It’s back. Or is it? We need to close grounds. We mustn’t have fences again. We can ban people who are caught on CCTV. But the pictures usually aren’t good enough. And bans don’t work anyway. Violence is on the increase. It’s nothing like the Eighties. It never gets in the papers. The media are blowing it out of all proportion.
Amid the general admiration for Bobby Robson’s achievement in taking Newcastle to the top of the Premiership table at Christmas, it was widely asserted that he did not have a strong enough squad to make a serious challenge for the championship. That may well be true. However, Newcastle currently have no fewer than 40 players under contract who are considered near enough to the first team to be given a shirt number.
So, the Phoenix League. If we are to believe what the Daily Mail says, and who wouldn’t, “revolution” is afoot. Some-time soon, possibly next season, more likely in 2004 when the current TV deal expires, 14 clubs will leave the Football League to form a second tier of the Premier League, where they will be joined by two clubs demoted from the top level, together with Celtic and Rangers.
As in so many other respects, people often look back on the 1970 World Cup as a golden age of refereeing. Do you know, not a single player was sent off, they will tell you. Not like now, when games are persistently ruined by referees desperate to get into the limelight, imposing absurdly over-fussy regulations.
It’s rare for newspapers to get the chance to report on an old fashioned trade union dispute these days. But the coverage of the PFA’s row over the share of revenue from the new TV contract has provided an opportunity to trot out some of the old stand-bys that were common currency in the strike-heavy Seventies.
We may never know quite why Jaap Stam left Man Utd for Lazio. Some pundits seem to think that the sudden sale of a hitherto key player had nothing do with his published comments. “Revenge for a literary atrocity? Forget it,” suggested the Independent’s James Lawton, who is inclined to think Stam’s manager had long since lost faith and was simply waiting to line up a replacement before selling him.
Ten years ago this summer, the FA published its Blueprint for Football, which first made explicit its support for the breakaway Premier League, to be formed for the start of the 1992-93 season. At the time it was seen by many, including us, as a radical and damaging step which threatened to undermine the traditional bonds between the top of the game and the bottom. The desire of the Premier League clubs to keep a greater proportion of the game’s revenue for themselves, scandalously endorsed by the FA, seemed likely to send many of the smaller clubs to the wall.
Some would say that the football watching has become a soulless experience, with passive spectators in expensive seats cowed by deafening tannoys. Yet the football fan of the 21st century gets any number of opportunities to recreate the stadium atmosphere of old, standing in a huddle cheering on their team. “Pubs have been dubbed football’s new terraces,” said the Sunday Telegraph, reporting ITV Digital’s plans for next season. These include trying to undercut Sky’s existing deals with the 40,000 pubs which pay an average of £500 per year for the right to show satellite transmissions.
In the last week of May, the golfer Andrew Oldcorn collected more than £300,000 for winning the Volvo PGA tournament at Wentworth. Not a bad return for four days’ work by anyone’s standards, but few in the press were lining up to savage the mild-mannered Oldcorn for his rampant avarice. No matter how he performs on the tour this year, he will not be greeted on the tees of Europe by snarling fans chanting that there is “only one greedy bastard”.
When Barclays first sponsored the Football League (as it then was) in 1987, the angry young men (as we then were) at WSC wrote: “What the deal says about the League is this: they believe that Barclays Bank enjoys more warmth and respect in society than football itself.” It was a fair point, particularly as the sum involved was only £4.55 million over three years, which might just be enough to attach your company’s name to Patrick Vieira’s socks these days. It seemed that it wasn’t so much the money the League needed, but reassurance from the corporate world that football had not sunk irredeemably beneath its notice.