August 28, 2010

My apologies for the delayed blog, once again I’ve spent my weekend commentating (and I will be commentating again on the Cruz Azul v Tigres match tonight, too) so I have not had an opportunity to dissect Thursday night’s atrocity. Before I start, I’m sure some of you didn’t get to see the game thanks to it not being available on TV, so here is the YouTube highlights clip.

So what can I say that hasn’t been said before? Truth be told, not much at all. It was a woefully inept performance, and the great promise from the previous week’s comfortable victory had disappeared after 20 minutes. I don’t know about you, but after the second penalty had been given, I knew that only one side were going through.

But then there are the goals themselves. The first one was a naive challenge from Hooiveld, a guy who seems to have a mouth as wide as the Clyde, and he gave the referee a question to answer after just 12 minutes. (I’m sick of hearing about Hooiveld’s opinions in the press, declaring that he wants to be ‘our leader’ and the like, when he is frankly ordinary on the field. Here’s a hint, Jos, if you want to be skipper EARN it. Show us some leadership on the park instead of the press conference.)

The second penalty was even worse. There’s an infamous saying when learning the game of football of “if in doubt, kick it out”. I’m not sure what the Polish, or indeed, the Korean version of that saying is, but I’d suggest that Lenny looks it up pronto. Both Zaluska and Cha had an opportunity to put the ball out of play for a throw in, yet instead they manage to give the ball away and a silly penalty is the result.

Then after the second half kicks off, Lennon’s words surely ringing in the players’ ears, and the phrase “keep it tight” was surely that very message, we concede another ridiculous goal. Why could none of our defenders get a challenge in, or at the very least bring the winger down on the half-way line before he can get to the edge of our box? OK it’s cynical, but why not? Italian sides have done it since the dawn of time. At 3-0 the game is done, and the fourth doesn’t even need talking about.

So we have no European adventure, either in the cash-rich Champions League or the consolation prize of the Europa League.  Now I’ve heard many fans try and be bullish about this, claiming that our defeats will make us stronger over the course of the season, and that without the distraction of European football the squad will become more focused on the league title. What utter tripe.

The effect of this defeat will not be felt this season, but next, and the year after that. No, I’m not talking about the financial side of the defeat, but about the club’s reputation around Europe. Celtic is still a massive name, but that only gets you so far. Players of quality will not sign unless they feel the move can benefit their career, sometimes financially, but also on the field. Will a move to Celtic right now help anybody’s international prospects? Of course not, you’d be better off in the English Championship. The lack of European football this season will make players think not just twice, but three times or more about a move to Parkhead. Why move to a club that cannot give you that platform of Europe to play on?

However, the problem is not just limited to Celtic. Motherwell, Dundee United and Hibs are all out of Europe before September as well, and as much as it pains me to say this, Scottish football is a joke. Although it is becoming more competitive, this is simply because the standards of both Celtic and Rangers have slipped beyond recognition. Changes need to be made now from the SFA, the SPL and the SFL (having one football body would be a good start.)

We also need to move the time of the season. One of the reasons so many clubs struggle in these early preliminary rounds is because they are still rusty from pre-season. Clubs in Scandanavia and Russia start their seasons early because of the weather, but if the Scottish season began in May then late June or early July European games would see all of our clubs in full swing of the domestic campaign, and as such, rustiness is no longer an issue.

Sure, there are possible problems to this (the transfer window for one, and the possibility of a 12 month season if one of our clubs is lucky enough to make a European final again, and of course, the World Cup) but it has to be worth investigating, especially now there is only one Champions League spot up for grabs, and it could take THREE qualifying rounds.  This can hopefully lead to a couple of sides sneaking into the European arena again. This in turn will see a return of prestige, and more importantly, cash to the Scottish game.

This really isn’t a new idea, and that I accept, but without urgent changes the Scottish league will become as prestigious of that in Wales. Dark days then for the game north of the border, and it’s time for fans to make their voices heard.

A complete revolution is the only answer.

Earlier this week, the government rejected Everton’s proposal to move to a new custom-built stadium in Kirby. This rejection was seen as a shattering blow by many as the club look to move out of the relatively dilapidated Goodison Park. However, just as many people are rejoicing at the decision which will surely ensure that the famous old club stays within the city boundaries.

Now, it would appear the Everton board are proposing a ground-share with their old rivals across the city. Despite how close the two current grounds are, a ground-share appears to be a controversial call, but in a time of financial crisis, is it not just good economics?

Ground-sharing is common on the continent, with Italy being the best example. If two clubs the size of the Milan duo can share the San Siro, surely anybody can share a stadium? Same goes for Roma and Lazio and the Stadia Olympico. Or maybe not.

Whilst economics would certainly play a part towards the building of the stadium, both Everton and Liverpool would be realistically hoping to spend the next 100 years in their new home. Of course, football grounds are more than just stadiums these days, with many being used to house concerts, meetings and banquets. In one stadium, both clubs would have to share these potentially huge profits, which is highly unattractive long-term.

However, surely the most important factor is the feeling between both sets of fans. On a recent survey, it is painfully evident that neither Everton fans or Liverpool supporters fancy sharing their home with the other, despite the relationship between both clubs being known as the ‘Friendly Rivalry’. Indeed, my own favourite thing about the game is seeing the two groups of supporters sat-side-by-side in the stands. That being said, the fans have made it clear they would neither welcome nor support having both clubs under one roof.

I think the issue here is the size of both clubs. In smaller cities, I think it is much more appropriate. Indeed, the city of Dundee has recently made a similar proposal. For anybody who is unsure on the distance between the two stadiums, they are both on the same street, literally a stone’s throw away. Neither club gets gates over 15,000, and so a shared stadium would be ideal. Indeed, United manager Craig Levein has suggested a brand new 20,000 capacity ground shared by both clubs would be brilliant, and he’s quite correct.

To expand on this, I believe it would be appropriate in many Scottish cities, and would perhaps provide much-needed revenue for clubs outside the Old Firm. A shared 30-40,000 ground for Hearts and Hibs would certainly help bridge the gap between the Old Firm. However, I do not believe that as a proposal many ‘big’ clubs would accept it. I’d be surprised if it was accepted in any English city, to tell you the truth.

Can you imagine the Manchester clubs, the North London clubs or the Old Firm in shared stadia? Neither can I. There is just too much to lose, and not least home advantage in local derbies. It is for this reason why i think the Everton board are barking up the wrong tree here.

Surely the Everton support will be even more against this than the move outside the city limits? I’d be interested to hear how you would react if your club issued the same proposal with your nearest-and-dearest.

As always, all comments are appreciated.