Date: 19th March 2021
Only 18 sleeps till 12 cities across Europe from St Petersburg to Dublin, including Glasgow, have to put up or shut up.
They and their governments have to take a huge financial gamble or duck out of the Euros.
UEFA’s Slovenian boss Aleksander Ceferin has set out a route map for making and taking some big decisions about the delayed 2020 tournament.
There are three red circles on the April page of the Colin Baxter calendar we sent him last Christmas hanging on the wall of his plush Nyon office.
He simply has to stabilise the financials for a tournament that is scheduled to make money and money is everything at Uefa.
Only 84 days now till the first match and the reality of teams having to be in situ earlier for squad training camps doesn’t leave much time to tell member countries what is happening so they can reorganise if changes are needed.
Red Circle 1 is around Wednesday April 7th and is when the 12 cities have to give guarantees about the number of fans for their 4 matches and 40% is said to be the minimum acceptable attendance level.
Red Circle 2 and the big day is Monday April 19th. It’s the date when Sandy’s Uefa Executive Committee formally discuss the situation and make their final decisions having had 12 days to consider the options and the financial implications.
Red Circle 3 is Tuesday April 20th when a final decision will be announced.
None of it is easy for Sandy and his team.
The Covid virus is already resurgent for a third wave across much of Europe and the vaccination programme across the 12 cities and countries is not a constant or even a certainty.
There are huge disparities to factor in.
The reality is that none of the 12 venues or the host nations actually knows what the situation will be.
Not even the virus knows what it will be then and where it will be strongest.
The pressure from UEFA on the 12 host cities and their governments is quite frankly outrageous.
A Members Club Where Some Members Are More Equal Than Others
Our SPFL decided to halt all football outside the top 2 leagues in January.
Clubs in all leagues below the SPFL Championship found out on January 11 that they would have to endure a 3-week close down.
The clubs heard about it in the media.
They were a little unhappy too.
The good news, some 9 weeks later, is tomorrow SPFL division 1 and 2 restart with a truncated season of 22 games including two full rounds of 9 and then a 4 game top/bottom split.
It was the unanimous plan from the 20 members.
Last week the SPFL board tried to get them to change their mind but the clubs won out.
They deserve huge credit.
Months ago we talked about Paul Cave from Sydney who was told 130 plus reasons why tourists would never be allowed to climb Sydney Harbour Bridge and then addressed them all to create Australia’s most popular tourist attraction.
The two lower leagues went about bringing football back the same way.
20 clubs with a common interest created a tight working group of 5 to find a path.
The 5 looked at options, consulted with all clubs, fed back results, kept the SFA in the picture, focused on the common good and came up with a proposal.
It was knocked back at first by the secretive JRG group but was in the public domain.
The publicity was good for the clubs.
They pushed back and tomorrow March 20th football breaks out. The plan is to finish the second round of 9 games on April 20th to allow for a split and then play offs.
Speaking with a couple of the chairmen this morning they said the clubs had simply worked together and accepted that every one had to compromise a little.
Imagine if that happened at the top of our game?
The SWPL Restarts on April 4th
The girls league started late and when interrupted all 8 clubs had played just one round of 7 games.
The plan now with the restart is for two more rounds of 7 to finish by June 6th.
BBC Alba has scheduled to cover one game per round of fixtures.
Sunday’s Celtic v Rangers Really, Really Goes Ahead
I’m not sure it was ever in doubt.
It has been a week where politics in Scotland has become dominated by a 5-4 leaked indicative vote. With elections in May and voters and their votes to think about I don’t think any party would have risked wading in with size 10s.
There were stories all week about how the exuberant and illegal celebrations in Glasgow last week both caused a Covid spike but also stories about how it made no difference at all.
Behind the scenes some fans have had wee visits from Strathclyde’s Finest and there has been what has been called ‘constructive’ dialogue with both clubs.
Assistant Chief Constable Bernard Higgins said, “The two clubs had acted really, really responsibly to convey the ‘stay at home’ message to fans”.
Social media has also been monitored and there will be a lot of Sunday overtime accrued this week.
So whatever the result a lot of boys in blue have already won.
We all hope it happens without incident.
Rangers Crash Out of Europe
We all knew the Czechs were a good side after the 0-2 away win at Leicester.
Roofe’s tackle last night was not a high point. It was and is every bit as nasty as McGregor’s save last week was a thing of beauty.
Enough said about the game.
The Ugly Side of Football On and Off the Park
Glen Kamara claimed Slavia player “Ondrej Kudela” racially abused him in a sneaky ‘hand over mouth’ exchange.
Kamara has no previous of making stuff up and for all the difference it makes I believe him.
It led to some bad blood on the park, a handbags, or maybe more, exchange in the tunnel and some naked racism since on social media.
The Czech side are now also claiming the 3rd World War broke out in part of the tunnel away from cameras. Again I don’t know – it might be deflection and might even be the truth.
It’s in UEFA hands now and they have to deal with the incident and a whole bunch of ‘he said, she said’ stuff from both sides.
I have no faith in Uefa doing anything other than punishing and probably fining both clubs heavy-handedly.
Racism has no place in football whether based on skin colour, ethnicity, sex, religion or any other reason that can be manufactured.
An aside is the two Ukrainian teams both lost last night so Scotland are now next in line for a Champion’s League proper place.
The Belgian Pro League Clubs Are Unanimous
Another week another wee story about the Belgies and Dutchies.
This week it’s about the future of football in both nations rather than them stopping EA Sports selling illegal lottery packages to kids.
It might even be the future of the top end of our game and elsewhere too as it develops.
Belgium may be top ranked footballing international nation in the world but the country, its leagues and its clubs are always going to be too small to compete with the big 5 countries. Belgium also, like us, has no clubs anywhere close to being invited into the big ‘breakaway’ 15 initiative.
Realistically the Champions League is beyond Belgium and its once famous, European clubs like Anderlecht and F.C. Bruges.
That doesn’t mean the Belgies have to accept long term decline for their game.
Far from it.
They voted this week to create a joint league with their near neighbour Holland.
Their proposal to unite the Belgian Pro League with the Dutch Eredivisie in 2025 in a new league makes a lot of sense and reminded me of the Benelux initiative, the 1958 forerunner of what became the ‘Common market’ then the European Union.
Such a move, simple as it is, increases their potential combined TV audience to 28 million people and could bring in an estimated $480M in TV and sponsorship revenues.
It is synergistic for both nations.
The Dutch clubs have yet to vote on it but in a football world where the big 15 clubs are shamelessly on the cusp of abandoning their communities in the quest for more and more revenue from anywhere it may be the only way for the smaller nations to stop being left behind.
The questions that cross border stuff like this raises include.
What will Sandy’s UEFA think? (Who cares I hear you think?)
How does it integrate with the existing pyramids in the individual nations? (Fair question)
How will the revenues be distributed? (Fundamental question)
More of this initiative as it develops.
It will have been noted by those who are interested including back here in Scotland.
Serious Consideration Needed For Elite Youth Development
Nothing in football just happens.
This week the subject of Celtic and Rangers Colts Teams playing in the lower SPFL leagues arose again.
I first heard it this time around on BBC Radio’s Monday’s Sportsound.
I also then received a survey question from the SFA’s in house fan’s group. It all suggests to me that there is a bit of a coordinated 6th floor at Hampden push.
I don’t know why.
I’m also not sure why now.
The BBC discussion on Colts kicks in around the 30 minutes mark (30:50) when John Collins speaks passionately about his belief that football needs to do more for elite youngsters.
Craig Levein and Jim McInally were also speaking and it’s worth a listen as they disagree constructively.
John also suggests some controversial stuff like removing the vote on the matter from the lower clubs.
Listen for yourself on this link.
I can’t disagree with what John wants to achieve but think colts teams are neither a panacea nor a silver bullet.
There are real issues to resolve and we need a strategy across our game.
Our two biggest clubs already greedily soak up the best talent we can produce, coach them for a few years, cynically consign most to the football dustbin, year in year out and then revert to buying in most of their players from outside.
That whole cycle needs examination as a process for its inefficiency and the damage it does to the kids and our game.
I say that remembering when the move away from reserve league to under-20s was heralded as the best way to grow talent but it obviously hasn’t worked.
We can learn from abroad but this is no simple task and it is more than colts teams from 2 out of 40 allegedly equal members playing inside our pyramid, greased by a cash gift of £200k per annum for an introductory period
This problem needs real thought and resource not just a knee jerk reaction. For me Jim McInally from Peterhead spoke the most sense in the broadcast.
Serious Consideration for Needed for All Youth Development
Every boy and girl who kicks a football on a local park is a potential fan for life.
I don’t think those who run our game get that.
It’s beneath their pay grades.
The revenue future of our game needs constant, coordinated and successful recruitment.
We’re not good at it.
Our game has really missed the teachers and janitors who did so much unpaid over 40 years ago.
Long ago school’s football was holed below the water line.
Since then there is a direct correlation with the decline of our sport on and off the park.
I just found out today that at Hampden the SYFA is all of 2 overworked souls working out of a broom cupboard.
If you manage a youngsters team you’ll know about their stewardship of our kids game.
If you don’t, like most of us, you won’t know stuff like our kids teams having to pay £10, per side, per game for the right to play under the auspices of the SYFA.
I was shocked to hear that.
I don’t know what happens to that money, I don’t know how much it raises, or for whom but can promise you that this is the start of a journey for me, and us.
As always feel free to drop me a line about anything football related.
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