So it’s a cold Sunday in January and the opening weekend of the reds FA Cup campaign. Plymouth Argyle at home is surely a hard fought win, right? It’s come to a time that until something changes for the premier league teams, then the ‘anything can happen’ cup has lost its magic. No longer are the giant killings a joy to behold from both the winners and losers. The games sprinkled with atmosphere a plenty and the whistle of good ol’ fashioned banter have shimmered into a distant memory. I can physically see the life blood of the game draining away, like the inevitable demise of a once great nation. The UK is in dire shape, and until we realise this, we can’t re-create a thing of beauty we all wish for, an apt metaphor for the English game.
The youngest starting 11 in the club’s history provides the evidence that although in front of a sell out crowd, the competition’s direction is an increasing concern compared to the remarkable cup runs of the past. When Plymouth saw the draw, I would have thought the tantalising prospect of locking horns with the Coutinho’s and Sturridge’s of the game is mouth watering. I know I would. But like most other top league clubs, there’s an inevitable raft of changes borne from the packed winter schedule, the ability to field some of the other players vying for a start and the diminishing importance of the once famous English cup.
The game itself was dull. Liverpool controlled the game from start to finish, but didn’t create enough clear cut chances and obviously didn’t finish any off. We always miss a creative player without Coutinho or Lallana, and a natural finisher. Origi is getting better but I don’t feel he’s even a number 2 striker let alone pushing as a starter. The second string tempo is a lot slower than that of the Premier League players. Maybe this is because they don’t get the same insight and intensity of Klopp’s standards or maybe they just can’t settle in a mishmash 11. Elsewhere an 11:30 televised kick off, just goes to show that the price of the game outweighs the fantastical drizzle of a day out. Where’s the atmosphere? More like where’s the crowd?
On the plus side, Joe Gomez played well and I cannot wait for him to increase his fitness and game time to return as a better player. Gomez is a future star and we need to make sure we give him support on and off the field to realise his true potential. On the subject of youth, I will always encourage their involvement but a more pragmatic approach would be to merge first and youth players, not only to help with their development, but to also win games and provide a good spectacle. In the opposite end, credit is due to the travelling supporters, they know when to gee up their players. Plymouth fans found their voice from the first whistle, singing the classic ‘where’s your famous atmosphere’ ‘shhhhhhh’ and ‘is this a library’.
I was there, listening intently whilst quietly squashed into the brand new lower main stand, and then queuing to leave up the stairs. Why? Why in the 21st century, at 6ft3, am I crammed into a brand new stand..? The answer’s profit. There is no longer a doubt in my mind that this is a business and we are no longer part of a community or a family. Today was the day football of the past died for good. Increasing ticket prices, inadequate seating, average food priced just low enough that you’re willing to pay the high price, alongside a second string line up and after a raft of games completed weeks before…. That’s where your famous atmosphere has gone; it’s sat at home, because why should it come out for this? It’s been priced out and replaced by tourists and a more wealthy clientele who see the cost as pocket change. It’s not gone, it’s still there, but only at the big games and not a minute sooner.
This all comes down to 3 main areas; the direction the Premier League is taking, the FA and the running of the top clubs. Just as the UK’s industries need re-invigorating, in a time when we can no longer enjoy the fruits of the EU membership, the English game needs the same.
The EPL is under fire from the Chinese and unless something changes, the Chinese league will quickly overtake. Long gone are the headlines of the UK goverent investing into the East – what is now only 6 times the weekly wage of Carlos Tevez’s recent contract – to a league that was not even established locally. The only way forward is to bring back the love of the game. Let’s not hang on the coattails of the luminous, sponsor lead, celebrity lifestyle we currently are.
Additionally the FA need a firm, coordinated, joined-up grassroots strategy, for the whole of the UK. Interconnections with educational institutes (schools and universities), sporting clubs up and down the country and the clubs in question themselves. Until there is a greater incentive to find and develop English players, then places like Melwood are going to be littered with 15 – 18 year olds brought in from overseas. No longer should the precedent be to bring in foreign players, and then let them go when they turn out to be another flop. And to tie in nicely to my supplementary point, increase the quality of the other English leagues. The Championship should be a hot bed of the brightest stars gaining valuable experience, but yet again, an influx of foreign stars rule the roost.
The magic of the FA Cup has gone. Let’s all stop sugar coating the fact and start to provide meaningful solutions. Because if we don’t, it’ll be followed by the gleaming jewel of the Premier League.