Modern Bloody Football – Cup Competitions

Firstly, a quick ‘hola’ to Rafa, which, since I feel the damage is already done, is likely to end in a swift ‘adios’ come May.

I hope I’m wrong, but even if the inevitable relegation follows, I’d love to think Rafa could see us as a Keeganesque project…or is that just my heart ruling my head?

Anyway…a quiz question.  What do Peter Withe, Jon Dahl Tomasson and Didi Hamann all have in common?** (Read on…)

Cup Competitions

As we all know, NUFC haven’t done particularly well in the cup competitions in recent years.

Feels like an awful long time since we graced Wembley or even won a bloody game for that matter.  However, if you had told me aged 13 I’d have been to Wembley four times in the future I’d probably have laughed very loudly at you.  Then there is the additional humiliation in Cardiff I try to forget about too.  The fact we scored one and conceded ten at Wembley made me want to cry louder when we finally got those opportunities!!  That one goal was one of the happiest moments I’ve had following NUFC.  The outpouring of emotion among my mates and complete strangers around us in black and white was incredible, but it was all too brief and ultimately meaningless.  We continue to speculate what we would do if we ever managed to win anything as we couldn’t possibly drink any more beer!!

cup competitions

So what do I make of cup competitions in the modern football world.  As usual, my benchmark is predominantly the 80s in my teenage years, when lads generally find out what it is to fall in love with the beautiful game.  Way back then how did clubs treat the cups both domestic and European?

Well in a nutshell, it would seem that every club would field as strong a team as possible in order to win every game, as opposed to the modern bloody football mantra of rotate and rest.  It’s amazing isn’t it that the original tinker man in Claudio Ranieri doesn’t anymore.

In my opinion, keeping the same eleven is conducive to consistency and getting used to each other, so that interactions become second nature.  It also encourages and maintains match fitness which is alien to our bunch of perennial crocks.  And as for resting goalkeepers, do me a favour.  The argument is more likely to be avoiding injury but that could easily come from a bottle of salad cream, Dave Beasant ©.  And as I type this I’ve just discovered Rob Elliott has been crippled on international duty, so 2 keepers in one season under similar circumstances, f*** me, we just don’t have any luck at all do we!!

I think the one outstanding exception to this rule would be someone like Frank Lampard.  He always seemed to be involved in most games and his fitness, appearances and goals record for Chelsea (much as it pains me to say it) would most likely be head and shoulders above anything anyone associated with NUFC could manage.  That probably goes for most other clubs too in fairness to our lot.  I bet he averaged over 50 games a season unlike most of the professionals these days who can’t manage that in an entire contractual career with us: like Marveaux, Obertan and most likely De Jong to mention only three.

When I think of grassroots football, I know kids who played Saturdays and Sundays.  By the time the light nights came around they’d be playing Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday.  I never heard them complaining about fixture congestion or recovery time because they just love playing football…and that’s including fitting a full time job in too!!

Back in the 80s you had three European competitions.  The European Cup for the champions (you don’t say), the Cup Winners Cup for the cup winners (surprising that) and the UEFA Cup for the has-beens.

As seems the modern way, money seems to have dictated massive changes to these competitions which in my view has been detrimental to being a football fan.  Watch out for my hypocrite claxon later!!

The Champions League is now oversubscribed, The Cup Winners Cup is no more and one of the more interesting trophies in the shape of the UEFA cup is now a poor man’s version of the Champions League.  The Europa League seems to be treated largely with disrespect by the standard of teams that clubs put out, seemingly in an attempt not to win the bloody thing, unless they’ve managed to stumble to the latter stages when they suddenly decide to make an effort.

It would seem the restructuring of European competition has resulted in complaints (I’m guessing) about fixture congestion.  This has resulted in the removal of two-legged League Cup ties (except for the semi-finals) and giving teams qualified for European competition an exemption from some of the earlier rounds.

Similarly, with the FA cup we are now down to having only one replay and the latest rumour is they may even look to do away with replays altogether.  While I can reluctantly accept this for a semi-final or final far away on a neutral ground (unless of course you’re Arsenal or Chelsea and it’s like a home game) which can be expensive and inconvenient for many, I don’t accept this for a team, possibly from a lower league against alleged superior opposition, who has earned a draw and a right to another go on home territory, or a big pay day at a larger stadium.

In my youth we had an epic (in terms of number of games rather than standard of football you understand) 3rd round tie against Watford which went to a 3rd replay, so four games before we inevitably went out with a dodgy deflected own goal, cheers Glenn Roeder.  Those four games were squeezed into 12 days, which in the modern era is a struggle to arrange one replay.

The playing of the semi-finals at Wembley just isn’t the same either.  How can Chelsea having a 9 mile trip and NUFC having a 278 mile trip be neutral, not to mention fair on the fans in terms of cost and travel times?  Because it’s driven by money – not tradition, fairness, giving a damn about the fans or the love of the game!!

cup competitions

Back to the effect of European changes and the number of games a team needs to play.   In the ‘Champions League’ format, the entrants have multiplied significantly, causing this fixture congestion – with the Europa League following suit.  The old days of straight knock out meant there were no second chances for teams who struggle initially in the group but can pull that back like NUFC did famously in Rotterdam.  Now you even have Champions League flops getting a second go in the Europa League, give ower man, if ya out ya out out!!!!!!!!!

Also, in order to win the European Cup in the days of straight knock out, you would usually have to play five teams (6 in the UEFA cup) equating to nine games (twelve in the UEFA).  So the 12 games Ipswich played to win the UEFA Cup in 1981 isn’t that much different to Sevilla having to win 15 games to win the Europa League in 2015.  Aberdeen had to play 11 games (which included a preliminary round) before beating Real Madrid in the 1983 Cup Winner’s Cup Final.

Did that make winning the European Cup easier in the old days?

In 1978 Liverpool only played 7 games (getting a first round bye) whereas in 2005 they played 15 games which included 2 qualifying games.  In 2003 AC Milan played 19 games to win it due to there being a qualifying round and 2 group stages.  Currently it takes 13 games to win it if you manage to avoid a preliminary round.

Is that really so much different given that the Premier League consists of 38 games a season as opposed to 42 in the old First Division in the 80s?  That four game difference has probably balanced it out then hasn’t it, so what are they moaning about?

You then get managers complaining about playing Thursday and Sunday but I am yet to get my head around how that is different to playing Wednesday then Saturday, or Saturday then Tuesday, which never seems to be raised as an issue.  It all just seems like another excuse.

How many of us have been on a three day European bender and then went straight back to work without complaining?  That’s the price of success surely?  When we were charging around Europe under Sir Bobby our domestic record after Euro games seemed to be pretty good.

We also seem to have some of the later rounds, recently the last 16 of the Champions League, being spread over four weeks instead of two, which again must be something to do with satisfying media rights to show live games.  Then we have these two week breaks for meaningless international friendlies taking further weeks out of the calendar, giving less chance to get FA cup replays out of the way.

‘Arroooga, Arroooga Arroooga’

That was my hypocrite claxon if you hadn’t realised!!

So a famous night in Rotterdam.  A game I would probably have went to but didn’t, as I’d already been to a pre-season friendly against the same opposition at the same venue a couple of years before.  I’m being hypocritical because the reality of applying an old school model to this situation would have seen Newcastle United nowhere near this competition in the first place.

It’s great isn’t it that we can mock the Mackems about our European exploits, visits to far flung places you wouldn’t normally go to if it wasn’t for following your football team.

cup competitions

BUT I have to point out that NUFC have entered all of their European campaigns through the back door, even when we famously last won a trophy, ironically the year before I was born, typical!!.

We’ve been perennial losers to teams that have already qualified for a better competition (leaving us to take what would really be their place) or have been lucky to finish in a revamped selection criteria to access the Champions League despite never having been champions.

Maybe that is one of the few things I have to be grateful for in the modern bloody football world.

Anyway, I’m here to moan and berate modern bloody football so let’s forget about that indiscretion and get back to the topic at hand.

Let’s have a quick look back at the FA Cup from this season and particularly the game between Chelsea and Man City.  If you added up the shirt numbers one to eleven from a good old traditional footballing team, you get a total of 66.  Another modern bastardisation of football I hate is the use of squad numbers but here it illustrates a point quite well.  In that match between Chelsea and Man City the totals were 157 and 447 respectively.  I think that gives an indication of who was taking the match the more seriously.

Chelsea’s eleven was actually. 13, 28, 2, 24, 6, 22, 4, 10, 12, 17, 19.

Man City’s was = 13, 5, 53, 26, 11, 76, 75, 6, 59, 72, 51.

My memories of Blaydon Comp’s school team were checking the team sheet on the P.E. changing room door and seeing first if your name was in the team and more importantly, which number you were going to be and which NUFC player you were going to try and emulate as a result.  I could never have imagined being a kid at school thinking to myself, “one day I want to be wearing the number 76 shirt for…”, you get my drift?

The FA Cup had always been traditionally the last game of the season but we’ve even had that moved to a Saturday 5pm slot when the season wasn’t even over.  Was that something to do with the European Cup Final being at Wembley that year and some rule about not using the pitch two weeks prior to that game?  Again modern bloody football playing havoc with tradition all in the name of money.  It’s all bollocks man.

Even the European Cup Final (as I prefer to call it) has moved from its traditional Wednesday night slot to Saturday.  Again, I can reluctantly accept that is more logical in terms of giving the fans a better opportunity to get to the game, so I’ll not argue too much with that, but it just seemed a bit more magical when it was midweek.

Breaking off slightly but on a similar theme, I’ll have a moan about NUFC’s traditional home fixture night being a Wednesday too and the personal impact it has had on me this year.

Both our games against the Manchester clubs have been moved to the Tuesday night at the behest of the footballing media.  On both occasions, due to being a shift worker, I had been due to finish my shift at teatime on the Wednesday and not until 2030 on the Tuesday.  The switch for the Man Utd game left me unable to swap and the Man City game I’ve had to go through the hassle of moving things around and calling in favours.  As we all know, the media inconvenience all football fans with these decisions to keep the armchair fan, well, in his armchair!!

Where was I?  Oh yes, Europe.  Another thing about European competition as a kid was these fixtures, albeit lacking a Newcastle United representation, were a bit of a novelty so you would probably be more likely to make an effort to watch them.  Not like today with the TV saturation of games where after 5 minutes I’m usually either annoyed cos Liverpool or Man Utd have scored, or bored because the match is poor and flicking the channels to see if there is something less annoying to watch from the multitude of drivel to view.

One of the other magical things about watching old school European games (including internationals) was that crackly commentary that accompanied the pictures.  Today it’s so clean and clear as if the commentator is sat next to me on the sofa, not stuck in a rusty gantry in the middle of Europe.  If I was a TV executive I would bring that back, it just makes it feel like it’s more special and far away.

Another thing I want to touch on when it comes to the cups is the draw itself, particularly the FA Cup.  As most of an older generation will recall, the draw wasn’t this over exposed TV moment it has become.  Now we know who is what number before you start and these are displayed on the screen so you know who has been drawn before the announcer…announces it.

Back in the days of school, the draw was usually a Monday just after lunch so there was that excitement of finding somebody with one of those transistor radio thingys, the sound of the knocking together of balls (not behind the bike shed you understand, it wasn’t a public schoolboy establishment) as they were being mixed together and the guy on the radio reading out the number (which you would try and work out if it was our number) and the wait to find out if that was Newcastle United.  There was just something a bit more mysterious and exciting about it as opposed to the clinical way it is managed nowadays.

As for the League Cup, a competition that most clubs just treat with disdain.  Surely to god we should be going all out to win it if nobody else wants to.  But this is NUFC we’re talking about.  We can’t even beat a League One reserve team.  Plus our luck only sees us playing recent finals in the FA Cup against Double Winners and Treble Winners, rather than lower league opposition or teams on the brink of relegation.  No doubt the League Cup would end up the same.  We aren’t capable of doing a Birmingham or Wigan against a top four team.  It’s just how it works for us it would seem.

Cup competitions just don’t seem to have any value these days.  In fact they are almost treated as an inconvenience and for me that is a damn shame, as years ago they were an important and exciting part of the football season.  The way things are going at St James at the minute, I think it will be an awful long time, if ever, before we can embrace any cup again.  Maybe the JPT will be more realistic?

**Quiz Answer – they all won the European Cup after leaving Newcastle United.  Much like other players who have left and won something like…:

Shay Given, Stephen Carr, Sylvain Distin, Jonathon Woodgate, James Milner, Lee Bowyer, Jermaine Jenas, Wayne Routledge, Craig Bellamy, Oba Martins, Andy Carroll etc etc etc

That’s all bloody annoying too!!