If I lived anywhere in the UK and had the slightest interest in football I would be standing behind the door of my local MP’s surgery inquiring whether he was part of the All Party Parliamentary Football Group. And if his/her answer is a yes, I would tell him/her to stick to his day job of fiddling expenses and to stop poking his/her nose in affairs that do not really concern him/her.
Only the misguided few would say that The Premier League is perfect but it is by far the best league in the world. Yes we would rather see more home grown English lads turning out for Chelsea but hands up anyone who would rather see Kevin Nolan or Joey Barton instead of Michael Essien in our midfield.
Yesterday’s Liverpool- Arsenal game was a classic example of why these meddling MPs should keep their noses out of football. Forget about the result and the thrill a minute action. We had seen that just seven days earlier at The Bridge. It was the sheer honesty of the game that would have left everyone at FIFA and UEFA open mouthed.
Let me explain. Liverpool are out of the Champions League and only have the Premiership to go for. Arsenal do not have a hope in hell of winning the league but still in the Champions League. Arsenal face United next week in the Champions League, the latter being Liverpool’s main obstacle to winning the league.
The Latin pragmatist in me would say that Arsenal should have let Liverpool win to make United, their Champions League opponents, sweat harder in the two games they play between tonight and their tie against Arsenal. In the land where UEFA president Michel Platini played his football, Italy, that would have been a given. Indeed Liverpool would have been insulted by the fight Arsenal put up last night. In Monsieur Platini’s world the two chairmen would have got together and cobbled some sort of a deal. You win the match and we get a few million off when we come asking about Xabi Alonso next summer. F**k the 2000 odd Arsenal who made the trip from London to Liverpool on a Tuesday night. F**k the millions watching on the telly. And we all live happily ever after.
Off the top of my head I remember two occasions when, with nothing to play for, Chelsea won their matches on the last day of the season against Stoke and Bolton sending them down to Division 2 when we had nothing to play for except pride and the integrity of the game. Had those situations arisen in Italy we would have lost but got the pick of their best players the following season. That is what makes the English league so hard to comprehend for Monsieur Platini.
For all their faults club owners, chairmen and directors have done a lot to bring English football to the very peak of world football. Such is the dominance of English clubs now that the anti English lobby in UEFA and FIFA are scratching their heads to haul them back in. That is why they want to bring in this 6+5 rule. And your local is probably agreeing to this idea.
What the suits at UEFA and FIFA fail to appreciate is that this is a process that started 20 years ago when watching a game of football in England was literally a life threatening experience. But the clubs kept the best of the British game – the integrity and the passion and built the best league in the world. They built the best stadiums in the world, signed up the best players in the world and the jigsaw all fell into place.
The best bit is that the quality goes way beyond the top few clubs. There are clubs in League 2 who have better stadiums than Serie A clubs in Italy, including Platini’s beloved Juventus. Even in what are considered Italy’s two best Stadiums, the San Siro and the Luigi Ferraris in Genoa, the facilities for fans border third world standards. That is why there are clubs in The Coca Cola Championship who get better gates than Juventus, Lazio and other leading Serie A clubs. That is why The Championship attracts more fans than Serie A. That and the integrity of the game itself as witnessed last night and on countless other occasions. That is why Jose’ Mourinho, having experienced life on both sides of the fence, pines, sometimes openly, for a return to English football.
For years European clubs took a free ride on the back of their local councils playing in derelict stadiums and spending all their money buying up the best players in the world. English clubs have taken the long route home. They have poured billions into the infrastructure and now they are reaping the dividends.
Nostalgia is a dangerous thing. They don’t build cars like they used to is a phrase I often hear. Thank god for that I say. I wouldn’t swap my Toyota with it’s standard aircon, electric windows, CD player, power steering and brakes for a top of the range seventies Merc because mine is a more reliable car and ten times more comfortable. It’s the same with seventies and eighties football. We had an all British team at Chelsea in the seventies and eighties, English managers, loads of standing space in the stadium and look at where that got us.
Tonight if you’re sitting in the Matthew Harding or Shed End, watching the best Chelsea team in history while enjoying arguably the best view in a football stadium anywhere in the world, think if you would rather go back to the “good old seventies” as Platini and his cohorts would have you. If your answer is yes, I suggest you get your head seen to – or become an MP and join The All Party Parliamentary Football Group.