Thursday, August 10, 2006

Not long to go now...

If you've been waiting patiently for the new Premiership season to start, you'll be relieved to know that the wait is almost over. By way of a tempting entrée before the main course arrives, this Sunday provides us with the Charity Shield match. Sorry - the 'FA Community Shield' match. 'In Partnership with McDonalds'.

Yes, there's only one day of the year when you're allowed to use the phrase 'traditional curtain raiser' and this Sunday is it. The ceremonial coming together of the Premiership champions and the FA Cup winners is almost upon us, but what's it all about and how much do we really value it?

Well it all began back in 1908 as a kind of challenge match between a professional side and an amateur one. They originally played for the Sheriff of London Charity Shield, but the extra bit was dropped for the first game between Manchester United and Queen's Park Rangers and it thereafter became known as the Sheriff of London.

The event took on a rather freeform approach in the early years and was generally played at the end of the season, either at a neutral venue or at the ground of one of the competing teams. It was an approach that allowed for some flexibility, too, as in 1950 the Charity Shield match featured the England World Cup team played a touring team from Canada, England winning 4-2 on the day.

Then in 1959 it was decided to play the match at the start of the season, coinciding as it did with the emergence of some of the great teams of the era. Teams like Manchester United, Wolves, Bolton and Burnley had their time in the spotlight, as did Tottenham Hotspur who won the double in 1961. They ended up playing an FA XI that year, and beat them 3-2.

The 1960's saw the trend for high-scoring games continue, the highlight being Manchester City's 6-1 defeat of West Bromwich Albion in 1968. But in the 1970's, things started to get a bit serious. Whereas the previous decade saw an average of 4.4 goals scored per game, suddenly it became just 2, and that was largely thanks to Nottingham Forest's 5-0 beating of Ipswich Town in 1978.

The Charity Shield started losing its sense of significance and players lost their commitment and even their composure. In 1974, Leeds United played Liverpool in a stormy affair that saw Kevin Keegan and Billy Bremner sent off for violent conduct. Both players removed their shirts as a gesture of disgust as they left the field and the FA soon after punished them for their part in the affair, handing out a £500 fine and an 11-game ban each.

After the Merseyside domination of the event during the 1980's, the 1990's saw the return of the high-scoring spectacle with Eric Cantona scoring three of Leeds' four goals in a 4-3 win over Liverpool in 1992 and Manchester United beating Newcastle 4-0 in 1996. Even United themselves found themselves on the end of a 3-0 defeat to Arsenal in 1998, but as we entered the 21st century things returned to a more sedentary pace.

The big four - Arsenal, Man United, Chelsea and Liverpool - have appeared in one permutation or another in every final since 1997 and naturally they're close fought affairs. You'll be lucky to even get a penalty shoot-out from it these days, which leads us to think in these fixture-congested times 'is it really worthwhile'?

OK, so admittedly it's only one game per year involving two teams, so dropping it from the footballing calendar won't help matters much, but wouldn't we football fans rather get straight on with the new Premier League one week earlier instead? With clubs getting involved in the early rounds of the Champions League and the UEFA Cup during August these days, it's not as if we're short of some pre-season footy action, so is their a place for the Community Shield in the modern era?

My solution is a simple one. Remove it along with the Football League Cup and any other competition that's lost its purpose, and leave us with some Football matches that really mean something.

The Community Shield was alright once upon a time, but even silverware can lose its lustre. Let's be brave and draw a line under these historical anachronisms so we can look forward to a better game in the future that's better supported.

Got an opinion or any Community Shield memories? Then why not leave us a comment...!


Kedge said...

I can see your point Chris, and unless you are a fan of one of the clubs involved, it can seen a totally pointless fixture. Presumably some clubs see this game as the last of the pre-season warm-up matches (I won't use the word friendly). But put yourself in the clubs shoes for a moment.
OK so the likes of the big four may view this as an unimportant games in the context of the Premiership, European Cups/Leagues whatever, but supposing you was the chairman or manager of one of the smaller clubs, Birmingham, Middleboro, or the like, and you had managed a flukey win in the FA Cup (sponsored by some Aussie Lager I expect). This could be your club's only shot at glory this season, and some punter comes along and say "Lets scrap this match". You wouldn't be best please would you. This could have very serious consequences. The little clubs could band together and form their own breakaway league (The McDonalds Big Mac with Curly Fries League). And then what'll happen to the game we love?
Is that what you want? Cos that what'll happen!

Chris said...

Hmmm... serious repercussions, I suppose. Then again, hasn't a large wedge been driven between the top clubs and the lower-league clubs for some time now?

If the lesser clubs want to perform at the same level as those at the top of the tree, maybe they need more competition amongst themselves to generate more revenue and develop as players? Once they've cracked that, they might get into the top flight and get the glory they've strived for.

(Good luck Southend, by the way...) ;-)

Smart said...

I think you've totally missed the point of the Community Shield.

Over 100 clubs are given part of the match takings, which they pass onto a local charity or community scheme of there choice - hence the name of the event.

The rest is given to football related schemes around the country.

As for removing the League Cup, well that sort of thing could lead to the death of many a league club - and who knows what beyond that.

The amount of TV revenue lower league clubs receive for a potential giant-killing match, the increased ticket sales and of course the match winnings all add up and could make a huge difference to such clubs.

Plus of course, the chance of European qualification. Before you say thats impossible as the gulf between the class in clubs is now too large, wasnt it only a few seasons ago that Millwall reached the FA Cup Final and qualified for the UEFA Cup? Anything is possible.

As you say, a huge financial wedge has been driven between top and lower league clubs, but the taking the actions stated above would only make matters worse - and I for one wouldnt want to see that.

Your closing point seems to suggest these games get in the way of 'bigger' competitions, and I think you are looking at the wrong problem.

To me, the problem is the amount of teams in the premiership - and thats a whole different subject

But it has a simple solution - cut the Premiership down to 18 or less teams. Thats FOUR weeks of the season free again instantly. Of all the top European leagues, the Premiership has the most amount of teams - and those leagues still run various domestic cup competitions as well as European ones.

But reducing the size of the premiership wont happen whilst the vote is being given to the premiership chairmen. Four games less equals four games loss of match profit, TV revenue etc.

Besides, only those in no danger of relegation would say 'Yes' - so that would be 4 to 8 clubs. Could you see the likes of Villa, Boro, Fulham, Portsmouth etc saying yes to something that could potentially lose them £20m if they drop?

Money is too important to many clubs nowadays. Football is a business and not a sport anymore, and for those reasons reducing the amount of games and competitions will not happen.

Unless a governing body intervenes.

Chris said...

With regards to the Community Shield, Smart, it might look like I've missed the point, but in fact I was saving the 'charity' aspect for a later discussion!

I'm inclined to say that we can do away with a match such as this if its purpose is only to raise money for the footballing needy. After all, when you have a club like Manchester United making £46 million in profits per year, why not make them hand over a slice of that and have done with it?

And that's just one club. Imagine the profits made by all the others in the top flight. OK, so admittedly they don't all make that sort of cash, but they could all be made to chip into a central kitty from which the proceeds could be distributed.

Re: The League Cup, I'm not sure how valid a competition is when some of the top clubs only field weakened teams during the early rounds. It's an insult to the lower-league clus and only serves to take away from any sense of achievement they may attain.

Smart said...

Sorry for jumping the gun and potentially ruining you next article! ;-)

As for the League Cup, I agree that the fielding of weaker teams by the big clubs devalues the meaning, but again I could argue that if the Premiership had less teams...

But I wont - just incase you've got that coming up in a later article ;-)

Kedge said...

Chris said: "And that's just one club. Imagine the profits made by all the others in the top flight. OK, so admittedly they don't all make that sort of cash, but they could all be made to chip into a central kitty from which the proceeds could be distributed."

A quote from the Delotte report on football club finances.

"Five clubs finished the 2004/5 season with net funds rather than net debt: Aston Villa, Birmingham City, Charlton, Manchester United and West Brom."

Kedge said...

opps! Hope I haven't ruined a future article.

Chris said...

Is that the same Deloitte report that said "Premiership clubs' operating profits increased to a new record of £162m in 2004/5"?

So it is. And with the FA raising £100 million for its charities over THREE YEARS, I'd say that could easily be matched by a regular donation from each of the Premiership clubs.

And before I leave, can I just explain that the 'later discussion' I referred to earlier was meant in the context of being later in the current thread, not a separate article. Just so you know...


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