Early doors


And so 7 years and 3 weeks since we were awarded the games, the London Olympics is upon us. How could anyone in Great Britain not be excited by the next 18 days featuring the world’s greatest athletes? And here we were, ready to experience the opening events. Whisper it quietly, but the London Olympics didn’t start with the multi-million pound opening ceremony in the Olympic Stadium, but actually started on Wednesday in Cardiff when Team GB ladies took on New Zealand. Even the official Olympic website suggests the games start on the 27th July – as if someone is embarrassed by the fact that football even exists in the games.

It has hardly been a surprise that virtually every game outside of London or not featuring Team GB has struggled to sell tickets. I have argued on these very pages about the logic in using such big stadiums in the far flung areas of the United Kingdom. Those romantic few told me that the residents of Glasgow and Cardiff would flock to watch the likes of Honduras, Morocco, Belarus and Gabon because it was “the Olympics”. Last week, LOGOC took the decision to remove over 500,000 unsold tickets for the football tournament from sale and simply close down parts of the stadiums, obviously making sure that the TV facing seats were full.

It is too late to argue the merits of using smaller grounds closer to London for the football (Reading, Southampton, Brighton for instance), but it still leaves a bad taste in the mouth that such a logical outcome was ignored. However, that hadn’t stopped me heading north of the border to notch up event one of ten I would be attending during the games. Hampden Park would be our destination for a double bill of Morocco v Honduras, and then a little throw-away tie between Spain and Japan. I mean, who would want to watch Spain these day? What have they ever won eh? Dull, negative football. Give me Allardyce route one anyday! Who wants to see the ball on the pitch. There is a million times more room to hoof it in the air….I’ll stop now.

Despite my frequent trips north of the border, Hampden Park has never featured on the TBIR radar for a game (great tour and even better museum) so when it was announced that games would be held in the Scottish National Stadium it was too good an opportunity to miss, especially as tickets to any events in the proper Olympic venues were impossible to get last year. One thing you could not complaint about was value for money – £61 for four tickets for a double-header of international football. Of course a year on and tickets can be acquired for just about any game – the football was to be the first of TEN events that we would see in a 12 day period during the games (and we will bring you action from all 10 right here). But confusingly, wherever you went, all the signs/websites/newspaper articles said the Olympic games was due to start on Friday 27th July with the opening ceremony. The website told us Big Ben was to chime 40 times on the first day (i.e Friday 27th); the countdown clock was to the 27th July and all of the official records say the games run from Friday 27th July to Sunday 12th August. Continue reading

The most passionate football nation in Europe


Two weeks ago I met a chap from Iceland at Copenhagen airport.  His first words to me were “I’m the most passionate football fan in the world”.  He had seen my Lewes FC Owners badge and knew exactly who the Rooks were, what league they were in and where they were in the league.  In fact when I randomly fired obscure non league teams at it he could answer every single question on location, league and position.  Curzon Ashton, Lincoln Moorlands Railways, Quorn.  You name it, he knew the answer.  He told me he watched about twenty games a week on the TV and Online, and devoted his whole life to following the beautiful game.  He showed me his list of “favourite” teams from across Europe.  Now I thought Andy Hudson had more favourites than a teenagers most visited adult websites, but this was taking it to the extreme.  His main team was KR Reykjavik back at home but also he avidly followed (deep breath here):-

Celtic,Rosenborg, Basel, Benfica, Helsingborgs, Rapid Wien, Olympiakos, Liverpool, AC Milan, Barcelona, Brondby, HJK Helsinki, Skendija Tetovo, Buducnost Podgorica, Hadjuk Split and BATE Borisov.

But this meeting got me thinking.  Which nation are the most passionate about their own domestic league?  My new “friend” in the thumbs up Inbetweeners way had claimed the Icelanders were – with just 12 clubs and a population of 328,000 he thought that more people watched top flight football in Iceland as a percentage than any other nation.

So in a spare moment (OK, hour) last week I fed all the relevant information into the TBIR super computer to see what the results were.  Now, it is hard to be very exact and so I had to make a couple of assumptions.

  • Population figures were taken from the CIA database
  • To calculate the attendance of the league I took the league average attendance per game from 2010/11 (or 2011 in case of summer leagues) and multiplied by the teams in the league – this would roughly show the number of people who went to top flight football in a two week period (i.e a home game for each club). The bible for any statistical world is of course European Football Statistics.
  • Obviously there is a small amount of overlap with away fans attending games so I took off 10% from the total to avoid double counting.
  • I was unable to find league attendances for Andorra, San Marino or Malta. In addition there isn’t a league in Liechtenstein as their teams play in the Swiss league.  However, the remaining 49 UEFA-affiliated Leagues were included.

The results were indeed very surprising.  The top ten “most passionate” countries about their own domestic league have an average FIFA ranking of 53 (and a UEFA one of 23).  There is only three countries in the top ten that are in the FIFA top ten, and the top three are all ranked by FIFA at over 118, and over 44 in Europe.  So in true TBIR Top of the Pops style let’s countdown from 10 to 1.

10th place – Switzerland (1.32% of the population watch a top flight match in 2010/11 season – Average attendance was 11,365 – Top supported club FC Basel who averaged 29,044)
Despite its peaceful aspect of mountains, cow bells and lakes, football in Switzerland is a passionate affair that often boils over into violence. The best supported team, FC Basel are now a regular in the Champions League Group Stages which has seen their average attendance rise to nearly 30,000.  Their average attendance for the Axpo Super League would be better if the two teams from Zürich realised their potential.  One cloud on the horizon in Switzerland is the financial stability of clubs – we have this season seen Neuchâtel Xamax go to the wall and several others are in a precarious position.  However, football is still seen as the number one sport, and with top flight clubs distributed across the country it is clear to see the appeal of the domestic game, especially as on the national side they have had a good few years. Continue reading

Football’s coming home – well nearly anyway


Four weeks ago the Football Associations of Scotland, Ireland and Wales surprised the football world by expressing an interest in hosting Euro2020 in a three-way love in.  Whilst not formally stating their intention to bid for the tournament, their dipping of the toe into the murky waters of International football was received in favourable terms by many people.  Faced with competition from Turkey and Georgia at the moment, the Celtic bid looks very appealling.

Michel Platini, however, may think otherwise.  He wasn’t very keen on inheriting the joint bid from Poland and Ukraine and has expressed his Gallic frustration on a number of occasions with the progress of the infrastructure which still isn’t quite finished despite the tournament kicking off in a week’s time.  He also feels a bit guilty about France winning the bid for 2016 7-6 over Turkey where essentially he had the casting vote, so Turkey will be firm favourites.  That is unless they win a bid for the 2020 Olympic Games.But do they really fit with UEFA’s vision for the Championships?  We can glean quite a lot of information from the bid document for bids for 2016 on what UEFA expects from tournaments in the future.

The first thing to remind you is that from 2016 the tournament is being farcically expanded to a 24 nation competition, which based on the potential Celtic bid, will mean that 50 UEFA nations will be competing for 21 spots – hardly a taxing qualifying tournament.  In terms of the tournament, UEFA set their infrastructure criteria for 2016 as:-

  • 2 x stadiums with at least 50,000 net seating capacity (net meaning seats free from any obstructions) of which one should preferably have up to 60,000.
  • 3 x stadiums with at least a 40,000 seating capacity
  • 4 x stadiums with at least a 30,000 seating capacity

In addition there should be a maximum of three stadiums to be used as backup that fall within these parameters.  All stadiums need to be at UEFA Category 1 level prior to the commencement of the tournament which has very little to do with design, facilities or even a fancy roof but more to do with the size of the Referee’s dressing room, the TV compound and the number of corporate boxes (40 for 30,000, 80 for 50,000+).

It also states that stadium must be well connected to public transport hubs (well that must rule out Turkey for a start – have you tried to get to the Ataturk stadium by public transport?) and be within a two hour drive of an airport.  At least three roads from different directions should lead to the stadium (to avoid “crossover” between fans, media and VIPs), and there should be specific number of parking spaces for the different catagories of VIPs.  In the past, UEFA (and FIFA) have not liked a concentration of stadiums in a small number of host cities.  Portugal was ideal for spectators who were able to travel between 7 of the 8 venues by car within a couple of hours, but UEFA felt that the teams training camps and accommodation were too close together.  So, despite its size and facilities, the day will not be anytime soon when we see a London European Championships, despite the fact the city  currently meets the stadium criteria (Wembley, Olympic Stadium, Twickenham, Emirates, Stamford Bridge, White Hart Lane, Upton Park and The Valley – almost). Continue reading

Bank Holiday blues as Surrey are thwarted by the rain


I couldn’t hold out any longer…two weeks without any sport and I was a broken man.  So I made my excuses from Her Majesty’s BBQ in the garden and headed to the Oval for Surrey Lions versus the Scotland Saltires.  Yes I knew the weather forecast wasn’t good but with a game almost on the doorstep I couldn’t miss it.

The Lions came into the Ladies Day game as the only unbeaten side in their division with four wins from five games and expected to beat the Scots with ease who had only one win from five.

Surrey Lions v Scotland Saltires 124-4 (23 overs) – The Oval – Tuesday 5th June 2012
Of course the weather won.  Scotland won the toss and made heavy going of their innings, struggling to 23-3 off 8 overs before Symes and Mommsen came to the crease. Their unbeaten stand of 78 looked promising before the heavy rain came down and drew proceedings to a close.

The crowd of just a few hundred were consoled by the fly past of the Red Arrows and free cake celebrating Ladies Day although we missed out on a refund by just 18 balls.

Not exactly the start to the 2012 Domestic Season I had planned, but with so much cricket coming up it can only get better, surely?

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Don’t come home too soon…yeah right


After the commercialisation of USA 1994, we moved onto France in 1998.  A tournament that was full of controversy on and off the field (but then again which one in modern times, apart from Germany 2006, hasn’t had its share of front page headlines).  If 1994 was a tournament that saw the dawning of the new age of football, then 1998 was the dawning of the age of creed, corruption and lies.

It was also a monumental year for me personally.  For just a few weeks after the tournament was due to end I was marrying, the now current CMF.  And for the first time, I had kept my girl through consecutive tournaments.  As a pre-wedding treat I had arranged a romantic weekend away in France.  This was when I was young and foolish, and thought that Paris was THE place to take a girl to impress her.  Now, with experience and hindsight I know the real truth and would not touch the place with a barge pole (see why here). Oh, did I not mention that it coincided with a couple of games in the capital  – how forgetful of me. Continue reading

Life before the Mexican wave


To be sixteen again – who wouldn’t want to go back to such innocent days when compared with the stress and strains of modern life.  Sixteen when some of the good things in life were now legal, although growing up with a slightly wayward elder brother meant that I had tried them all long before the 13th FIFA World Cup kicked off in Mexico on the 31st May 1986.

Quite how the tournament was able to start was a miracle in itself.  Columbia were originally chosen to host the tournament but due to the escalation of civil unrest they withdrew their candidacy in 1982.  The USA, Canada and Mexico threw their respective hats into the ring and FIFA went with the safe choice of Mexico who had previously hosted the tournament sixteen years previously.  Just three years later the country was rocked by an earthquake that left the tournament in the balance.  FIFA were prepared to postpone the tournament by a year but the Mexicans insisted that all was in order so on the 31st May World Cup holders Italy took on Bulgaria in the Azteca stadium in the searing midday Mexican heat.  And so the curse of the champions continued as Italy failed to win the opening game of their defence. Continue reading

We’re on the march with Ally’s Army


1978 – Argentina
Has there every been a World Cup for drama and intrigue than Argentina in 1978?  I was 8 years old and with England failing to qualify I was beginning to believe that we were above such tournaments, especially as the Scots were there again.  By the age of 8 I was into my football big time.  So much so that I spent every waking hour playing the game.  My bedroom had been converted into a stadium where all of the games each weekend would be replayed with a slaz ball (a yellow foam ball made by Slazenger which over time you would simply pick chunks out of) and the goal being my upturned bed.  The whole pain of England not qualifying thanks, according to my Dad, to “that Yorkshire traitor” passed me by, but as soon as Panini World Cup 1978 hit the stores I was hooked. Continue reading