Five things from….England 1 Uruguay 2

“Give me joy in my heart….” Knobhead was on the table already.  It was midnight, two hours before kick off and it appears that some people have already had enough.  The issue with the game kicking off so early/late is that some people had been drinking from 6pm, although Melbourne isn’t the cheapest city in the world to enjoy a beer in.  With Spain, Australia and Cameroon now out of the competition, the main worry was that England could well be joining them if they lost this one.  It was no surprise that the majority of the pub were supporting the South Americans – in fact the number of Ashes comments as I waited at the bar suggested that the locals would be happy to see us fail (again).

But England are made of stronger stuff.  Who can forget that epic win over Egypt in Italia 90 when our backs were against the wall?  Or Lineker’s hatrick to get us out of the mire four years earlier in Mexico.  Limping through the groups in major tournaments is quintessentially English, and we are proud of it.

photo (2)1. Sleeves – Look closely at Joe Hart’s shirt and you will see he wears a green undershirt and appears to have taken a pair of scissors to his keepers shirt and cut off the cuffs…I’m sure Nike will be pleased with that.

2. What is the point of Glenn Johnson? – As a defender he was time and time again caught out of position and the Uruguayans soon realised this and started to exploit the gap when he pushed up too far to try and make a tackle (and often missed), leaving a whole behind. OK….he did set up Rooney’s goal with a great run, although I’d still question what he was doing there in the first place.

3. Camera speed – Earlier in the tournament I noted the continuing use of super sloooooooooow motion camera work for important things like players spitting or fans in the crowd picking their nose.  What struck me tonight was the lack of Benny Hill-esque fast camera work – perhaps showing us run rings around ourselves in midfield.

4. Face painting – Why?  And why have a half/half look.  These are the people who buy half and half scarves, constantly start Mexican waves and leave with 15 minutes to go to “avoid the crush”….Who are they supporting?  Of course, it is more than possible they have been planted there by FIFA to show the happy, smiley face of the World Cup.  Like coloured boots, musical instruments and Mexican Waves, they will be immediately banned when I run world football.

5. Offside or not offside? – Suarez certainly appeared to be a yard or so off when the ball was played from certain angles, although played on by a Gerard header on others, but even so how was he given too much space?  It’s not as if the two centre-backs were playing against someone who they have never faced or heard of, yet they let him wander in between them.

So we are almost certainly heading home in five days time.  Defensive discipline has been our downfall – no clear leadership at the back has been the question mark over three of the four goals we have conceded so far.  Whilst we never expected to pull up trees, the lack of real threats on goal shows that we are simply a “functional” team rather than world beaters.  Oh how we crave a Michael Owen, a Gary Lineker and I hate to say this, but even a John Terry.

The Beer World Cup
Whitewash for England as we stuck to “home” brews  such as London Pride, Courage and Australia’s Coopers Ale, which also surely counts as English?

England 7 Uruguay 0

Five things from….England 1 Italy 2

photo (2)It was all going so well. The ridiculous FA rule changes mean that this is the last major football tournament I can place bets on. Because of my role at Lewes, I am deemed by our governing body that I will have inside knowledge on games like this and so could put undue influence on the players. Absolute laughable. Anyway, the main event and thankfully we can turn over to BBC and have to try and understand what on earth the pundits were saying. Poyet and Fabio were fine – it’s the other two buffoons I can’t understand. Fortunately, there was no shortage of English or Italian beer in the fridge so this one would be a close call.

1. Socks – an early win for Italy on this one with a stylish blue and white number. Nike have really let the side down with their offerings this year and deserve nil points for imagination or effort for the tournament. As adidas say, #allinornothing.

2. Band – Shhhh…do you hear that? Exactly. No “official” England band…thank goodness. Having had to sit/stand next to their out of tune songs on a number of overseas away trips I can feel the relief from thousands of miles away. They’ve been following England for well over a decade, funded by sponsorship yet their repertoire of songs only got as far as “Come on England”, the theme to the Great Escape and of course their Italian favourite, The Self Preservation Society.

photo (1)3. Oops – Sterling shoots, the ball hits the stanchion holding the net back, the crowd on one side of the stadium cheers….we all laugh as we can see it didn’t go in. But someone in BBC towers didn’t and changes the score in the top left hand corner to ENG 1 ITA 0….we all saw it so no denying it.

4. Phil Neville – it’s 11pm…people have been drinking for a few hours and they need something to keep them awake. Surely the BBC Sport producers must have done an audition with Neville? What he says is all true and knowledgeable but there is absolutely no passion in his voice. Even the shipping forecast is more exciting than his co-commentary, although not quite in the Townsend league. Surely at half- time Gary would have rung him and told him in a brotherly way to add some “oooooooohs”. The nation is slipping into a deep sleep. I’ve not seen so much criticism for a presenter since Sam Fox and Mick Fleetwood presented the Brits Live.

5. Gary Lewin – not the first time I’ve seen a physio injured – our Lewes physio Nathalie fainted on the pitch last season – but a bizarre injury for him to suffer. I worked under Gary’s tutelage a decade ago for six months and he is a top chap who has worked under Hoddle, Eriksson, Capello and now Hodgson in five World Cups. A sad end to his tournament.  Perhaps the Chelsea physio is conveniently holidaying in Rio?

Beer World Cup result

A close call but ultimately England’s win was down to three different Fuller’s beers (Pride, Honey Dew and ESB) against just the one Italian brand, Moretti.

England 3 Italy 1

Just the (fake) ticket

2014 promises to be another great year of global sport.  This summer we have the FIFA World Cup in Brazil to look forward to as well as the Commonwealth Games which is being hosted by Glasgow.  The feel-good factor generated by the 2012 Olympic Games has already been felt in Scotland with over 90% of the tickets for the 11 days of action already sold, and expectations of a complete sell out of the games is on the cards.

Technology is a wonderful thing and has made ticketing for major events so much easier.  Barcodes and Q-Codes allow immediate security and verification of the authenticity of a ticket and the identification of the holder.  Print at home technology means that tickets bought a few seconds ago on the other side of the world can be in your hand within seconds, meaning significant reductions in the handling and administration costs of ticketing events, as well as issues that arise when tickets go astray.

But unfortunately, technology has also driven up the number of criminals who see big events as big opportunities to make big bucks.  Major events, concerts and shows a decade ago were blighted by the spectre of ticket touts, who would acquire tickets at knock-down prices from Corporate Sponsors who had little interest in attending events, and sell them at inflated prices outside the venues.  Many of us have stories of picking up bargains in this way, only to see the name of a Multinational company on the ticket.  During the 2006 World Cup there were stories of football fans buying tickets outside one stadium in Germany that saw them sitting in the highly-secure area reserved for the VIPs and visiting foreign dignitaries.

For the really big events such as the FIFA World Cup, rogue ticketing companies launch websites on a weekly basis, listing events where demand far outstripped supply and simply take people’s money and never deliver any goods.  They have a window of opportunity thanks to the delays in dispatching the official tickets to make their cash.  For most events, tickets are not printed and dispatched until around 60 days prior to an event, by which time the criminals will have packed up shop and more than likely have moved onto the next big event.

In a recent report issued by the City of London Police, they estimate that the UK is home to over 1,000 ticket touts who are responsible for contributing over £40 million to organised criminal networks per annum.  Unfortunately, the recovery of that cash is virtually impossible. One in seven of us have been unwitting victims of bogus ticketing websites, according to their report.

Organisations such as FIFA, The International Olympic Committee and the Lawn Tennis Association spend hundreds of thousands of pounds in trying to prevent both genuine tickets falling into criminal hands or simply criminals setting up businesses to commit fraud.  In the run up to the London Olympics in 2012, a specialist police unit, known as Operation Podium was set up to great effect.  In the 18 months prior to the start of the games the team shut down a number of high profile sites that had been offering fake tickets and criminal charges were imposed on the men behind the scams.  Despite there being only one authorised ticket seller in the UK, the Operation Podium team identified over 200 unauthorised websites and eight that were set up specifically for fraudulent purposes.  Unfortunately, with tickets for events being so scarce, buyers were forced onto the secondary market which created favourable conditions for fraudsters, especially with websites that were well designed, ranked high on search engines and mimicked the official website. One high profile case involved the website which was reported to have defrauded over 400 people for a total of over €500,000 in just five weeks. The owner of the site was sentenced to four years imprisonment in 2011.

In addition, the ticketing team behind the London Olympics, headed by Paul Williamson took the unusual step of reaching out to the more commonly known Ticket Touts.  They made it clear in no uncertain terms that their presence would be very unwelcome at any Olympic events and the full force of the law and tax authorities would be used should anyone be found plying their trade during the games.  In total 220 arrests were made during the Olympic and Paralympic games in London with an almost zero tolerance approach taken that certainly detracted many from chancing their arm.

The Operation Podium team conducted 19 separate operations designed to identify and shut down fraudulent websites selling tickets for a variety of events in the UK.  Whilst there is legislation in place to prevent reselling of many different types of sporting tickets (such as the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act 2006), other events are not so lucky.  Two years ago Take That announced a series of concerts to mark their reunion.  The police knew of a small number of unlicensed websites that were planning on offering tickets, but within hours of the tickets being made available they were tracking hundreds of new websites, all offering tickets.  Unfortunately, the vast majority of these were fake and only shut down after damage had been done in terms of stealing fans money and damaging the reputation of the band through association.  The authorities are already predicting that the current craze around One Direction will see hundreds more websites pop up as their sell-out world stadium tour kicks off in a few months.

Come June time the eyes of the world will be firmly on Brazil who will be hosting the 20th FIFA World Cup.  So far over 1.1 million tickets have been sold through official channels, with a number of further phases to come.  Come tournament time and the greatest show on earth is bound to be played out in front of capacity stadiums.  Once again, huge demand coupled with scarce supply means football fans who are heading to Brazil will take a risk on trying to find alternative methods to get their match tickets.  A simple search for the term “Brazil World Cup Tickets” on Google throws up over 38 million results, with some organisations who have no official link to FIFA or the organising committee stating that they can “provide authentic tickets for all games” or “guarantee best tickets”.

The danger here is that tickets will not be produced until close to the start of the tournament meaning that fake ticketing websites will have already collected hard-earned cash from unsuspecting football fans and disappeared into the virtual wilderness before buyers realise that they have been duped.

In previous tournaments there was a way to acquire tickets through a travel package.  Many organisations hedged their bets that they would receive tickets closer to the tournament and sold expensive travel packages to desperate fans.  In many instances the flights and hotel bookings were real, but the tickets never materialised.  Some travel companies were victims just as much as the individuals were, never receiving the tickets that had paid for.  However, many simply used the cover of adding the extra value of travel to line their pockets even more.  For the FIFA World Cup in Brazil this year there are no official travel package partnership and thus no organisation is allowed to offer a package of travel and tickets.

Despite promises to crack down on the practice, there hasn’t been a major tournament in recent memory where you couldn’t pick up Sponsors tickets in the run up to the kick off outside the stadium.  In Portugal’s 2004 European Championship I collected almost the full set of “official” sponsors names on tickets I bought outside stadiums, right under the noses of the police.  The memorable TV adverts prior to France ’98 and Belgium/Holland 2000 of the lone England fan being turned away at the gate because his name didn’t match what was on the ticket was a romantic notion.  In reality, the queues and chaos getting into the grounds meant no security checks could take place.  In Germany 2006 I was actually asked for ID after turning up late for a game and the stewards had nothing better to do, but on the other hand when I asked about spare tickets at another venue during the same tournament at the official ticket booth I was pointed in the direction of the Corporate entrance and told to ask people outside there.

Prior to the last World Cup in South Africa in 2010, one of the most respected names on the Internet, Symantec published a report that highlighted the problems major sporting events bring. They saw a massive increase in cybercrime, especially from traditional 419 Scams relating to fake competition winners in the run up to the competition as people desperate to watch the games were willing to explore any avenue to get their hands on tickets. The number of spam-related or phishing emails increased to over 25% of the global spam emails.

“Right now, spammers are reliant on the massive wave of excitement and expectation that typically surrounds an event like the FIFA World Cup,” said MessageLabs Intelligence Senior Analyst, Paul Wood at the time. “Riding this wave, spammers get the attention of their victims by offering products for sale or enticing them to click on a link. It is not uncommon for the event to appear in the subject line of an email but for the body of the same email to be completely unrelated.”

Symantec have already highlighted a number of websites that have been designed to look like official FIFA World Cup Sponsor websites in order to trick users into handing over personal details in return for the promise of big prizes, the biggest one leveraging the name of Brazilian payment card operator CIELO which has been used for a phishing scam.  In addition, one particular company who have been featured on BBC’s Rip Off Britain in the past are selling tickets for many World Cup games including the highly anticipated Germany versus Portugal game starting from €599 per ticket.  Ticketing expert Reg Walker, interviewed in the national media in January felt that World Cup fraud may be as high as £15 million.

Show your true colours

In May 2013, the Football Association unveiled a new five year kit deal for the England national team with US sports giant Nike. As part of the announcement they launched two new kits, much to the annoyance of England fans, who had only replaced their shirts less than eighteen months before. The cost and frequency of change of football shirts are a huge bone of contention with consumer groups, supporters and parents alike, with questions being asked as high as in the Palace of Westminster.

shirtEngland’s latest kit deal, worth approximately £25million per annum, is the second most valuable ever signed behind the current Nike deal with the French Football Association. This may surprise many people, especially as Nike have been the official partner of the Brazilian Football Association for nearly twenty years. The Brazilian shirt is currently Nike’s biggest selling International football shirt, with over 5 million unit sales expected in 2014. Whilst there is almost an expectation that every nation that qualifies for a major tournament will bring out a new shirt, it has been the announcement of the cost that has caused a major public outcry in England.

With unit sales in excess of 1 million in regular years, rising to 3 million prior to a major tournament, the temptation to bring out a new kit for the FIFA World Cup starting in Brazil in two months was too much for the FA and Nike to resist.
However, few people expected that the latest kit when announced in March 2014 would cost up to £90, a huge increase in the price tag from previous kits. Unsurprisingly, the cost was criticised from every angle, with Radio and TV chat shows dedicated to this one subject. The Shadow Sports Minister Clive Efford commented shortly after the announcement of the new kit, “The game of football seems to be increasingly about profit and commercialism rather than the community and the fans, who have sustained football for many generations.”

The Football Association immediately responded, absolving themselves of any blame, by saying that “The FA’s policy is to avoid any involvement with how its partners/licensees set their prices, so as to avoid any risk of or implications of price fixing”
Whilst it is only the “deluxe” version of the shirt that will sell at the high level, the standard shirt’s recommended retail price is still 20% higher than we have seen before at £60. Still a bitter pill for most fans to swallow. Sports shirts manufacturers have invested heavily in recent years to incorporate the most modern design features and materials into their products, as well as explicitly targeting shirt counterfeiters who have become smarter and more determined. What many so-called experts failed to reference was the fact that the England Rugby Union shirt had been priced at a similar level for a number of years without any outcry. Perhaps that is because the rugby union is perceived to be more of a middle to upper class sport where disposable incomes are higher? Or even that as a more successful side, with two World Cup Final appearances in the past eleven years, they can command a higher price tag.

Unfortunately, it took just a few hours after the public unveiling of the new Nike shirt before counterfeit items started appearing on online marketplace sites, selling for just a fraction of the excessive £90 official price tag. These marketplace sellers offer quantities in excess of 100 units at a time, spreading the counterfeit items quickly across the world. With price tags of less than £10 for the “Player version” it is not hard to spot the fakes from the real ones.  These websites also offer versions without the manufacturers logo at an even lower price – essentially creating a tiered structure of counterfeits. Anyone who has been to the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, the Night Market in Marrakesh or even Las Ramblas in Barcelona cannot have failed to have seen the thousands of football shirts on sale, some looking as authentic as the real thing complete with genuine manufacturer tags and security measures. They even offer a sliding scale of fakes at different price points.

What many of the manufacturers of replica football shirts fail to realise is that they are dealing with irrational buyers. Football shirts are not like Gucci handbags or Hermes scarves. They are not luxury items. They are lifestyle items. If someone buys a fake football shirt they are still pledging their allegiance to a brand, or in this case country or football club. They know that none of the revenue from the sale will go to the club or the manufacturer but that doesn’t stop their enjoyment of the product in any way at all. Other fans will not look down their nose at them for sporting a fake shirt – in fact the high quality of some of these fakes makes it very difficult to recognise it is so without close inspection. A football fan with £20 to spend on a shirt will spend £20 on a shirt whether it is a fake or not in most cases.

One in six products sold today is counterfeit. In the UK alone it is an industry worth over $40billion. This number continues to rise every year despite attempts by companies such as NetNames to scour the Internet, find the infringing items and removing the offending websites or online sellers from the web. However, with money still tight in many households, high-ticket desirable items such as the England football shirt fuel the growth in counterfeiting.

Manufacturers state that the prices are being driven up by counterfeiters, not realising that by increasing their prices they make the issue worse. They claim that the effect of buying fake ‘knock off’ goods has a ‘knock on’ effect on the price of legitimate products. Every pound, euro or dollar spent on counterfeits is a pound, euro or dollar not spent with the brand owner, reducing the savings from economies of scale that can be passed on to the consumer. Production costs, support costs, marketing costs and legal costs are all higher, which the brand owner must pass on to the consumer – a double whammy. However, in the football shirt world it seems that the price tag is high because they know irrespective of the purchase price, the demand for the product is already there. An England football fan is hardly likely to decide to support France and buy a French football top simply because of a price tag. They will simply seek a cheaper “fix”.

Only time will tell if Nike’s pricing strategy of introducing a premium item at a premium price will work. In my experience of both consumer behaviour and being a fan I would say that football at its most basic level of wanting to show support for a team or country is as binary as it could be – I am no less of a fan if I buy the premium priced shirt or a normal priced one.

The final word on this comes from Football author Mark Perryman:-

“Commercially, if you go back through history, the most successful England shirts in terms of sales have been the ones from periods when England are doing well.

“To that end, I think Nike have got a bum deal because expectations ahead of the World Cup are at an all-time low. People are just not that excited about the England team.

“Who in their right mind thinks we are going to do well in Brazil?”

“Who in their right mind thinks we are going to do well in Brazil?”

I hope you are wrong Mark, but I think you may just be right once again.

England Fans to go tee-total in the Summer

While Roy Hodgson recently announced the 23-man squad that will be on the plane to Brazil for this summer’s World Cup hoping to upset the World Cup odds, a large number of England fans will have been planning their trip to South America for the upcoming tournament for months. With the England squad preparing to set off for their luxury base in Rio de Janeiro, the majority of travelling supporters will be lucky to find a spare hammock in a 20-man dormitory for around the same price as a nice weekend in Paris.

In the run-up to this summer’s tournament, much has been made about the costs of accommodation throughout Brazil, in particular hotels in the major cities – especially in Sao Paulo and Rio, where accommodation prices have seen a dramatic increase ahead of this summer. Brazilian cities were already pricey places to visit on holiday – with Sao Paulo ranked the 19th most expensive city in the world.

Perhaps more worrying for England fans than the accommodation prices will be the cost of having a beer. England fans have learned over the years that watching their team is significantly helped by having a beer or two but that might change when they see the prices.

4716279599_e60c9e30d2_bOne survey suggested a pint of beer could cost as much as £21 in some parts of the country during the tournament. Even those looking to save some money by enjoying a Caipirinha – Brazil’s national cocktail – have been warned they could be forced to shell out around £10 in some bars.

As with every country, however, travelling fans will be able to find bars where prices are more agreeable if they aren’t afraid to head off the beaten track. Tourists won’t need to wander into some of Brazil’s rougher areas to find a place where they can have a cheap drink, with some local bars charging as little as £1 for a beer and £1.50 for a Caipirinha.

What are the odds on that?

England World Cup Betting
Usually, before a World Cup, the England hype machine goes into overdrive, with pundits claiming that this could finally be the year where they repeat their 1966 heroics. However, after a sluggish qualifying campaign, few are expecting that this will be their year, least of all the bookies, who have them down as 33/1 outsiders to end 48 years of hurt.

So although they might not be the best bet to win the competition outright, even at those long odds, there are plenty of other ways that you can bet on England in this year’s World Cup. Here is a selection of some of the more interesting examples – for a complete list, check out the England World Cup betting section at

The Squad
One of the more interesting markets as far as the English team is concerned is the make-up of Roy Hodgson’s 23-man squad. Although there are a fair number of players that are guaranteed a seat on the plane unless they suffer an injury, there are a few players on the fringes that could be worth betting on to make it to Brazil.

8189619173_e22cddc659_bDefence-wise, the squad selection seems fairly settled, although there are a couple of intriguing possibilities around the fringes. With Ashley Cole losing his starting role at Chelsea, there could be an opportunity emerging for another left back, such as Southampton’s 18-year-old Luke Shaw, who looks a decent bet for inclusion at 2/1, possibly at Cole’s expense. Even more tempting are the 9/4 odds on both Luke Shaw and Leighton Baines making the trip. If there are any injuries, Arsenal’s Kieran Gibbs looks a decent outside bet at odds of 16/1, as does Man City’s Joleon Lescott at 7/1.

The midfield is another area of the park that pretty much picks itself, but there are still a couple of decent outside bets in the form of Adam Johnson, whose career revival at Sunderland seems to be happening at just the right time, and Ashley Young, who has been getting plenty of game time at Manchester United, both at the seemingly-reasonable odds of 8/1.

Things are less cut and dry in the forward positions, where there could be as many as two places up for grabs alongside Rooney, Welbeck, and Sturridge. Were it not for his ill-timed move to the MLS, Jermaine Defoe would almost certainly be heading to Brazil, but he has been a squad regular for many years now and could be a decent bet for inclusion at 6/1. Other leading contenders include Rickie Lambert and Andy Carroll, both of which are in decent form and sitting at 7/2 for a place in the squad.

England Specials
With most pundits and fans quite pessimistic about England’s chances, there should be more interest in bets of this nature than usual. That said, there are plenty of reasons for optimism as well – such as the fine domestic form of veterans such as Steven Gerrard and John Terry, solid seasons from England mainstays such as Wayne Rooney and Joe Hart, and the emergence of promising youngsters such as Adam Lallana and Ross Barkley. With that in mind, here are a few of the more interesting England specials bets, starting with the more optimistic ones:

England to get maximum points in the group stage – 12/1
Although qualifying from group consisting of Italy, Uruguay, and Costa Rica might seem like a tall order, with the exception of a few key players none of these teams are particularly strong at the moment. Therefore, if you look at it objectively, England should have a decent chance of beating all of them and taking all nine points to win the group. Admittedly, this is a bit of a stretch, but it could be worth a punt at odds as long as these.

8190569238_13b8deaa32_bEngland to win a penalty shootout – 8/1
Traditionally the Achilles heel of the English national team, a succession of exits on penalties has made many pessimistic about their chances of ever winning one. Yet, on paper at least, they have as good a chance as anyone, and by the law of averages, a penalty shootout win is long overdue. With Hodgson taking extra steps to improve this side of England’s game, including hiring a top sports psychologist, maybe this will be the year that the penalty ghost is finally exorcised.

England to go out on penalties – 8/1
If you are optimistic enough to expect that England will make it out of the group stages, but pessimistic enough to believe that England will revert to their old penalty-fluffing ways in Brazil, these odds look pretty good.

England to lose to Germany on penalties – 40/1
Although it looks less likely than in previous years, given that they would probably have to make it to the semis to face their arch-rivals, history has a nasty habit of repeating for England at the World Cup, which makes this long-odds bet look strangely appealing.

England not to win a game – 6/1
The ominously short odds available for England not to chalk up a single win may be depressing, but looked at realistically, it’s not that far-fetched. They are in a tough group, with Uruguay and Italy both capable of besting an out-of-sorts England side, and while England should at least beat Costa Rica they could manage to snatch a draw or even a defeat from the jaws of victory, particularly if morale is low.




Another pointless game or an opportunity for innovation

engvchile-300x290I cannot think of many football fans who really cared much about England’s friendly last month against Chile.  Ticket sales, as is the case for home games at Wembley were impressive, but that is more to do with the FA’s encouraging ticketing policy, meaning that a family of four could see this one for less than it costs to share one seat at quite a few Premier League games, than an indication that such games are worth watching.  This is the fourth international break of the football season so far, the fourth occasion that Premier League Betting had taken a break, and more importantly, the fourth time over half a million football fans had to look for alternative things to do on a Saturday.

The Non-League Day campaign held annually in September is also a great initiative in encouraging these fans to head to their local side and I hope they use these enforced breaks to go back again and again although average attendances figures from the respective international break in October suggests otherwise. But could the footballing authorities try something new?

Whilst few will ever admit it, other sports are much braver in introducing changes that improve their games for the spectators.  Video technology has revolutionised cricket and rugby, and having seen the travesty of an appalling refereeing decision go against Lewes this week away to Bury Town, which ironically was caught on video but nothing can be done about it, it is time that it was used more widely in football.  The sin bin, and challenges in other sports have allowed wrongs to be righted almost immediately.

But how about taking a leaf out of Rugby Union’s approach to dealing with weekends where International fixtures decimate their calendar.  For seven weekends each season, the international fixtures mean that the clubs lose their star players.  But do they simply send the rest of their squads off to Magaluf for the weekend?  Of course not.  They play their domestic cup competition.

The LV= Cup isn’t the top priority for clubs who are in European competition (i.e the whole of the Premiership in either the Heineken or Amlin Cups), whilst the Premiership is the bread and butter for them.  But the LV= competition is perfect for the International weekends.  Clubs have the chance to play some of their squad players, which leads to a more even playing field and thus more competitive games.  Clubs discount tickets accordingly and everyone is a winner.  So what could football learn?

Well, how about re-energizing a competition that has been declining in popularity year after year – the Rumbelows/Milk/Worthington/Coca-Cola/Capital One/League Cup. Clubs have for seasons fielded weakened teams so what difference does it make if they put out a similar side when internationals are on?  Attendances would be better, as they tend to be on a Saturday rather than a midweek night.  Less than 59,000 watched Manchester United beat Norwich City 4-0 in the previous round, 33,000 at Newcastle United v Manchester City and less than 16,000 at the Stadium of Light.  Comparable home games for the three after these ties saw 75,000, 51,000 and 40,000 for Premier League games where ticket prices were also substantially higher.

lcWhilst it is true that many Premier League clubs have squads full of internationals, they all have large enough squads to field a team for the competition and one that is beatable by the lower league teams which in turn increases the interest in all ties. And the more interest there is in the competition, the more the crowds come back and the magic of a competition that twenty five years ago was a much-loved part of our game will come back.

The League Cup was originally introduced as a sweetner for clubs already knocked out of the FA Cup but it soon was shifted so that most of the games were played before the big teams entered the FA Cup each January. Today, all of the magic has disappeared from the competition although it has still retained the original feature of a two-legged semi-final, where attendances are of normal Premier League standard, and clubs start to take it seriously. But it is the early rounds that need the boost.  With four international weekends from August to December it would be quite easy to play the rounds up to the semi-finals of a weekend, with a final weekend break in March for the final.

But perhaps it’s too sensible.  I’ll get my coat.