the thrill of Theo Walcott lashing diagonally past the keeper after being set up by Rooney, of Michael Owen charging at the Argentina goal after a Beckham pass, of Bobby Moore stepping in to take the ball from the greatest player to ever pull on a shirt and kick a ball.

England is mine and I’m not ready to give up that excitement.

Stop reading the papers or how I learned to stop worrying and love the World Cup

Tuesday, June 20th, 2006

Chapter One. He adored The World Cup. He idolized it all out of proportion – er, no, make that: he – he romanticised it all out of proportion. – Yes. – To him, no matter what the season was, this was still a competition that existed in the gleaming yellow of Mexico ‘70 and pulsated to the great tunes of New Order. – Er, tsch, no, missed out something. – Chapter One. He was too romantic about The World Cup, as he was about everything else. To him, The World Cup meant the beautiful game and street-smart players who seemed to know all the angles. – No, no, corny, too corny for a man of my taste.

I love the World Cup.

From the pre-tournament collections of goals which are worth seeing a thousand times to the Panini by proxy of a friend’s ten year old and his collection of stickers. From the opening ceremony of curious lack of tedium to the first exchanges to the stressing over the performances of the England side to the glorious dawn of that nation and the cut and thrusts of Africans and Asians to burst the football bubbles of Europe – Czech Republic the second best team in the world? Tell Ghana that – and on and on and on.

I love the moments of the World Cup – Park Ju Sung’s knee taking the ball over Fabian Barthez and the reaction of William Gallas to the second French draw. For one game Zindane Zidane, Thierry Henry (Best striker in the World TM) et al are put into a situations where the fearsome reputations they have acquired are moot and they are what they are – the sum of their performance.

Stop the World Cup now and Brazil’s superstars are Kaka and a guy called Fred and not anyone called Ron-anything. The World Cup is not a respector of reputations – it is a creator of them.

I like to think of The World Cup as a genuinely multi-polar event. Not only multi-polar but multi-objectivised. Pick any group of four and one gets a team which aims to win The World Cup, two that want to get out of the group and one which is happy to go home with heads held high. The aims of a Trinidad & Tobago are so different from those of England that when the two meet the game is not the same as a Premiership clash – even be that the opening Wigan vs Chelsea game. The fact that T&T go into today’s final group games with a chance of qualification is testament to this fact. The one point from two that was a draw they got with Sweden and wanted against England would be a poor Premiership or League One return but could go a way to seeing them through.

Multi-polar because each team has a contradictory agenda not only of success but aims to success. Svennis’s England want wins, T&T wanted a draw and to assume that desire and decent performance alone can override someone else’s agenda is to misjudge the nature of the event.

Yet it is this misjudgement which seems to govern the media.

This morning Radio Five Live talked about putting three or four past Sweden as if it were just a matter of having the will and passion to do so. The rest of the media suggest we have played poorly against T&T and Paraguay ignoring entirely the will of those two teams.

Both looked for the point that would have kept their World Cup alive and both could have got it. The fact that those teams are viewed on the whole in the newspapers as being the football equivalent of jam cars there to block England’s progress and not to attempt to progress themselves – even if progress comes from blanket defending – is condescending to the point of insult. It is “Johnny Foreigner can’t play” thinking.

Not that that concerns me. I have long since stopped reading newspapers and try not to pay too much attention to the corporate news media and seem to enjoy this (and perhaps other) events all the more for it. I’ll be damned if I let someone interpret what I have witnessed for me and tell me that winning 2-0 against a blanket back eight is a bad result.

I’m not going to listen to people telling me that Ronaldinho must be feared when Kaka is pulling the strings. I’m not going to hear about how if we don’t underestimate Paraguay we can give them a good pasting.

Perhaps I’m stubborn after watching twenty five years of Bradford City and a few more of Liverpool and Forest in Europe before that or perhaps I just remember the Rodney Marsh style critique of City’s Premiership chances and how poorly they were based on reality – “Watford will stay up, they were great in 1984 after all” – but I do not trust those views.

I love The World Cup. It is full of hope and joy and disappointment and consternation and is strange and brilliant and horrible and wonderful all at once. That is self-evident. Do yourself a favour and fold the paper up, do the gardening instead of watching Sky Sports and mute the TV and turn to your sofa mates to discuss the game at half and full time.