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Oh Mickey, what a pity 15/11/2007

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.

It’s difficult not to be cynical about ex-footballers in administrative positions. 

Team management and coaching is one thing;  top ex-players have obviously been there and done that, been exposed to a range of top coaches and therefore have something of a head start (even if a glittering professional career isn’t a prerequisite to a successful coaching career – witness Wenger, Taylor, Boothroyd, or even a guarantee of one – too many examples to mention).

But administration is something different, several steps away from the goings on on the pitch of which a player has direct experience.  So it was difficult not to be a little cynical when Michel Platini was elected as head of UEFA in January.  Yes, he had managed the national side, yes he had masterminded the successful 1998 World Cup in France.  But this is the top job in European Football, for which being able to pick a pass as well as anyone of his generation was no preparation at all.

Since when Platini has been something of a breath of fresh air.  Things started well, with the riling of a good number of folk who deserve to be riled as he proposed changes to the hugely lucrative Champions’ (sic) League structure – his suggestions including the limiting of number of entries to three at most per nation, the enforced withholding of one place for the Cup holders and the reserving of a larger number of places for a broader range of national representatives.

Cutting to the crux…  the Champions’ League has been a hugely successful moneyspinner for those in on the act whose success is measured in pounds or euros.  For everyone else, it’s a bit of a disaster.  Across Europe the financial rewards of qualification for the group stages have been hugely divisive – not just in England, where the top four’s dominance has only been perturbed by Everton’s fourth place in 2005 within the last four years, but across Europe.  Success, and its financial rewards, tend to breed success of course.  It was ever thus – but the gap between the haves and have nots has never been as large, as insurmountable.  Add to this an inherently conservative (some might say criminally anticompetitive) statistical system for assessing the number of qualification places each nation receives, and you have a situation where the status quo can only be disrupted by a monstrous external investment (on behalf of a competitor) or chronic incompetence (on the part of one of the incumbents).

Entertaining as this is when it happens (Guten Tag, Bayern München) it’s hardly enough to sustain interest in an increasingly closed shop.  I’ve got no problem with Manchester United, say, or Chelsea or whoever winning the League based on being the best team in the competition.  I do have issues with the state of play being so much in favour of preserving the status quo.

This was always the motivation behind the Champions League, of course;  the vastly inflated incomes of those involved act as a huge barrier to entry to any domestic challengers unable to compete in terms of wages and transfer fees, much as the Premier League structure does the same domestically.  And however repellent the G14 concept is, and whatever the conceit of many of those involved, the bottom line is that the guys involved are doing what they’re paid to do – protect the financial interests of their employers.

Given that the Champions’ League is UEFA’s flagship club competition, its hugely encouraging to hear their new President make such inclusive, provocative statements.  The limit to his influence was betrayed this week, however, when his proposals were largely dismissed by UEFA’s European Professional Football Strategy Council.  A body that includes Peter Kenyon, the chairman of the FA Geoff Thompson and the chairman of the Premier League Dave Richards.  Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas after all.

It’s occurred to me in the past that one way that joe public might effectively influence the passage of events might be to organise a public boycott of the shirt sponsors of G14 clubs.  After all, however many football fans follow the continent’s largest clubs, very many more of them do not, and even those that do aren’t all driven by self interest.  In reality, however, these revenue streams are dwarfed by those from television… and a sponsors boycott might be difficult to popularise if the G14 carries through its plan to double in size.

Officially this move was to make their “voice of the clubs” moniker more defensible by greater representativeness.  In practice, self-interest on a wider scale is another step towards a European league.  Interest in such a thing would surely be far less from country to country than domestic championships currently enjoy, but those involved would glean a much greater share, albeit of a reduced whole.

All in all, it’s difficult to see football as anything other than on a path to eating itself.  Whatever Monsieur Platini’s admirable intentions.



1. Mike S - 16/11/2007

Brilliant, of course. But the bit at the end – the European League – oh please, God, let this happen! Then we can all get on with playing in a competitive competition, without the four clubs who add nothing and take plenty.

The sponsors idea – so far my one-man boycott of Vodafone has not put them out of business. It would be fun though; the trouble is that while, as you say, many more people don’t support these clubs than do, most people are not minded to want to do something about the situation.

I would love to see clubs like ours opt out of the FA, and set up our own league, rather than wait for whatever the G14 dump on us (or take from us) next. Won’t happen, though. Cos all the Watfords are in with a chance of that £40m or whatever promotion will give them. And all the Torquays are hanging in their for that glorious 6-0 thrashing they can take at the hands of Everton Reserves, while pocketing a couple of hundred grand for the pleasure. And I don’t blame the chairmen; it’s their investments at risk, after all. It’d be bloody great, though. One of the rules would be that you can’t play in our league for three years after playing in the other league.

How exciting it was when all the Scottish clubs bar two decided to quit the league, leaving you-know-who with no-one but each other to play against. What a pity they caved.

In fact, I think Scotland is a great example of what Matt’s saying. Sure, Celtic and Rangers would be fairly dominant anyway due to the large numbers of people from across Scotland, Ireland and England who attach themselves to them for no reason other than a like – or a dislike – of green. But their reward for being fairly rubbish for a few games each year is so vast as to render them invincible on the domestic scene. Even with Gordon Strachan in charge. Bloody hell, I bet even Bryan Robson would struggle to go wrong.

On the one hand, Matt, thanks for bringing this up. On the other hand, all it does is serve to illustrate how utterly frustrating the situation is, and that it’ll probably never get better.

And that if this season continues to be so bloody good, next season will almost certainly be bloody awful.

2. Matt Rowson - 16/11/2007

The sponsors idea might work. Given that even a successful boycott would only go so far in financial terms anyway, i don’t think that the inevitable apathy of the majority would be much of a problem. The objective would be publicity, enough interest to get it moving and then making the most of any airtime the idea got… just to get people talking about what a closed shop it is rather than implicitly accepting it.

What it would need is some form of at least semi-definable objective though. What would one hope to achieve by boycotting such companies. The disbandment of the G14 might be one thing I suppose, but is that really the answer? The ultimate objective would be publicity, but you need at least an “official” objective to hide behind.

And I’ve consciously avoided Vodafone for years as well. So that’s TWO of us, and still the empire doesn’t crumble. Ho hum.

3. Adam J - 17/11/2007

On a TOTAL side-note, I don’t know how many of you out there visit skysports.com regularly but Martin Tyler has this thing on it. To cut a boring story short, guess who is currently the longest service manager of a Championship club? That’s night, little Aidy. I think that says less about Aidy’s loyalty than it does the state of pressure on managers outside the Premier League.

4. Esp - 18/11/2007

I think the cynicism which you started your piece admitting to Matt is a dish reserved for supporters of clubs outside the G14 I’m afraid

The game is big business and has been ever since Murdoch decided thast football was going to bankroll BSkyB and be the leverage for getting his Amstrad manufactured boxes into most of the homes in the UK

I don’t like big business running football clubs and I hate the prospect of clubs i grew up watching (Liverpool, Arsenal) fucking off and starting a league of their own (inevitavble) but people like me are not helping by subcribing to Sky. Does that make me a hypocrite, a bad person?

The tide will not be turned back even by Platinis’s admirable intentions I fear

The national quota for instance, much heralded by Coca Cola league fans (mainly) won’t happen in my lifetime, not because Arsen wenger does’t want it but because the political landscape is one of loose borders, free trade and in the UK’s case an allowance of a huge number of imigrants who normally have a right to work in this country (Al Bangura being an exception to the rule)

Platini is actively trying to change the Champions League structure which is a good thing of course but how and when will the political will in FIFA and UEFA start distributing the waelth more fairly. In essence the Champions Leage simply serves to make the rich clubs even richer but if a small team in Hertfordshire do well in it in the coming years will we as watford supporters complain? We will also be more attractive to investment from foreign millionaires and there comes another question.

Does supporting your local side ONLY mean Yes when it is being run by local businessmen (Simpson) who deserve our loyalty, trust and respect? The more successful a team (sorry a leisure sector PLC within the FTSE or AIM stock market) becomes the more it becomes a target for takepver but it also heralds the start of massive investment (and Yes, probably debt as well).
How many fans will be turned away from Vicarage Road with an influx of foreign stars turning up in yellow shirts and (hopefully) red shorts?

I don’t know if I will continue to pay my £500 pwer season but i suspect I will. I would feel a bit of a fraud sitting at home and watching the results come through on the teleprompter whuilst feling smug making a vapid political stance by not going.
So Platini will continue asking more questions but getting few answers he wants to hear.

I agree with Matt that he is a “Breath of fresh air” a cliche I thought I wouldn’t hear a WSC reader spout(!) but whilst the Premier League and the Champions League are awash with the type of cash even Aidy in a weak moment would grab, I cannot see the status quo ending sometime soon (even if this writer supports a wider, fairer distribution of the spoils and wealth in european football)

5. Back from Hammerau - 18/11/2007

I can hardly wait for the day when the G14 declare UDI and break away to form their own European Super League or whatever.
They’ll have a ‘product’ that will quickly become so predictable, sanitised and stagnant and what’s left of the Football League will become a much more democratic and even tournament without the distortion of Champions League money for the top few.
We’ll no longer have the “big 4” winning every domestic trophy and within a few years TV’s attention will concentrate on the better domestic product.

6. Adam J - 19/11/2007

Do you not think that it’s possible that without the ‘Big 4′ in the Premier League’, another new big four (for the sake of argument lets call them the ‘Top 4’) take over just like the Big 4. And therefore the Top 4 would act just the same as the Big 4, leaving us in exactly the same place. Of course, this may not happen, just a thought…

7. Dave Soloway - 19/11/2007

More likely we would end up with a top 1 or 2 and it would be even more boring. The reason we have a top 4 is because we have 4 qualifying places for the champions league. Without them, there would be one club bankrolled by someone which would be clamouring to join the euro super-league and they would probably win the league every season. At best there might be two clubs like that but we would still end up with a Scotland-esque situation.

8. Kris - 19/11/2007

Adam – good point. But we won’t be in exactly the same place – we’ll be 4 places up the ladder 😉

The thing is – the next 4 (Spurs, Everton, Villa and City) is not as far ahead of the following pack as the big 4 are ahead of the next 4. There will always be a gap between the top, middle and bottom because when you go top – opportunities for income arise in form of tournaments such as the ChL and UEFA cups. This income will enable the top clubs to get better and widening the gap.

I love the CCC. goal-to-goal action, there’s no such thing as a dead cert winner before the match is played, the number of prancing, diving primadonna c¤#¤s is close to 0 and the league is predominantly consisting of football CLUBS rather than football BUSINESSES.

9. Back from Hammerau - 19/11/2007

If the big money is being concentrated at the teams in the European Super league, while the new big 4 (or whatever number) will not be so far ahead of the chasing pack and maybe, if whatever’s left learns the lessons of an uneven distribution of wealth, things might go back to the good old days.

Also, the only reason some of the second division within the Premiership are where they are are because of huge levels of investment from foreign investors in the hope of buying their way into the big 4.
Once they realised they’ve been excluded from a seat at the big boys’ table, will people like Thaksin Shinawatra continue their largesse when that prize is no longer available?

Running football clubs in any other way than as a business are why they’re in such a mess.
Watford is being run as a business and we’re reaping the rewards.

10. Hal Berstram - 20/11/2007

A public boycott of the shirt sponsors is an interesting idea but the problem would be, even if it’s effective, the clubs just change sponsor. It’s the old problem… even if you boycott Vodafone, who you gonna get your phone from? Are Orange, O2 or T-Mobile any better? Nope – they’re all a bunch of bastards. As with the political system, we are offered a “choice” between various alternatives who are pretty much photocopies of each other…

The way to take the ‘big 4’ down would be to attack the problem at source: an all-out boycott BY THE FANS of these clubs. If ALL Man U supporters stopped paying the vastly inflated ticket prices, subscribing to pay-per-view (that’s the main one, surely) and buying the merchandise, the team would collapse within 2 years or so. It ain’t gonna happen, of course, because the fans have a vested interest in prolonging the status quo. Even though it’s increasingly expensive for them.

A US-style draft system for player allocation would certainly make the premiership more competitive (although how on earth it would work in an international player market I’ve no idea) but since the European Commission has decided that what we have at the moment constitutes a ‘competitive market’ (ha ha), I’m afraid we’re stuck with what we’ve got.

The solution? Ignore all this crap. Don’t buy Sky. Get down to your local club and still have some money left over for a pint at 5pm. Or as Led Zeppelin put it, “it’s a total disgrace – the best thing I can do is ROCK”.

11. Matt Rowson - 20/11/2007


re. your initial point, which is the only one I’d dispute…

The boycott wouldn’t be designed to bring the clubs down, that’s ludicrously overambitious (were it even desirable). But if you can get a campaign going that attracts media attention, in particular if you can persuade just one of these companies to step back from their shirt sponsorship then, even if another bunch come along and take their place, you’ve done enough to get people talking about the issue, no?

Thanks for commenting btw Hal, will see you at Layer Road…

12. John F - 20/11/2007

Thought provoking as ever Matt. Unfortumately I do not think anything will change while fans are so very short-sighted and, of course, addicted to the club they support. Even more the vast majority of people who shell out for Sky and the others who bankroll the “top” clubs through the champions league don’t really care one way or the other. If a European Super-league is formed I wonder whether fans would travel to away games. Would the atmosphere drop and the entertainment level fall? Would that finally result in the media turning away and taking their money with them? I don’t know but…….

13. Dave Hart - 20/11/2007

Speaking of Layer Road, my dad and I are going to watch Wycombe vs Hereford instead on the day, to see Theo and Tiggy play. From what my dad heard on the coach back from Norwich, we will not be the only ones going. Feel free to join us there (we will be dressed in Watford colours, of course). Clint Easton might get a bit of a cheer too, although Trevor Benjamin will probably have to go without…

14. Markymark - 22/11/2007

Dave Hart!? ex Chesham High school? Used to see you at the mtches sometimes way back-thought you lived up North somewhere?

15. Dave Hart - 22/11/2007

Wrong Dave, I’m afraid. I’m probably better known here as Rob Hart’s brother, who used to play for the Watford Internet team some years ago.

16. Markymark - 23/11/2007

Ok mate sorry wrong person!
Anyway,fancy signing Ainsworth another forward!?

17. RS - 26/11/2007

Anyone thought that this may be precautionary ahead of one (or both) our leading scorers leaving in January? Call me cynical but seems a little odd to me???

18. Matt Rowson - 27/11/2007

Can’t agree RS. Ainsworth was signed the week after Adam Johnson was recalled… he’s a replacement for Johnson to compete for a wide position, not a central striking role. He’s not been playing up front for Hereford.

19. Kris - 27/11/2007

Matt – I know this is hear-say/rumour but on wfcforums a QPhahaha fan insists that they will sign a Watford forward in January for 1.7 mio. He also insists it’s Ellington which I find ridiculous. I could only see Priskin as a 1.7 mio striker – the other 3 are more expensive.

I do agree with you Ainsworth is signed (permanently it seems) as an out’n’out winger. Not as replacement for Johnson though as they play on opposite sides.

From Hereford forums I have been told he is a straight forward winger – loads of pace and a good ability to read the game. No Bulls fan I’ve “met” have thought he couldn’t make the step up – most seem to think he can do it straight away.

20. Esp - 27/11/2007

Two things: If Ainsworth has been “signed” as a wide player does that put an end to all the speculation about us signing Routledge on loan? Can we sign any more loan players anyway except in a crisis (ie goalie!!) Otherwise I can see us having an abundance of wide players soon. I believe we have an option to buy Ainsworth, isn’t that right? My preference would be to buy Routledge in the transfer window if available and send Ainsworth back to Hereford but, then again I haven’t seen him play so that comment may be premature, I may make my mind up tonight! We now have Smudger, Williamson, MacNamee, Hoskins (when he returns), Routledge, McAnuff, Mariappa (possibly) and Francis who has played wide before.
Secondly I know we didn’t take loads of fans to Barnsley but will there be some “thunks” on BHappy before the match tonight!?!
If not, will that be the first time a match report has overtaken a previous one…I thunk we should be told!! DM/IG/MR were you at Oakwell? Maybe we’ll get 2 x reports for the price of one

21. RS - 27/11/2007

Fair comment, guess I’m a bit out of touch; going to renew the acquaintance tonight though – first time this season (disgraceful).

This does rather send a message to Macca…

22. Matt Rowson - 27/11/2007

Kris – if there’s any truth in that it can only be Steve Kabba! Seriously, you can’t see any of our strikers going to QPR for that – not Ellington, we won’t sell him for half what we bought him for with Boothroyd still talking up his future contribution.

ESP _ this isn’t BSaD mush. No, we weren’t at Oakwell. No, there’s not going to be five thunks, unless you want my reflections on Rachie’s colouring books.

RS – If Macca hasn’t got the message now, six? years after his debut, then he rather needs something less subtle than us signing another winger. Like a move, maybe.

23. Luke Fairweather - 28/11/2007

Picking up on Matt’s theme of the game that ate itself…

Obituary: Association Football 1863 – 2008(?)

The death of Association Football came after a long, protracted illness which had seen it striped of all its dignity. The autopsy had revealed a corpse riddled with bungs, dives, wags, spin, greed, time wasting, hypocrisy, roasting, hype, insincerity and dull autobiographies.

And so it was on a waterlogged Saturday afternoon at 3 O’clock, the mourners filed silently into the cathedral behind the coffin containing the last remains of what was once Association Football. Aggressive stewarding ensured that the congregation remained seated throughout. Outside, the streets were lined with loyal supporters in their tens of thousands who gathered to pay their last respects, whilst millions more watched on TV (pay per view, obviously).

The inquest had delivered a controversial verdict of death by misadventure, but the loyal supporters knew better, and there had been ugly, angry scenes in Soho Square, which were contained by “continental style” policing. Others directed their ire at the G14 members, corporate hospitality, ticket prices and especially goal celebrations that included kissing the badge. Frank Lampard had his ring confiscated for obvious reasons of public safety. Reports also came in of club mascots in garishly coloured foam suits being taken into police custody “for their own protection.” And there are unconfirmed reports that Ken Bates, Peter Kenyon and Peter Ridsdale have all been given new identities and have been moved to “safe houses.”

After the funeral, the coffin, topped with the three domestic trophies (long since rendered useless by lack of any real competition) was paraded through streets, almost silent save for the occasional sob or whispered chorus of “You’ll Never Walk Alone”. Minor scuffles broke out in one of the royal parks where Rick Parfitt and Francis Rossi had been attempting one final rendition of “Rocking all over the world”. Sources close to Tina Turner and Queen were said to be “considering their position very carefully”.

Association Football was buried in an unmarked grave inside the £740m mausoleum that once was supposed to be the “new” Wembley stadium. It leaves no surviving relatives.

Stop Press:

In a stunning new development, 7 year old Emily Barclay has been arrested and charged with the wilful and premeditated murder of Association Football. It seems that she was discovered wearing last season’s replica kit in the local shopping centre and this evidence alone appears to be incontrovertible. No trial has therefore been deemed necessary and she will be executed at dawn.

24. Esp - 29/11/2007

Luke I won’t patronise you by saying your piece was exceptional and wel timed I will simply say that….Are You Platini in disguise…Are you Platini in disguise!! (Shouted at the top of my voice at the back of the terrace (standing, obviously)

I liked the timing of the Soccer funeral in your piece Luke…an accidental (or maybe deliberate) 3.00pm on a Saturday. There sure ain’t gonna be any football to watch at that time in a few years time 😦

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