A few weeks ago I started griping. Griping and shouting at the clouds, you might say. As a slightly grumpy middle-aged bloke who remembers the so-called footballing ‘Hey Days’ of the 1970s and ‘80s, you might expect what follows to be a diatribe against modern football and a harking back to the ‘Glory Days When Everything Was Better’.
Far from it.
Nostalgia is overrated, I reckon. Much of history didn’t happen the way we remember it and even if it did, it wasn’t as good as the rose-coloured views we stubbornly persist in clinging to
Modern Stadia Gripes
A classic example is the seemingly never-ending furore concerning the so-called soullessness of modern stadia. As noted last time out, there are large swathes of middle-aged ladies and gents who persist with the fallacy that the Old Wembley was better than the current incarnation on the grounds that it ‘had atmosphere, didn’t it?’.
To be fair, it’s not just Wembley that gets a bad rep these days. The Emirates Stadium and West Ham’s London Stadium are amongst the others high on the list of whingers. I just don’t understand it, to tell the truth. Arsenal and West Ham fans get to watch football in relative comfort with decent views and facilities, and yet there is a continual harking back to the herding mentality of days gone by. Supporters were treated like cattle and you had to stand on crumbling and freezing cold terraces for anything up to three hours in order to get a half-decent spot for a big match.
The truth is both the Emirates and the London Stadium have far higher capacities than either Highbury or Upton Park did at the end of their respective existences. This increased capacity obviously means far more supporters can watch their team than previously, and although nobody can disagree the price of tickets is far too high, it is what it is. The standard of football and the money involved has moved on from three decades ago, as has society in general, and no amount of looking back with teary-eyed nostalgia is going to change that.
The FA Cup
The 2019-20 Cup finally concluded almost 12 months from its inception last August with the extra-preliminary qualifying round. This is a competition that most, including me, will concede has lost its way over the past quarter-century or so, and yet it still just about clings to some semblance of relevancy.
The FA Cup started to go wrong following the tragedy of Hillsborough, of course. Following the horrific events of that day, the competition quite naturally lost a lot of its allure at one fell stroke, but decisions taken since have been responsible for its further decline.
Following 1989, the semi-finals have never again been held simultaneously on neutral league grounds while a full league programme has carried on elsewhere. From 1990 onwards, the semi-finals have been shown live on TV, firstly on a ‘Super Sunday’ basis and from 2007 when the New Wembley opened, over the course of a weekend.
Then the FA and the police between them came up with the concept of delayed replays and penalty-shootouts. This was ostensibly because the police declared in 1991 that, after a century or so of doing otherwise, they could no longer prepare safety measures adequately with less than ten days’ notice of matches. Over the next three decades, the FA seem to have done its level best to run the competition into the ground with its insistence on holding all semi-finals at Wembley, having the final kick-off at 5:30 pm on a Saturday with a full league programme happening around it, doing away with any replays at all in later rounds, and generally treating it as an inconvenience.
It is only a matter of time until the tournament goes the way of the League Cup in that all matches will be decided on the day with a penalty shootout deciding matters after 90 minutes. It is a shame.
The great football shirt rip off continues unabated. Time was when a club kept their shirt design basically unchanged for years on end, then in the early-to-mid-eighties, a marketing opportunity was spotted and began to be exploited.
It started with sides putting their kits on a two-year cycle whereby tweaks would be made and a new shirt released bi-annually. The shirts were basically the same as one another with minimal changes being made to collars or sleeves, etc, and the public, gullible as we ever were, fell for it hook, line and sinker.
Over the years this state of affairs has worsened. Now the shirts are changed annually and most sides also produce second and third shirts. These third shirts may only be worn by the first team a couple of times a season if that. Added into the mix are the sides that release special shirts that are only worn in European competition and also ‘player’ or ‘match-day’ editions, and the rip-off is complete.
Again, it could be said that as with the price of tickets nobody is being forced to shell out and buy these shirts, but we all know that is not the way things work in the real world. There is a pressure felt by young and old alike to conform and to buy the latest merchandise. There is a need to be seen in the latest and most up-to-date clobber, and the clubs play on this.
Once more, it is part of the way football is nowadays. The business, for that is what it is, is awash with money and it all comes back to the fans to provide it, one way or another. I don’t think the majority of football-shirt-buying supporters would object to one new shirt of high quality and significant difference every two or three years, but the current state of affairs seems no more or less than taking advantage.
The Away Goals Rule
This is something that I don’t actually disagree with. I think it is inherently better than a penalty shoot-out or a toss of the coin and it is something I don’t understand people disagreeing with.
In his later years at Arsenal, Arsene Wenger was a particularly outspoken opponent of the rule, claiming it was unfairly skewered in favour of the side playing at home in the second-leg. Again, I don’t see why.
The rule was introduced into European competition the 1970s in an effort to reward sides for attacking away from home and so avoiding the necessity to toss a coin or, usually, avoid a penalty-shootout in the event of an aggregate tie.
Some claim that it alters the synergy of a two-legged tie and that sides play differently under these rules than they would if they didn’t exist. A 3-1 defeat away from home, for example, is a better result than a 2-0 defeat, just as a score-draw trumps a goalless one. But that is the point, surely? To try and encourage more attacking football.
It has been mooted that in the case of a tie going to extra time after two identical results over 90 minutes the away goals rule should cease to exist. So, for example, with Liverpool’s two matches against Atletico Madrid in the last 16 of last season’s ECL ending 1-0 to the home side extra time would have been played without the spectre of the away goals rule hanging over it. After Liverpool had gone 2-0 up Atletico would have needed to score twice to get ahead again in the tie rather than just the once.
The current rule, some said, was unfair to Liverpool as they had more risk of losing the tie on the away goals rule due to playing at home for two hours rather than 90 minutes. However, surely the supposed advantage of playing at home for longer negated any disadvantage of being at risk of the AWG for longer, though.
Everton and some of their fans continued insistence on blaming Liverpool for their woes
In 1985 the vile actions of certain Liverpool supporters resulted in the deaths of 39 people at Heysel. In 1994 Everton avoided relegation from the Premier League in rather controversial circumstances.
To this day certain Everton supporters insist the two are linked.
The reasons that Everton have not challenged for the league in over 30 years, or won a trophy of any kind since 1995, can be traced back to Heysel, so some Toffees claim.
“Had we been allowed into Europe in ‘85, we would have won the European Cup the next year, our better players and manager (Howard Kendall) would never have left, and we would have kept our places at football’s top table”.
It wasn’t Liverpool who badly mismanaged the club financially over thirty years or more. It wasn’t Liverpool who forced Everton to appoint Mike Walker or Sam Allardyce as managers. It wasn’t Liverpool who forced Everton to continuously rip up plans for a new stadium.
This is the club whose fan base blame Liverpool for their failure to reach the Champions League group stages in 2005. Then the club finished fourth in the 2004-05 Premier League and faced Villareal in a play-off with the winner going through to the group stages.
After Everton had been beaten 2-1 at home in the first leg, they were up against it in Spain. However, a terrific performance had them drawing 1-1 with all to play for and not long left. When Duncan Ferguson scored what seemed to be a perfectly good winner extra time (and possible away goals?) beckoned.
Then, out of nowhere, self-proclaimed ‘best referee in the world’, Pierluigi Collina, disallowed the goal. It was, to be fair, a baffling decision. Everton were rightly incensed and their fury was only compounded when Villareal broke away to score themselves and win the game 2-1 and the tie by a 4-2 aggregate.
The fact that Villareal subsequently went on to reach the semi-finals only added to the ire of Evertonians.
A certain sympathy would, therefore, be in order from even the most avid of Liverpool supporters and it would have been forthcoming had it not been for some of those of a blue persuasion stating confidently that Everton’s misfortune was the result of a UEFA Liverpool-based conspiracy.
So their train of thought goes, UEFA did not want five sides from England in the tournament proper and as Liverpool had only reluctantly been allowed to enter the tournament courtesy of winning it in 2005 and not via a league position, they, UEFA, were not going to allow Everton to progress at any rate.
So, all Liverpool’s fault again.
‘The People’s Club’ indeed.