Friday, 13 March 2009

Playing a 39th game overseas will NEVER work!

By MARCUS STEAD.

Alright, alright! I'm giving Marcus the platform he deserves for this well-argued piece. Personally, I like the 39th Game idea, although I confess it doesn't quite resonate with the same force it did pre-Credit Crunch. Here's Marcus!

Most football fans I speak to seem to agree with me that the Premier League has lost some of its appeal. Some of the sparkle that made it such an attractive product in the mid-90s seems to have gone.

I’ve noticed that most of my mates aren’t as eager to see every televised game as they once were. Over the last few years, they haven’t been quite so keen to make sure they’ve finished their Sunday dinner by the time the first of two live Premier League matches comes on. They don’t seem as bothered if their girlfriends want to take a trip to the DIY store on a Sunday afternoon either.

The evidence supports my case. Viewing figures for the FA Cup have dropped alarmingly this season, and I don’t think it’s because the rights have transferred from the BBC to ITV. Some people may prefer their football on one channel over another, but I don’t for one second think that’s a decisive factor as to whether or not they watch the game.

The truth is football needs a shot in the arm- something that’ll capture the public’s imagination the way the new and glamorous Premier League did in the 92/93 season.

At present, the entire bottom half of the table are worthy candidates for relegation. Many of these teams have their share of journeymen who enjoy a hefty pay packet and don’t feel any sense of loyalty or ambition to their clubs. Too often, their managers send them out to play negative, ugly football, and in these tough economic times, the fans are voting with their feet.

Football requires a revolution on the same scale as the formation of the Premier League, and failure to do so will see the steady decline in interest which is well underway escalate over the next few years.

Various ideas have been floating around as to how best to do this, most of which are quickly and rightly dismissed as completely impractical. However, one proposal that has repeatedly been suggested during the last 12 months or so is playing an extra round of matches of overseas. Their inspiration for this proposal often comes from the success the NFL have had in staging matches at Wembley. I’m sure its many advocates are well intentioned, but really, this idea needs to be put to bed now!

When we think of English football’s global appeal, we generally think of a few clubs. Certainly, Manchester United and Liverpool have strong fan bases in Asia and other parts of the world, but does it really span much beyond that? Is there really any demand for Premier League football in other parts of the world that does not involve the top four? Let’s look at this weekend’s fixtures for inspiration:

I can see demand for tickets for Man Utd v Liverpool being massive just about anywhere where football has any kind of fan base. But how well would Sunderland v Wigan go down in Bangkok? Or what about Bolton v Fulham in Johannesburg? Or perhaps West Ham v West Brom in Shanghai? Come on, it’s hard enough to persuade people from West Brom to go and watch them play!

The second problem this would create is that it would massively devalue the league system. If, as Churchill said, democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried, then a league system is the least worst way of establishing which football team is consistently the best. Every team plays every other team home and away over the course of a season, and the team with the most points at the end wins the league.

Of course, it’s not perfect and can never be completely fair. There will always be injury lay-offs which were no fault of the player or the club, suspensions that should never have been, and bad pitches caused by allowing rugby to be played on the ground (an increasing problem, and one I’ll have to get used to in a year’s time when Cardiff City move into their new stadium). However, until somebody thinks of a fairer way of deciding it, the league system will do.

Adding an extra round of fixtures will completely destroy the league as a concept. Imagine if, at the end of the season, your team finished second in the league with only a point separating you from the winners, yet you firmly believe that the champions had a much easier ride in their overseas fixture than your team did.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if court cases soon followed. The whole purpose of the league system would be lost. Make no mistake, such a proposal would be far more controversial than introducing the play-off system in both codes of rugby (I didn’t support that idea either).
Unless these two fundamental problems can be properly addressed, it’s time to kick this idea into touch once and for all.
Also on Soccermongery: Jonny's version of the same subject

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