There are a few phrases in football that instantly make the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. For inexplicable reasons, the first one that springs to mind is, “FA Cup fifth round replay”. Actually, that is explicable – it’s that delicious stage in the season when we’re almost into the home straight, but not quite, when the evenings are starting to get longer and there’s still some cause for optimism. No matter what other phrases tickle your fancy, I’ve got another one to add to the list, and it may be the best ever. “Albania vs Democratic Republic of Congo, live from Brisbane Road”. Oh yes. Leyton Orient are hosting their first ever international match, and I’m sorely tempted to go. I should point out that, of course, I know next-to-nothing about Albanian football, and the players of DRC are even more of a mystery to me, but an opportunity like this is surely too good to pass up.
You may be have been given pause for thought as to why these two football giants have chosen Brisbane Road, London E10 for their battle, but the decision makes some degree of sense. London is home to Europe’s biggest airport, Heathrow, and has possibly the best air links of any city in Europe. The usual choices for these matches, Brentford’s Griffin Park and QPR’s Loftus Road (both of which are on the Heathrow side of London) are both already in use that night, so Brisbane Road is the next best choice. Obviously, all of Albania’s players are based in Europe, and a number of Congo’s are as well. It makes sense to play the match in Europe. London also has the advantage of being the most ethnically diverse city in western Europe, and London is also far more of a “football city” than other cities of its size, such as Rome or Paris, so there’ll be a large number of interested neutrals that will consider going. On top of all of this, admission prices are generally higher in England than anywhere else in Europe. In short, why play the match in front of 500 people in Tirana and raise no money whatsoever, when you can play it in London in front of 2-3000 people and raise a few thousand pounds for two of (what I should imagine are) the world’s more impoverished Football Associations.
This isn’t, of course, the same thing as Team Nike Brazil, who hawk themselves around the world to the highest bidder, and to the clear detriment of their team’s well-being. Remember how insipid they were at the World Cup during the summer? Well, that was off the back of friendly matches against the United Arab Emirates, Russia and New Zealand. Training sessions were attended by thousands, but were widely criticised as being little more than photo-shoots. The lethargy of these training sessions carried over into their performances – by the time that they were knocked out by France in the quarter-finals, they’d probably already gone a round further than they really deserved to. Such luxuries are scarce for the likes of Albania and DRC. Good luck to them, if it raises a few quid.