The cup with no final, a competition too far

With its ludicrous small-time air, the Intertoto Cup has not fired English imaginations, says Glenn Moore
Click to follow
The Independent Online
Ever since those heady floodlit nights at Molineux in the Fifties, when Honved and Spartak Moscow became the original "crack continentals" and Wolves became the first English team to prove "Johnny Foreigner don't like it up 'em", European football has held a special fascination for British audiences.

Remember the Lisbon Lions of Celtic, Alex Stepney's save from Eusebio, Tommy Smith's goal in Rome. Such memories - the heady romance of facing teams from unknown places with unpronounceable names.

But now, it seems, the mysterious places and faces are going to be English. The great European theatres of the San Siro, Nou Camp and Parc des Princes are about to be joined by Millmoor - a ground revered the length and breadth of Rotherham - and London Colney, a student pitch where one man on a shooting stick represents an all-seater stadium.

And, playing in these matches against the world-famed sides of Beitar Jerusalem and Rudar Velenje, will be the likes of Grant Payne and Steve Slade, household names in, er, their own houses.

This is the Premiership's response to the Intertoto Cup, the latest money- making scheme from Uefa. The cup, which begins on 24 June, does not even have a final. The semi-finals will form part of the Uefa Cup preliminary round, and the two winners will join the likes of Manchester United in the first round - and it will only have taken them eight extra games. Just the preparation for a 60-game English season.

Since summer is when players go on holiday, grass grows and stands are rebuilt, it was clearly a ludicrous decision to enter this cup, and Premiership managers, without reservation, have said so.

Unfortunately their chairmen had already decided to enter. The bigger clubs, who assumed they would be in Europe through the front door, said "bad idea - but we won't stop anyone else entering". At this stage the clubs believed the only penalty for not entering was a pounds 50,000 fine per club. So they booked their places.

Come the final reckoning, Uefa - already unhappy at the disinterest of Italian and Spanish clubs - were further unnerved by the prospect of English and German clubs pulling out - after all, sponsors and television companies had been wooed with the promise that teams like Tottenham would be in it.

So the Football Association were warned that, should we pull out, heavy sanctions would be imposed, possibly a full European ban, more probably the loss of the newly acquired extra Uefa Cup place.

The sabre-rattling had the desired impact and the Premiership have rustled up three sacrificial victims - Tottenham, Wimbledon and Sheffield Wednesday. However, to do so, they have arranged compromises with the clubs and Uefa. Pitch repair (at Selhurst Park and White Hart Lane) and rebuilding (at Hillsborough) means none of the clubs are likely to use their own grounds. Instead Orient, London Colney and Rotherham have been mooted.

Line-ups are going to be unrecognisable, packed with youth team players - like Wimbledon's Payne, and Tottenham's Slade - and a surfeit of "guest players". It remains to be seen how Uefa will react to such weakened XIs.

The whole situation has been brought about by greed - that of Uefa, and of our clubs. Fitting really, that the competition began life to provide fixtures for central European pools coupons. Jackpot? Just potty.