Tag Archives: Manchester city

#oneaday 48: Christmas in May

I woke up this morning at 6am and just could not get back to sleep, no matter how tired I thought I was.  Nothing unusual in the Spring or Summer months, I am usually so keen to get up and get outside into the garden, I think I just wake up with the sunrise. But today is FA Cup Final day and it used to be a very special day, especially when I was younger. Today could still be a special day given that there are 2 teams in the Final neither of whom have won any silverware since the 1970’s, Stoke City and Manchester City. Stoke have never been in the Final in their 140 odd years of existence, so their fans will be experiencing a mix of emotions, anxiety right now and maybe, just maybe ecstasy at about 5pm tonight. Or their fans and players will feel flatter than a pancake if they lose to their big money rivals, the Chelsea replacements in light blue. To both sets of fans winning will be everything today and losing, well just not worth contemplating. To both sets of supporters, may the best team win.

My how the game has changed though. This is the first time ever that the FA Cup Final has been played before the end of the Football League season (or indeed the Premier League) has actually finished. Worse than that, a stack of Premiership teams actually play today, all be it at 12.45pm. And even worse than that, the FA Cup Final is no longer on the BBC! Without being dewy eyed. things ain’t what they used to be.

FA Cup Final day was always special. Outside of World Cups and the occasional European Championship ( I say occasional that was because there was only 8 teams who took part, even up to 1992, and the home countries were rarely involved) and the much loved and much missed Home Internationals, which featured England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Island in a round robin tournament played over a week  of 2 Saturdays and a Wednesday nigh match, there was no live football on TV.

I remember watching my first Final in 1970 – Chelsea vs Leeds which went to a replay the following week, which was great becasue it was another match live on TV.  Chelsea won it and also won a legion of new fans, all about 6 or 7 years old.  At  school on the Monday after the Saturday draw, I remember getting punched by some bigger kids because when they asked me ‘who are you for the replay, Chelsea or Leeds’ I simply replied, ‘neither, I amWest Ham’. I think the die was cast even at an early stage in my life that I was never one to follow the crowds and certainly never one to support anyone else bar my beloved Hammers. In 1971 we saw Arsenal do the Double in colour for the first time and Charlie George lay prone after scoring the winner against Liverpool. Then in ’72 it was Arsenal back again, this time against the mighty Leeds, Mick Jones with a bandaged shoulder which looked like it had dislocated as he crossed the ball for Allan Clarke to nail the winner. I remember that year collecting the Esso coin collection celebrating 100 years of the FA Cup, and pleading with Dad to make sure he always bought Esso petrol and thus got more little blue printed paper packets with a precious silver coin inside. In ’73 it was that legendary game, Sunderland of the 2nd Division beating the mighty Leeds! No one could believe it. In 74 Liverpool thumped Newcastle 3-0 and Alec Lindsay scored a scorcher which was ruled out as offside. In ’75 it was West Ham against 2nd Division Fulham. Bobby Moore, the legendary number 6 played, but not for West Ham but for Fulham. In then end all my dreams came true when our FA Cup hero, Alan Taylor scored twice again and Billy Bonds lifted the FA Cup and I was happy as a happy thing for months. The following year, it was Southampton’s turn for a day in the sun and they beat hot favourites Manchester United with a solitary goal by Bobby Stokes. And so every year the memories just built. I have only ever been to 2 FA Cup Finals, 1980  when a 2nd Division West Ham beat 1st Division Arsenal and in 2006 when a 2nd Division (now rebranded Championship) West Ham took Premiership Liverpool to penalties after a 3-3 draw in 120 minutes, not at Wembley but in Cardiff. A great day and all that, one I will never forget, despite us being on the losing side.

Not only was the match live on TV in the old days, but the whole day seemed to be about the Cup. I think the BBC and ITV used to kick off about 9 or 10am and we would have Cup Final themed ‘Swap Shop’  (BBC) and something else on ITV, and the day was about one thing and one thing only. But these were different days. Yes the game meant everything, but it was played by players who earned good money, but not daft money. The gap between the fans and those players was not enormous. We were all working class people, joining together on the big day. We all wanted to win, but we all had a laugh or a cry and above all there was a feeling of a national togetherness. Even the managers were relaxed and full of banter. Nowadays it is all conflict and hype. Take a look at ‘Big’ Ron Atkinson and Jimmy Melia who were interviewed by the legendary David Coleman on the morning of the Cup Final. They are laughing and joking and at complete ease with each other. How refreshing that is when compared with some of the nonsense we see today.

Ok, we were younger and we had more vivid memories, but who could forget the FA Cup finalists, the players, the heroes and the villians. The sea of colours, the banners, the terraces at Wembley stacked with true fans paying fair prices and the perfect pitch, green and cut with what must have been nail scissors. Who also could forget the players, putting absolutely everything into a game, often played in blazing sunshine. Those  same players with rolled down socks, discarded shin pads and fantastic 70’s and 80’s hairstyles, exhausted, many crippled by cramp and all connected to their fans and to the nation as a whole. Above all, the nation would tune in in to 1 of 2 channels and watch the game, ‘Abide with Me’ would bring tears to the eyes of the older ones, and us youngsters would be so excited we were also close to tears.

And then to the game. Everyone, and I mean everyone would be watching the game. It was just like Christmas Day, but without all the presents. Once the game was over, we would all go outside and then play football for hours, until the very last chink of sunshine allowed us to see an old rough ball. I will always remember that Sunderland team, managed by the man in the hat, Bob Stokoe, who really could not believe that they had beaten the best team in the country. These were the best of times and there were simply no ‘worst of times’. Today is a tale of two cities, Manchester and Stoke and let’s hope the best team on the day, the one who wants it most, wins. I have no fear that both sets of fans will be singing their hearts out as it will mean loads to them. Indeed one of my very good friends is an ardent Manchester City fan in his 60’s and he is taking his family and his mother a lifelong fan. Another old school friend will be there, hoping that his beloved City will win something at last. That for me is what football is all about.

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Home Grown?

So the Premier League’s new squad cap rules come into play this season and the headlines make for good reading if you are an England fan, or indeed Scotland, Northern Ireland or Wales.  A lovely little phrase is present with the Premier League’s wording, one to lure us all and make us feel like the game is no longer being commercialised and raped beyond all levels of decency. That phrase is ‘home grown players’. It feels like the equivalent of John Major’s ‘warm beer and evensong’ doesn’t it? I bet some big hitting lawyers have earned some big hitting fees definining that innocuous and friendly sounding phrase. Far from it being a reference to illicitly made, but generally harmless narcotics, it seems like it has been selected to appease and encourage all football supporters who fear for the future of a game geared soley around a club’s ability to pay for talent.

The wording of the rule is interesting:-

Every Premier League club has a squad of 25 and that number is capped. Of these 25,  8 must be ‘home grown’. Sounds great doesn’t it? But what is the definition of ‘home grown’. Well that is simple enough. A ‘home grown’ player is ‘one irrespective of age or nationality, who has been registered with any club affiliated to the Football Association or Foootball Association of Wales for a period continuous or not of 3 entire seasons or 36 months prior to his 21st birthday or the end of the season in which he turns 21′. Does it remind you of the rules attached to meat classification – reared n the EU but slaughtered in the UK’. Clubs will be able to supplemement their squads with additional players under 21 (defined as under 21 on 1st of Jan in which the season commences). Changes to the squad list of 25 may be made during the period of the Transfer Window. Clubs have to declare their 25 players by the end of the Transfer Window (ie 31st August) and then again by the end of the January Transfer Window.

So don’t be fooled. ‘Home’ refers to the club not the country,  I am pretty certain Luis Boa Morte is ‘home grown’. Granted the system should and probably will encourage clubs to invest in more young players in order to beef up their squads, especially once the injuries set in and European football takes its toll. But think about why this rule has come in.  Just think about who will really benefit from these new rules. Clubs can’t put a system of wage or salary caps in, it is after all against the free market, free wheeling Sky fed model and besides players and agents would be up in arms heading for Terminal 5 quicker than you could say ‘Robinho’.

 Premier League chairmen preside for the most over businesses that have a fundamental broken model. Far from the ‘Broken Britain’ that we keep on hearing about, we all know that we definitely have ‘Broken Football’. Everything changed in 2003 when the ‘rags to riches’ ‘ entrerpreneur’ Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea. Most people know that Roman’s wealth is massive, although many wonder if it has been truly earned through hard work and innovation. Suddenly the old guard of Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal were playing catch up. There was a new force on the scene and one which was going to become successful, after years of mediocrity. Chelsea had entered the big league and so long as Roman’s money was there, they would be taking up one of those precious ‘Champions League’ slots, the ones which make the clubs all the money and vitally, get them all the ‘brand exposure’ that they both need and crave. The stakes had been upped, and it seemed the only way clubs could compete was through spending more and more money. And it was. But to spend big, you had to have the cash or at least the access to the cash.  Both Liverpool and Manchester United changed ownership in a bid to match Roman’s Blues, although the choice of owners was questionable to say the least. A few Americans who knew little about football and even less about English football leveraged the clubs with massive debts, something which both clubs and their fans are suffocating from right now. Wily old, privately owned Arsenal stood and watched, and primarily because they have always been prudent and because they have a single minded, myopic, but ultimately a brilliant talent spotting manager, spent less. But they won little in the process. The relationship between success as defined by winning the League or the Champions League and available cash has never been so close. However, the storm clouds of debt were gathering, and even Roman could see that this ‘football drug’ had it’s downside, declaring that he wanted Chelsea to be self sufficient in future and the money he had put into the club was only ever a fully recoverable loan.

These owners and charimen knew that things had to change, they simply could not afford the spiralling debts incurred by the ever increasing wage demands players and agents. Has anyone analysed the inflation multiple in players’ wages since 2003? In an age of transparency, we should be able to know the actual wages all players earn. Indeed, what professional class has salaries quoted in weekly amounts rather than monthly amounts nowadays. How very flat cap and working class!

And then BANG, 5 years after the Roman, along comes  Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, owner of the Abu Dhabi United Group, and now owner of Manchester City. The bar was raised again, and raised smack in the middle of the global financial crisis. 19 other Premier League chairmen were looking down the barrel of an Arab gun. The Abu Dhabi United Group did not rely on leveraged debt, they had cash and plenty of it. Cash for gold, black gold.

So you see, these new rules are nothing to do with helping the English (or Welsh) national teams do better (and Scotland and Northern Ireland not at all). They are all to do with money just as they always are.  Limiting the squads to two full teams not only limits clubs like  Manchester City and Chelsea from ‘warehousing’ all the talent and thus choking the supply to their rivals, it also limits the cash the second tier have to spend.   Allowing clubs to boost their squads with younger and therefore cheaper players, or more accurately players who cost less in wages, utimately means that the ‘Broken Football’ model gets some new life and potentially a new direction. Is this a good thing for football ?  Yes, I think it is. After all Richard Scudamore, Premier League chief, said ‘ it is to protect the viability and sustainability of the clubs’ . But these new rules and their cosy language are there to do just that. Nothing more, nothing less. If England’ s team benefit great, but don’t be taken in by the language, the spin and the branding of these changes. Home grown? I think not.

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