The Last Word: My bucket list for the season
The Community Shield has become a sub-standard pre-season friendly. Once it is over, momentum will gather. Here are 10 things that I then hope happen
Saturday 09 August 2014
In the days before football clubs followed the marketing strategies of global corporations and undertook social-engineering projects for small nations, the Charity Shield was regarded as the traditional curtain-raiser for the season.
Rebranded as the Community Shield, it has degenerated into a sub-standard pre-season friendly staged between below-strength teams in a stadium that has become a padded cell for the domestic game. The identity of today’s winner is an irrelevance.
Once it is out of the way, momentum will gather. Here is my bucket list, 10 things I hope happen over the next 10 months.
1. City must spark passion
Manchester City have won the Premier League twice in the last three seasons. Having had a transformative effect in a deprived area, they are establishing a trans-continental empire. Yet they are overshadowed by more traditional clubs because, beyond instinctive envy, they evoke indifference.
Where is the passion? What is the point of filtering progress through the cotton wool of the corporate communications strategy? It is all too calculated, too anaemic. City must acknowledge their faults, as a club which smothers young British talent, and become more transparent.
2. Rodgers wins a trophy
Brendan Rodgers has moved on from the corporate excesses of that introductory documentary. As the most important British coach of his generation, his success will embolden his peers and challenge the myth foreign coaches are inherently superior.
Liverpool are the antithesis of City, since they are prone to excessive emotion. Rodgers is wisely managing expectations, but needs to deliver a trophy this season.
3. Dyche keeps Burnley up
Burnley do not belong in the Premier League. They represent a small market town of 86,900 people. They don’t shift satellite dishes or sell shirts in Singapore. Yet the game’s democrats and dreamers have a vested interest in their survival.
Such community clubs may belong in a Lowry painting, but they enshrine important values like unity, honesty and humility. In Sean Dyche they have a measured yet hugely impressive manager, who will ultimately require a bigger platform. If anyone can keep them up, he can.
4. The cash goes to Pompey
It is a ridiculous notion developed by bureaucrats in search of positive PR, but Sport England, the Government quango which oversees grassroots sport, are offering £1.6m to the city which offers the best chance of growing the game.
The money should be loaded into an armoured car and delivered to Fratton Park forthwith. Portsmouth fans have this weekend raised in excess of £250,000 for the club’s academy. The club is sustainable, supported by its constituents. Just think what they could do with six times that amount.
5. FA get their act together
Politicians bark like rottweilers and behave like poodles when it comes to dealing with football. MPs demanded an immediate transformation of the FA’s antiquated structure in July 2011. They imposed a one-year deadline for wholesale change in the way the game is run in January 2013.
The result? A few platitudes and more empty promises. All public money should be withdrawn from professional football immediately. It must only be renewed when revolution is complete, blazers are burned, and the game is fit for purpose.
6. Betting ads are restricted
The FA, in their infinite wisdom, have banned anyone involved in football from betting on the game while ignoring the institutionalised hypocrisy of accepting and allowing sponsorship from the gambling industry.
A generation of children now associate betting as an integral part of the sporting experience. TV ads which promote such a dangerous assumption must not be shown before the 10pm watershed. Ray Winstone will just have to revert to being a jobbing actor.
7. Youngsters given protection
Youth coaches and academy managers are now being approached by agents promising “there’s a drink in it for you” if they are given preferred status. Parents of talented 10-year-old boys are routinely playing off the biggest clubs against each other. Greed is rampant, unchecked and encouraged by a system that turns boys into commodities before the onset of puberty. Football needs to respond to its duty of care and reject the prevailing view that little can be done because of inherent flaws in human nature.
8. Don’t kiss the badge
If Howard Webb has any influence with his new-found friend Sepp Blatter, he should begin lobbying for the immediate imposition of a yellow card for any player who flagrantly kisses the club badge. It is an act of bogus affinity.
9. Scudamore replaces Bernie
Bernie Ecclestone should be replaced as soon as possible by Richard Scudamore, who has reached the limit of his influence at the Premier League, another sporting fiefdom. He would do a brilliant job in recalibrating grand-prix racing, which is losing TV viewers and failing to attract the youthful audience beloved of its sponsors, and dispel the whiff of the second-hand car salesman.
10. Frank ends the myth
Picture the scene. the Etihad Stadium, Sunday 21 September just before 6pm. Frank Lampard makes a trademark late run into the area and scores Manchester City’s last-minute winning goal against Chelsea.
He gestures towards the heavens, puts his hand to his heart and runs to rejoice with his new fans. In one unforgettable moment, the argument that it is somehow disrespectful to celebrate achievement against a former club is exposed as being nonsensical and unforgivably self-indulgent.
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