One of the biggest clubs in the country is in dire trouble; another high-flyer has slumped from the top of the league to the bottom, both as a result of spending too much on players’ wages. That may sound familiar, but in fact these two examples from Australian sport could hardly be more different from the nightmare scenarios painted for the future of football clubs in Britain and the rest of Europe.
Imagine you’re a Football Association official. In the space of a couple of weeks you will have experienced two very different attitudes towards race prejudice. In Bratislava for England’s Euro 2004 qualifier with Slovakia, you will have seen and heard a large section of the crowd, the middle-aged people with their children in the expensive seats as well as the skinhead nationalists, join in abusive chants aimed at black England players. The following week, you might have attended a “Kick Racism Out of Football” event at an English League ground where you will have seen the crowd applaud the anti-ra-cism banners carried around the pitch by teams of schoolchildren.
Good news for tree-lovers. Stung by all the bad publicity generated by Roy Keane’s score settling, Manchester United are to ban their players from producing books that don’t have the official stamp of approval. The millions keenly anticipating David Beckham’s planned autobiography needn’t fret as it seems set to escape the cull, contracts having been signed some time ago, but we may be deprived of the raw insights of Paul Scholes (working title: Ginger!) and Nicky Butt (Kicking Butt).
UEFA's freshest plans to renovate the Champions League are yet again satisfying few. Perhaps more dangerously, they are isolating Europe's smaller nations and if the G-14 had its way, they'd be forgotten altogether
As this issue of the magazine goes to press, an unholy row seems to be brewing over the future composition of the Champions League. The self-styled G-14 group of clubs were due to meet on August 30 to discuss, among other things, UEFA’s announcement that they plan to dispense with the second group stage of the Champions League, thus reducing the amount of games played in the latter stages of the competition.
The implications of the transfer window and the Bosman ruling are forcing radical changes in the exchange of players, to the great cost of clubs lacking the resources for multi-million pound bids here and there
There were instant repercussions in July when a Sunday newspaper quoted a lifelong Spurs fan who was up in arms about his team’s alleged lack of ambition. “We’re a million miles away from winning the championship,” he moaned, “because no money has been made available to buy the top stars that you need to become genuine challengers.”
It’s always tempting to read too much into a World Cup, especially in its immediate aftermath. Who would have thought in 1990, for example, that such a turgid tournament, littered with violence on and off the pitch, would be the prelude to a decade of soaring interest and fantastic wealth in English football?
You never really know until it starts, of course, but it feels as though this World Cup is going to be very different from the last one. Some of the differences are obvious, notably the fact that it is being held much further away from England. While you would not want to rule it out, it seems implausible that hooliganism will be as big a theme as it was in France. Perhaps more interestingly from England’s point of view is the way the culture of the team itself has changed, largely, though not entirely, due to the influence of Sven-Goran Eriksson.
At the time of going to press it seems that a new Premiership record will be set this season – and, as the ridiculous fuss over Alan Shearer’s 200th goal since 1992 shows, those are the kind of records that count these days. This season, the tenth since football began, is almost certain to be the first that all of the promoted teams have succeeded in staying in the Premiership.
The Football League are getting all kinds of advice from the press about what to do in their dispute with ITV Digital, most of it accompanied by fingerwagging. The News of the World, for one, wonders why lower division clubs “think they have a right to such money in the first place” given that they have “wallowed in a swamp of debt for too long”.
As we know, David O’Leary and Arsène Wenger are as fiercely competitive as their players. Just now they are locked in competition to prove that their club is the most unpopular, and therefore the most put upon, in the Premier League. David O’Leary seems to have been stopping every passing reporter in recent weeks to tell them of his despair at Leeds’s declining reputation. “From the being the second favourite club of most neutral supporters,” he says, “we seem to have become the most hated club in the country,” a development he ascribes partly to the Bowyer-Woodgate trial and its aftermath, since which “nobody misses the chance to criticise and condemn us”.