MEHSTG Vol. 2 - Issue 14  -  April 2000

What are FIFA thinking of ?? Introducing a world-wide football calendar. Will it feature full frontal shots of Lennart Johansson and Sepp Blatter ?? Or will it have them in artistic poses replicating famous football moments from the past ??  And knowing FIFA it will probably consist of fourteen months as they had made a promise to the Congolese delegate that they would add two more months to the year if it guaranteed their vote to maintain their positions in the world football hierarchy.

But seriously folks, the idea of imposing the world football calendar on to the whole of the FIFA community is one which is going to cause a big fuss in the game over the next few years.  We have already seen and heard the rumours of top Scottish, Danish, Dutch and Belgian clubs joining a North-Atlantic League where they will play their games on oil rig platforms under the cameras which will beam the game into the sitting rooms of houses all over the countries involved.  How these clubs imagine that this will increase their money gathering ability and then put them in a position to challenge the big boys of European football, I’m not sure.  Instead of Rangers and Celtic battling it out for the Scottish League Championship, they will be facing Ajax, PSV, Anderlecht and Celtic six times a season for a championship that nobody has a parochial interest in.  Let’s face it, these are all leagues where there most teams play to find out who’s coming third.

With some of the changes that will affect the English game being a season running from February to November, with December and January being set aside for holidays and pre-season training.  Now that is a fine idea isn’t it ?  Pre-season training at the moment takes place in the summer in this country, so the players although at risk of dehydration are, in the main, less likely to get injured (hard grounds excepted).  In the winter months it will be hard for players who are seeking to regain their fitness levels for a rigorous season to train hard with the risk of pulled muscles and hamstrings and the general hazardous state of training pitches in this country in those months anyway.  Fine for the top clubs who may have indoor training facilities, but what of the lower league sides who have to make do with training on park pitches anyway and the funds available don’t stretch to using the local sports centre or health club ??  Some of the clubs’ biggest gates comes around Christmas and New Year and these would go by the by if FIFA have their way to spoil all our Christmases.  It is the only chance for some of us to get out of the house at this “family” time of year !!

However, the season will be split into two parts with July and August allocated for World Cups and Continental tournaments.  This is to obviate the need for releasing players for international requirements during the season.  But don’t clubs realise this when the sign players up in the first place ?? The CONCACAF Cup (not a new brand of coffee, but a Central American goal fest) runs smack in the middle of the European season. Now, why, if it involves most of the players from our continent, don’t they run it in the middle of their season.  Their players will be match fit and a break in their season would not be a terrible intrusion in the League’s continuation.  As most of our major international tournaments would take place then anyway, why the switch to playing from January ?? 46 dates would be allowed for national league and cup matches and another 16 for international club competitions, which would probably include as many moneymaking world club cups that FIFA could dream up. 

The other astounding aspect of these changes would be the playing of double-headers.  Now, as any Sunday park player will know that because of the unavailability of players and the state of the Council’s pitches, it means that come the end of the season your team have to play one game that counts, points-wise, as being two (either by overall result or each half representing one game). This is what is being suggested for continental competitions (European Championships) and World Cup qualifiers. So, you get to meet the same opponents on a regular basis.  Now this would not be a problem for England as we have been stuck with Poland in the past and now Germany in the future as the countries who we meet every week !! But what effect would that have on the pressure on players and officials.  Should a ref make a mistake over a crucial decision in one game, then fine, it would only affect one competition, but when it has a drastic effect on qualification for two major tournaments, well, I wouldn’t like to be wearing all black I can tell you.

One of the factors that has expedited this move has been the appointment of World Cup 2002 going to Japan and Korea, with the competition taking place slap bang in the middle of the monsoon season.  It has been madly suggested by some that the World Cup finals are started in May to avoid the wet weather, but this would result in players going straight from their European seasons to the World Cup without a break.  History, it seems, has no place outside the FIFA museum at Preston. The same goes for the FA Cup, which would be nowhere like the current set-up under the new regime.  The famous old competition would be over and done with by December and the shifting of the third round to before Christmas this year will look like rearranging a postponed match in comparison.

The other implied change tied up with this harmonised calendar move is to reduce the size of the Premiership to 18 clubs. The FA have resisted this change for a number of years, even though UEFA have threatened to do away with European places for the League Cup winners until they did.  However, this seems to be curtains for the Premier League as we know it (I was going to say “and love it”, but then I thought better of it).  The money men will be mortified and the fans will bid a hearty cry of “Yahoo !!” as the price of season tickets plummet.  Well, the last bit will probably not happen as last time the top division was reduced the price stayed the same !!  “But how would it be done ?” I hear you ask.  I’m sure that the Premier League Committee would devise a fair and amicable method to decide who gets the chop.

The thought of the top dogs at FIFA using only the balls they pull out of those glass bowls at tournament draws to cover their modesty pictured on a page each month would be too much to take. They have the exotically named members of FIFA’s various committees; David Will, Jock Irvine, Timothy Fok, Wan-Kon Oh, Dick Howard, Chuck Blazer, Rudy Gittens, Slim Aloulou, Omar Seck and Howard Wilkinson to draw in the ladies. Or they could go for a girlie calendar, but they don’t seem to Miss December or Miss January very much. For each country who has a vested interest in playing their games when they do, there is another who will do exactly what the FIFA bigwigs tell them on the promise of a greater say in the way football is run.  Or do I mean that they will be able to increase the amount of money they will make out of the game ??

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