You may have had to sleep with the light on this week. For an old bogeyman reemerged from the shadows: the European Super League.
Or, as they are calling it this time, to deter you entirely from shuteye: the Dream Football League.
In case you snored blissfully through the fuss, The London Times brought word on Wednesday of a Qatari plot to assemble 24 club sides every two years in the Gulf.
They are even willing to kick in €200m or so per club towards bar bills, according to the story, which may or may not have been a hoax.
Not that it matters because, in a way, this story has always been a hoax. And some variation of it has been told for as long as many of us can remember.
I first encountered it in the pages of Roy of the Rovers in the 80s. Amongst accounts of Racey’s heroics, Johnny Dexter’s hardness and Tommy Barnes’s brave resistance to rugby, Roy briefly held court on weighty matters of the day.
There he uttered the words that would inform so many nightmares. “It is only a matter of time before there is a breakaway European Super League.”
The tone was foreboding. Given some of the shenanigans deployed by sneaky, moustachioed continentals on their visits to Melchester, Roy was a resolute Eurosceptic.
Whatever the price, closer involvement with these degenerates could only end in tears and probably an eventual demand to straighten banana shots.
Mind you, had he gotten wind of Middle-Eastern involvement in any scheme, Roy would have been even less impressed, having lost eight teammates and dislocated a shoulder in a bomb attack in the newly-identified state of Basran.
Over the years then, the grand threat of a European alliance always lurked nearby.
There was that hot restless summer of insomnia in 1995, when the scripture of Tom Humphries carried an ominous premonition. At number 79 of his famous 101 reasons why the GAA is better than soccer: “The GAA won’t sell us all out by starting a European Super League.”
Although in the same list, he had insisted that you can’t play a defensive game of Gaelic football.
In 1998, we got as far as the publication of a plan by some Italian hucksters, probably the first real indication that nothing would ever come of this.
The story would be tweaked whenever the game’s biggest clubs wanted a change to Uefa’s competitions. And gradually the bogeyman assumed the credibility of comparably dire warnings. If the wind changes, your face will stay like that.
Still, whenever the tale was trotted out, hands wrung and sermons were drafted. At Anguish Bingo, a card with ‘haves’, ‘have-nots’, ‘chasm’, ‘rich,’ ‘richer’ and ‘fabric of the game’ would mean a full house.
Lo and behold, with Financial Fair Play looming as some kind of quasi reality, the bogeyman has reappeared and pulpits have been mounted once more. But exactly what fabric is left to protect? For most clubs, it’s long been curtains.
Even for the middle tier, glory is a distant dream. Most clubs exist simply to stagnate in profit or loss. Or panic wildly, like Reading this week, if revenue streams are threatened.
Might it be that FFP will imprison the have-nots more securely than anything the oilmen can dream up? In 1995, Humphries moaned, at number 38, that “Jack Walker can buy a league title”. Now they are all for sale and Jack, Lord rest him, would have struggled to start the bidding.
In any case, the new rules wouldn’t let him.
A closed shop, then. So might it not be better for everyone if the elite departed — not just every two summers, but permanently — to a dream world of oil billions, allowing those who have not been chosen to emerge from their current half-lives and at least tilt for modest local glory.
Maybe, with the bogeyman unmasked, everyone will dream again.
One more thing — that Humphries list wasn’t without controversy. Number 95: “Roy of the Rovers was a prat.” Surely he recalled that Racey once turned down a million pound offer to manage Basran?
Strange happenings Down Under
Could Australian sport sink lower in our estimations? A new era of Aussie fecklessness was summed up last year by swimmer Emily Seebohm, who attributed her Olympic disappointment to too much time on Twitter and Facebook.
No wonder Ricky Ponting soon slipped out of the Baggy Green for the last time. These were not his people any more.
Then came the drug revelations — only a moderate surprise. And now it emerges that some of the flamin’ gallahs can’t muster the savvy to cog their homework.
Four Aussie cricketers were axed from this week’s third test with India having failed to hand in an exercise to their coach last weekend.
The squad had been invited to come up with three ways each man would improve performances after two defeats.
“Score more runs, take more wickets, improve sledging,” ought to have done it, but four were stumped and then caught out.
The farrago reminded me of the dash into Sunday morning dressing rooms a couple of minutes past the appointed hour, only to belatedly recall a progressive coach had devised a brand new method of meeting minds.
Each player was supposed to have written down five things he would bring to the table that day — stuff like ‘have six shots’, ‘make eight tackles.”
A tricky exercise — overly modest projections could cast doubt on why you were pulling on a jersey at all. Yet outlandish ambition would not look great when the exercise was revisited after you had a shocker.
Worst, of course, was when you had simply not done it at all. But there was always a way — someone always bailed you out with a spare sheet that you scribbled while the gaffer filled water bottles.
Ricky, in his pomp, would surely have bailed the lads out. Or simply decided there would be no homework that day. Not that there would have been need for it in the first place.
Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and the rest?
Philosophical poser of the week: if there are no footballers left in Europe, or indeed the Americans; wouldn’t the best of these lame, hapless, scatterbrains still, in the end, be world class? Or, somewhat ironically, since it’s Dunphy who brought all this up; wouldn’t the good players – even the bad players – automatically become great players? As you might have heard, the regular Montrose audit of greatness took place this week.
Brazil and England fared poorly, contributing a total of zero footballers of any note between them. Argentina and Italy fared much better, with one each.
For some reason, we didn’t get to Portugal.
Of course, Gilesy and Eamo have long warned us what would happen if we persisted with figarys like third-level education, Playstations and personal stereos. If we foolishly insisted on efforts to combat poverty.
And so, here we are. Left with just Messi, Pirlo, Iniesta and Xavi. Dream League my hat, we can’t muster a decent five-a-side.
HEROES & VILLAINS
STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN
Curtis Woodhouse: The Bryan Mills of social networking? The English light-welterweight tracked down one of his Twitter abusers and turned up outside his house to have a word. No doubt the Oireachtas Communications Committee will be in touch.
Donal O’Grady: Not too many co-commentators would have immediately told you that John O’Dwyer’s back-header for Tipp last Sunday was a replica of Uwe Seeler’s goal against England in Mexico ’70. Even fewer in Irish.
Paul Galvin: When he broke an admirable silence on the Cookstown business, he did so in a very dignified fashion.
TO HELL IN A HANDCART
Emmanuel Adebayor: Did he really, with Spurs manning a defiant injury-time stand against ignominy, sit on his backside on the San Siro turf for fully 30 seconds? A character.
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