Friday, March 16, 2007

The season is drawing to a premature end – Margin

Whisper it quietly when fans are around, but football is meaningless. It may be fun, it may even be exciting, but placing a spherical object into large oblong space means nothing.

That is of course if you are a Newcastle United or Arsenal fan this weekend. And that is in turn because all of the inventions created to give meaning to football have failed those clubs this spring.

For now 18 of England’s top twenty clubs can be pleased their existence is not futile. Watford, Boro, Spurs, Chelsea, ManU, Liverpool, and Blackburn can all still win a trophy. The rest of the division can fight for a Uefa Cup place at one end of the table, or for survival at the other.

Trophies are of course the nicety of Football meaning. Be they a cup or a title they offer a mention in historical almanacs, and some cause for celebration at the time. But both their forms fail too many clubs each year.

Cup football struggles. After all, it depends on eliminating all but two teams before it ends. And while other fans might show passing interest in the eventually winner, their own team is what really fires their hearts.

So behind the cups we establish leagues. Leagues last longer and knock no one out on a dismal Thursday night in March. And with relegation, a trophy, and degrees of European qualification, the Premiership offers plenty to play for.

But while no side will be knocked out, many will become the walking dead.

Arsenal’s season didn’t finish with cup defeat, it finished with a fluke winner against a poor Villa side on Wednesday night. That win effectively secured a top four finish with no prospect of coming first. Newcastle meanwhile face more dire a conclusion - Safe from relegation, but well out of reach of Uefa Cup football next year.

Both sides must now play out nine meaningless games while thinking about next season. And they won’t be alone for long.

Wins for Fulham, Wigan, or Villa this weekend would make them undead as they pull clear of relegation. Defeat for Blackburn or Portsmouth would probably see sixth place slip beyond their reach too. A bad set of results for West Ham would finish them, and on Monday Boro could be turned by defeat at Old Trafford. Zombies were once most prevalent in the lower divisions of English football. Promotion and relegation interested at most a dozen teams in April, with minimal ongoing cup involvement.

But undead beware, the lower leagues took action. They created the play offs and it worked. The play offs extended the prospect of promotion to sixth place. And that in turn meant fewer comfortable strolls for the team in second, and more to play for for the team in ninth.

The same format should have stretched to relegation, with four teams playing two semi-finals, and the losers then playing the final. Were that the case today not one Championship team would relax right now.

There is no promotion from the Premier league, but a Champions League place for fourth place. Put that to a play off and finishing seventh or third would then mean something. Arsenal and Newcastle would be alive again.

That might not be fair, and some zombies may object, but it would be interesting. It would foster greater excitement. And it would therefore serve the purpose of all football competitions. To give the beautiful game meaning.

36 comments:

andrewm said...

Margin, since it's you I'll forgive you for using the dreaded phrase in your last sentence.

In principle I object to playoffs for the obvious reasons. In practice, as you say, they give meaning to end-of-season fixtures and generate a lot of excitement. Do I want them in the premiership? No.

Margin said...

I could hardly write about football's inherrant pointlessness without using that phrase somewhere could I? It would have broken some internet by-law.

Ebren said...

If Platini gets his way and we drop to three CL places, I think play-offs would be great fun. Top six have a shot at champions league. Winners, CL. Final losers in the Uefa cup. Losing in the Semi's out. And Uefa spots for the cup winners/finalists (unless all four/both they finish in the top six, then these places roll on to seventh and eighth).

Losing semi finalists get nothing but the extra gates.

Sounds like fun.

andrewm said...

I'm pretty much in favour of the top two into the CL and a third spot from the Cup, if that's allowable. Note how selfless I am - I'm fully aware that would risk LFC missing out on the CL.

I'm all about the good of the game you see :)

bluedaddy said...

Disagree re CL place for FA cup win. The FA cup has to stand on its own or not all. And it may effectively act as insurance, albeit a risky one, for biggest clubs who have a shit run in the league (looking at you Pool and Gooners).

Margin, this is a great piece and a great idea. I like the zombie schtick. Also like the idea of a fight to avoid places 14-17. Far less easy games all round.

Couldnt you whack the whole thing onto an Arsenal blog or is it too long?

And I'm sure that an idea this good will be popular at the FA - the fount of footballing good sense.

What's that? No comment. Surely not?

miro said...

A good one! A lack of excitement, what's that actually mean? Are we talking too much about that?

The FA Cup winners going straight into the CL? I suppose it's worth some additional considerations.

Margin said...

Bluedaddy

I can't imagine anyone letting me near an Arsenal blog. What with me being a Spurs fan and season ticket holder.

Hence my Spurs bog at footballing world.
http://www.footballingworld.com/1/diaries/tottenham/

(read the comments after my sarcastic piece for a good chortle)

greengrass said...

BD -
anything is too long for an Arsenal blog.
GG

pipita said...

Solution for this is the Argentine league format. Its been in practice for the last fifteen years. It works this way, the twenty first division teams play their first nineteen games against each other and this produces the first season champion of the so-called Apertura league. In the second half of the season, called Clausura, you get them all playing against each other again, obviously switching the home and away condition, and you get the second champion. The four that go to the libertadores cup are the two camps and the best two teams fronm the general table, the total sum of points from the apertura and clausura. Relegations are decided by a three years average table, so practically all teams are playing for something right till the end. Hope I this hasnt been too confusing...

pipita said...

Solution for this is the Argentine league format. Its been in practice for the last fifteen years. It works this way, the twenty first division teams play their first nineteen games against each other and this produces the first season champion of the so-called Apertura league. In the second half of the season, called Clausura, you get them all playing against each other again, obviously switching the home and away condition, and you get the second champion. The four that go to the libertadores cup are the two camps and the best two teams fronm the general table, the total sum of points from the apertura and clausura. Relegations are decided by a three years average table, so practically all teams are playing for something right till the end. Hope I this hasnt been too confusing...

bluedaddy said...

Pipita, I got it the first time, but your second explanation confused me :o)

Margin, read your piece from the link. Nicely done and great comments, esp the Gooners.

I am quite tempted sometimes to adopt a troglodyte alter ego, but I guess life's too short.

It does seem a shame that clubs in the upper echelons don't see the beauty of the play offs. If you know what the score is from the start you cant bitch about the heartache of the play offs. Just think of how much more motivated the 'smaller' clubs will be playing the big guns if they know that trying to park the bus may be useless if they need points to finish 13thh or above.

And if we worry about too much football for the Prem players, then play the Prem relegation play offs as one off games at Wembley. It might even be ready by the time the FA debate this and make the change.

pipita said...

Bluedaddy, I'll give it another go

Two leagues in one season:

Apertura champion: Team that gets more points from first 19 matches of 20 team league
Clausura champion: Team that gets more points from the following 19 matches
Both champions qualify for libertadores cup along with two more teams who have totalized most points in the sum of apertura and clausura
I used to be against this system, preferring the traditional league system where all teams play each other twice, but in this way you are usually assured suspense until the very last matches

MotM said...

It was obvious after a match or two this year that Everton were not relegation candidates (and I'm grateful for avoiding the fraught Easters of the last fifteen years) nor CL contenders. Zombies!

I've never been less interested in football - something, anything, needs to be done.

andrewm said...

Mouth - what do you mean?

Honestly - what?

MotM said...

andrewm - I mean that twenty years ago, I would have scoffed at any suggestion to change to play-offs, split seasons etc. Now with a Big Four cartel at one end of the table and a monumental screw-up required by the likes of Everton, Spurs, Newcastle, Villa, Bolton to get drawn into the relegation fight, I'm at the point when I would be happy to see anything shake up the march to the 38 game ranking.

So it's a plea for innovation to promote competition.

offside said...

pipita,

what?

andrewm said...

Mouth, if you're promoting what I think you're promoting then I've never quite understood.

With all due respect: Nottingham Forest vs Malmo.

bluedaddy said...

Pipita, sorry. You posted the same thing twice so my comment was a joke. Or at least an attempt at one.

Did the Argentine system used to be like ours, i.e. 38 games, home and away? If so when, and more importantly, why did it change?

MOTM I think the 4 places for the CL have created a problem in that they are self perpetuating. The money from making the top four helps you always make the top four.

Next season is an important one. Another walkover for ManU or Chelsea (this season's title was either of theirs from about October, just as the previous two were decided ludicrously early) and we will surely see a reaction re crowd numbers and/or noise, journalists being ultra cynical to generate stories, players chasing the money if they cant get into the big clubs, managers becoming ever more focussed on cautious football to avoid the drop/sack.

If the big four won't vote for christmas re redistribution of wealth, then it does seem that TV will have to be the ones to get bored and force change. Surely they want more of West Ham vs Spurs and less of Bolton vs Evertons. Something at stake will always be the key to throwing caution to the wind. Look at the way Jose plays such rigid percentage football (largely dull unless it absolutely clicks) to when things have gone wrong and he throws the kitchen sink at a problem (absorbing if a bit scary as a fan, and hardly a sign of a great team).

Of course football doesnt have to be harum scarum to be good. Arsenal show the way to a certain extent. Give them Cech and Essien and they would be champions for sure.

But this isnt just an English problem. The big clubs are like the old movie studios in the 20s/30s, locking up all the talent and scaring off the small guys. The players are collaborating instead of rebelling. We need a Maradona to take a Portsmouth or Man City to the title.

Rambling now, but yes MOTM, the game isnt right at the moment. There's a malevolence that is hard to pin down. Is it money, cynicism (mine or Peter Kenyon's?), overexposure, conservatism, money?

Would love to see Margin's piece on GU (which is what I meant by an Arsenal blog - as in, this would make it on topic), and then debated without the usual tribalism.

pipita said...

Blueddady, Offside

Ha, ha, ha...Thats it, I give up, your not concentrating. Hey olivier, did you see the Liverpool-StEtienne 1977 clip oliverreed sent in the youtube blog, fantastic Bathenay goal

Mouth

Found myself making a post 1970 Liverpool best XI selection on that blog, and arguing with olivereed about why he was leaving kevin keegan out of his!!! The masochism of the evertonian...Pathetic

pipita said...

Apologies Blue, posted my previous message at the seame time your last one came in. Yeah, it used to be like yours. We River fans claim it was changed in order for Boca, who hadnt won the league for 11 years, to have more chances of clinching a league title. Jokes, apart, Im almost certain it had to do with avoiding what's happening in the Serie A with Inter at the moment.

bluedaddy said...

Thanks Pipita. To save me having to research, has it made a big difference and how do fans feel?

Has it brought/returned new teams into the picture?

Are the Aper/Claus champions usually different?
Winning both must be a great feeling for fans?

Might have to pick this up tomorrow as am v tired.

guitougoal said...

bluedaddy,cech, essien + Drogba is the ticket for any team. Pipita please never mention liverpool-st etienne again regardless of what bathenay did.

guitougoal said...

anybody interested by the confessions of a voyeur, visit last russel brand,priceless.

pipita said...

Blue

It basically enabled teams like Velez, Newels and even Racing, who hadnt won the league in 30 years, to win titles on a more regular basis. Winning the double is great, but River actually managed the treble -aperturas 96 97 clausura97-
and Boca, thankfully failed to clinch their treble last year when they lost the title to Estudiantes at the very last moment

Guitou

Actually reminded olireed that Liverpool were lucky because St etienne were missing Piazza, who was suspended, for that vital second leg tie at Anfield. Just added Bellushi-related remarks in Russell's thread

greengrass said...

BD -
nice of you to offer to give your 2 best players to the Gooners.
GG

Margin said...

Pleased to see such interesting comments.

The Argentine system might be well worth looking at, though I don't know how it affects the argentine Newcastles with nothing to play for.

I Think I'll write to the Prem to see see what they say.

bluedaddy said...

It would be nice to think a club could get a reward for a good half season (Portsmouth say?) rather than penalised with nothing because of a bad run, maybe because of bad luck with injuries. Arse would be probably top or joint top of a clausura for this season (ok so maybe it's a bad idea ;o)). And the adding of points for both seasons should encourage teams to keep going at end of each season.

How does relegation work?

Pipita or Marcela - would love to hear a bit more analysis of the effects of Aper/Claus style league.

pipita said...

Bluedaddy

Its even more complicated to explain how relegation works. But if you insist...I'll try and make it as plain and simple as posible. Its decided on a system of averages of the 20 teams last three years performances. The last two, in the average table, go down and the two above them have to play playoff matches against the 3rd and 4th of the second division. Therefore, there are very few teams left with nothing to play for towards the end of the season

guitougoal said...

Pipita, ola como va, que paso con River?la ultima vez
me parecio que todo esta bien..2-1 river/arsenal.
Pero san lorenzo muy impressionante-y como se puede que a maradonna lo dieron por muerto de un accidente y se dice diego "esta mas vivo que nunca", no se puede mas.
I smiled at your animal house story on the other blog.

miro said...

Is Big Frogger still alive?

bluedaddy said...

Miro, there has been some people off sick at GU. So Big Blogger is delayed until next week.

tony ellis said...

I suppose you're right, margin, although it's a bit sad that we have to search for 'meaning' outside the game itself. I can remember going to see Orient or Clapton if West Ham weren't playing. Sometimes we went to reserve games, just to watch football. None of it meant much, but I still enjoyed it.

pipita said...

Hola Guitou

Sna lorenzo muy impresionante con el "pelado" Diaz como coach, River plei mejorando despues de ganarle a Arsenal y empatar en Ecuador. Muy bien tu español.. Mais je ne parle bien francais. You had some great interventions on Russell's thread, was sad to have missed most of that as yestarday was one of those family-dominated saturday's...Wow three languages in one entry, not bad eh

postern said...

did anyone see the liverpool - villa game? a dirge. action needed

guitougoal said...

pipita, It's hard to resist to the temptation with Russel Brand starting a teasing game, then backinthebuilding coming along with his firecrackers.
That's how we got the party going, but i think we kept the ball in bound.I'll be off the blog this coming week, hope you come up with great stuff.

Margin said...

tony

The subtle hint in the article is of course that football is wonderful even without meaning, but that we create competitions to pretend there is meaning.

As such when those competitions fail to serve their purpose we should consider changing them.

Tweet it, digg it