Month: July 2008

20,000 Leagues Under The Sea

League football might just be the greatest export of Victorian Britain. It seems scarcely credible that it was a little short of one hundred and twenty years ago that The Football League kicked off for the first time, so now feels like an appropriate time to celebrate the anniversary of a venerable institution which has time and again confounded its critics, both inside and outside of the game, and, in spite of the cultural domination of the Premier League and the Champions League, continues to thrive as one of the most watched football tournaments in Europe. The strength of the competition in depth is probably the single, defining feature of English football that sets it apart from the rest of the world, though this was a feature of the league that took decades to develop. The current format of it (or, since the formation of the Premier League in 1992, the current bastardised version of it) – of four national divisions with promotion and relegation between them – is also celebrating an anniversary this year. It’s fifty years old this year – more on that next month. In the first place, though there were only twelve clubs. The idea was the brainchild of William McGregor, a Scottish draper that had moved south and become a director of Aston Villa. The FA had legalised professionalism in 1885, but it took...

Read More

The Cost Of Living

Reading lists of of football attendances records can make for dispiriting reading. After reaching highs in the late 1940s and late 1960s, crowds at English football went into a tailspin that nearly killed the club game for good. During the 1982/83 season, Tony Gubba reported for “Football Focus” upon the malaise that was sweeping the game. Liverpool, the English champions and a club that would, the following season, become the European champions for the third time in seven years (indeed, the Liverpool team from the 1977-1984 period would be a not unreasonable call as the greatest European club team since the great Real Madrid side of the 1950s), confirmed that they were running at a loss. With entrance fees for the Kop at £2, the club could no longer rely upon gate receipts to cover their outgoings. Whichever way you looked at it, the figures were depressing, and when the twin disasters of Heysel and Bradford occurred in May 1985, at the end of a season of unprecedented hooliganism, they went into freefall. Here is a sample of the statistics of the time: – During the 1983/84 season, Everton’s average home attendance dropped by 4.6% to 19,343. – During the 1985/86 season, Spurs’ average home attendance dropped by 27.9% to 20,859. – During the 1987/88 season, four clubs had average home attendances of under 9,000. – During the 1986/86...

Read More

When Is A Pre-Season Tour Not A Pre-Season Tour?

Well, it seems like a fairly obvious question, doesn’t it? The pre-season tour has become part of the football landscape, with clubs of all shapes and sizes taking advantage of cheap air flights to take the opportunity to get in some pre-season bonding and throw in a couple of practice matches at the same time. However, up in Yorkshire, newly-promoted Unibond League side Bradford Park Avenue took the peculiar decision to, well, fabricate a pre-season tour and report it as fact. It started with a report on the official Bradford Park Avenue website’s news section, stating that the club had undertaken a tour of Spain, playing friendly matches against Soto FC, a “local side”, and FC Benus, and a mysterious “Russian/Bulgarian XI”. Their new signing from FC United, Rory Patterson, scored a hat-trick and they found a trialist called “Stefan Brookster”, and generally had a lovely time. All well and good, then. The plot only thickened when an FC United supporter that happens to know Rory Patterson texted him to congratulate him on his debut hat-trick. Patterson replied, saying (basically), “what on earth are you talking about?”. Patterson hadn’t been to Spain, and hadn’t kicked a ball in anger since the end of last season. This, we thought, was strange. Perhaps there was some sort of mistake. So, we had a bit of a root around, and found that...

Read More

Football, Hooliganism & The United States

For those of us watching from the other side of the Atlantic ocean, Major League Soccer is, to say the very least, an education. English football developed into what it is today as the result of one hundred and twenty years of evolution. MLS, by comparison, hasn’t had much time to develop a universe of its own. It has had to be, in the already cluttered landscape that is American sport, be a revolution in itself, and it is still, as far as many Americans are concerned, on probation. There is still time for MLS to collapse in on itself in the same way that its predecessor, NASL, did in the early 1980s when the crowds drifted away and the backers pulled the plug. Its development has been slow and steady. MLS still can’t compete on an even keel with American football, baseball and basketball, but it has made significant in-roads into the psyche of a nation that had looked for many years as if it would prove to be entirely impervious to the game. Crowds are growing and money is starting to be invested on being in star players from overseas. The problem side of the game, however, is also starting to rear its ugly, spit-flecked head. Last weekend’s friendly between Columbus Crew and West Ham United seemed to be an innocuous enough looking fixture. A chance for...

Read More

Quiet Optimism

Over the last couple of years, we have been less than complimentary about ITV’s football coverage. However, I’m not one to bear a grudge, and I’m now quietly optimistic that it might be set to improve. Whisper this quietly, but… I’m starting to think that they might have put someone that cares in charge of their football coverage. The first signs of this recovery came in the new year, with the frankly genius idea to repeat editions of “The Big Match” from 1983 on Thursday afternoons and Sunday mornings. John Bourn, whose website about regional football on ITV was started, in his own words, “a spur to ITV to make more use of their massive football archive”, could finally rest easy in his bed at night. Then, over the summer, their coverage of Euro 2008 was better than expected whilst the BBC’s was worse. It would be something of a leap of faith to say that it was better, but their half-time analysts at least tried to discuss the football rather than try to out-shout each other, and they didn’t repeat the mistake of cutting to adverts over the top of national anthems, like they did at the 2006 World Cup. If they can offer a little more intelligent analysis of the Champions League and steer clear of the patriotic nonsense (which offends many, many people, whilst offering little...

Read More