Thursday 15 May ~
It's rare that two football matches are broadcast simultaneously but TV viewers had a choice last night: the UEFA Cup final on ITV or the Hull v Watford Championship play-off semi-final on Sky. Some ticketless Rangers fans in Manchester, part of what one newspaper described as “the biggest peacetime mobilisation Britain has ever seen”, didn't get to see their team's defeat to Zenit due to technical problems with a big screen, which led to riots. There were no Watford fans milling around outside the KC Stadium, Hull, but those who were at the game ended up wishing that they had watched something else instead.
During Rangers' run to the UEFA Cup final, captain Barry Ferguson said that his side's progress reflected the strength of the Scottish League, which he feels is underestimated in England. But, as with the English Premier League's top quartet, European success in Scotland is the sole preserve of the dominant oligarchy; football observers in England or anywhere else won't have cause to “sit up and take notice” until the likes of Aberdeen or Motherwell go on a sustained European run.
Ferguson has also said that overcoming Celtic to win the Scottish Premier League title was more important to Rangers than reaching a European final. In saying this he is no doubt echoing the view of most Rangers supporters. But even from a pragmatic financial perspective, a run to the UEFA Cup final generates only a fraction of the revenue brought by Champions League participation – and Rangers will go straight into the group stage of the latter competition if they win the SPL. As a consequence of the Scottish football authorities refusing the extend the season, however, Rangers are being required to play seven matches in 17 days – they now have three SPL fixtures left plus the Scottish Cup final on May 24. A former Rangers centre-forward, Sir Alex Ferguson, thinks that is is “ridiculous” and indicative of a “typically British” attitude towards success – a view that will be shared by the thousands waving Union Jacks at the City of Manchester Stadium last night.
Meanwhile one spot of good news for Watford fans in the wake of their 6-1 aggregate defeat at Hull in the Championship play-off, is that manager Aidy Boothroyd has conceded that “our style of play has to change”. He was happy to “win ugly” a few weeks ago but losing ugly will have been too much to bear.