Here’s a straw to clutch on to. Anything that annoys or in-conveniences the Premiership’s big four clubs must be at some level a good thing. On the face of it, Michel Platini’s election as the new UEFA president – he defeated the incumbent Lennart Johansson by 27 votes to 23 – comes into that category. One of the main planks of Platini’s campaign was a proposal to cut the maximum number of Champions League qualifiers any country can have to three, beginning with the next TV deal in 2009-10. That Platini explicitly said that he would like to see greater representation for the champions from around eastern Europe probably helped to swing the final vote.
A recent edition of Sky’s Football League Review turned momentarily into a version of The Price is Right. Studio guest Steve Claridge was shown footage of two young English players with Championship clubs and asked how much money they might reasonably be sold for in the transfer window. Claridge, brow furrowed in the manner of a contestant weighing up the true value of a rice cooker or teak shelving unit, gravely suggested that one might go for £5-6 million, the other for £2-3m.
BBC4 recently broadcast a series on the history of British science fiction, covering novels such as 1984 and Brave New World that presented dehumanised future societies. Had it been made a few months later, they might have been able to include a section on the dystopian hell recently conjured up by Peter Kenyon. In late November, talking of the forthcoming match with Man Utd, Chelsea’s chief executive offered a nightmarish vision of the near future.
Several mysterious half-seen creatures are said to exist in the UK. There’s the Beast of Bodmin, a giant cat that’s held responsible for the death of livestock in south-west England. The Loch Ness monster lurks in various hazy photographs, lovingly reproduced on early-hours TV documentaries. And, perhaps the most spectral of all, there’s Geoff Thompson. He’s a bearded man in late middle age, occasionally sighted getting in and out of taxis, and is said by some to be the chairman of the FA. Many doubted his existence, but suddenly at the end of October 2006 he both appeared in full public view and made a useful contribution to an important matter. Thompson voted to abolish his own post, one in a series of measures for reforming the FA proposed by the Burns Report.
Is football full of corrupt people? We have no idea. Or at least we have no proof. But with plenty of agents and managers saying that bungs – that is, bribes – are rife, we do know that the alternative is that the game is full of liars.
Whatever the facts that emerge surrounding the arrival of Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano at West Ham, there’s no point in becoming overly exercised by this latest move, whatever the baggage proves to be. In moral terms, top-level football plummeted down the abyss a while ago. With the creation of the Premiership and the Champions League, greed became the dominant principle. The only question these days is whether greed is the reason for an investment or what provided the funds to make a bid possible.
Summer is usually spent finding ways to fill time before the next football season starts. No such problem this year, of course, with just four weeks between the end of the World Cup and the Football League’s opening fixtures. It may be an effect of the heatwave, but we’ve thought of a few reasons to feel optimistic about 2006-07.
The editorial in WSC 233, in which we suggested that England would grind their way through the group stage then go out to the first reasonable team they played, proved to be prophetic. But we can’t claim any credit for special insight. Anyone who has followed the various tribulations of the national team over the past couple of decades knew broadly what would happen at the 2006 World Cup. So, clearly, did the England players, even down to the sudden extra effort the ten men produced in the last hour against Portugal, bidding to set up at least another of the heroic defeats to which they seem mentally attuned and which, if you ignore some obvious truths about penalty shootouts, they achieved.
It feels as though the World Cup started several months ago. The hype that surrounds every tournament seems to have been that bit more insistent and frenetic this time. Partly that can be put down to the mounting media anxiety over Wayne Rooney’s “fight for fitness” and the possibility that one of England’s very few undeniably world-class players may not take part. More generally, though, the immense outpouring of guff and stuff about Germany 2006 – the proliferation of dire songs, documentaries of wildly varying quality and St George cross products choking supermarket aisles – just shows that football has become an easily exploitable cultural product.
“What a mess this is,” said Graham Taylor of the latest developments in the selection of the new England coach. And there’s a man who knows about mess. It’s hard to disagree with him as we write, a few days after Luiz Felipe Scolari said no and on the eve of an expected announcement that Steve McClaren will shuffle up the bench to occupy the seat Sven-Göran Eriksson is to vacate. Time, obviously, to dispense with the men responsible for this debacle.