Fans They're still the last people football thinks about
21:30 GMT, 16 September 2012
There was an England fan at the airport carousel. Nice chap, very polite. Most of them are. Was there any inside information, he asked, on where England will play in Brazil next summer And there isn’t. Not yet.
One imagines a game in Rio de Janeiro, although that presumes the readiness of the Maracana Stadium prior to the Confederations Cup. Where else, who knows England have been scoping potential World Cup training bases in Sao Paulo and Belo Horizonte, too. Either way, the trip won’t be cheap. It never is these days.
The expense of the summer is still being felt. Ukraine should not have been a costly European Championship venue for fans, but once England were randomly drawn to play key matches in Donetsk, the tariff went through the roof. Transport was at a premium, hotel rooms even more so. Glorified hostels were demanding thousands of pounds.
Loyal fans: England supporters watch their side draw with Ukraine at Wembley last week
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And how did the Football Association reward supporters who were faced with such extortionate costs Prior to the competition they took the team to Oslo, the most expensive city in the world according to Swiss bank UBS, and after it they played Italy in Switzerland, behind Denmark as the second most expensive country by comparative price level.
And then they wondered why there were empty seats for the home match with Ukraine.
Last week, the FA apologised 23 years too late for what amounts to contributory negligence in the Hillsborough disaster. No doubt the governing body feared legal ramifications had they accepted responsibility for their role in the catastrophe sooner.
With hindsight, it is unfathomable that those at the head of the organisation at the time got away with it. Every member of the competitions committee that sent the Liverpool fans to the Leppings Lane end for their FA Cup semi-final with Nottingham Forest should have stood down on the weekend of April 15, 1989. The resignations of Graham Kelly, the FA chief executive, and Bert Millichip, FA chairman, should have followed.
Instead, it has been left to the present regime to do the decent thing. David Bernstein is the fourth chairman since Millichip, Alex Horne the seventh chief executive since Kelly. None of their predecessors apologised, either. Even this overdue expression of regret came only after irrefutable evidence that official carelessness lost lives.
Yet are fans considered any more now than they were then The cost of following football in 2012 may be economic not existential but the insensitivity remains the same. Nobody empathises with supporters any more than they ever did.
Just as Liverpool’s larger following was herded into a smaller end at a ground without a safety certificate, so the next World Cup tournament will take place in 12 cities within the fifth largest country in the world, at enormous expense and inconvenience. Nobody at FIFA considers what it will be like to follow this event without access to five-star luxury. Nobody walks a mile in the fans’ shoes. Let’s face it, at FIFA, nobody walks at all.
Money to Berne: Fans watch England beat Italy in Switzerland, the world's second most expensive country
From Manaus in the north of Brazil to Porto Alegre in the south is roughly the same distance as London to Halifax. Halifax in Nova Scotia, Canada, that is: the trek being 2,762 miles; from Natal in the east to Cuiaba in the west is 2,119 miles, equivalent to London to Beirut. ‘It’s not going to be a fan friendly tournament,’ a gentleman from the FA admitted.
And we love the concept of a World Cup in Brazil. It isn’t Brazil that is the problem, just as nobody took against FA Cup semi-finals after Hillsborough. This is about logistics, reality as lived by the travelling multitude, not a few suits ensconced in a world of privilege.
Considering the vastness of the host country, surely greater thought could have been given to the demands of supporters in 2014. Take the team that comes out of FIFA’s pot as A2. Match No 1, Sao Paulo; match No 2, Manaus (2,400 miles by road); match No 3, Recife (2,797 miles by road). So that’s three matches and a road trip of 5,197 miles, having first arrived in Sao Paulo.
Meanwhile, Michel Platini talks blithely of a European Championship across 24 or 32 venues. ‘In these days of cheap air travel anything is possible,’ says UEFA’s Professional Dope. Cheap for who, exactly
How can it be inexpensive to take a flight to a match that would previously have been accessed by rail or car
Long trek: The World Cup in Brazil will not be fan-friendly… even if the stadiums are completed in time
Nobody is compelled to follow England, but then nobody was compelled to follow Liverpool in 1989, either.
The choice should not be stay away or take what’s coming to you, be it a decrepit, ill-policed stadium, or an itinerary that is not so much an away trip as an expedition.
The Amazonian outpost of Manaus aside, the Brazil World Cup could comfortably be parcelled into four centres, with two groups based in each. The FA could easily prioritise supporter cost in any fixture list.
Platini could give one second of thought — just a second — to what it is like to be a person who is not the president of UEFA with private planes and the best hotel suites and a chauffeur to deliver him to the door of every stadium. Or we can keep football as it is. After all, what’s the worst that could happen
Only the ad men care about this fake shake
It isn’t a proper handshake, never forget that. The ritual preceding Premier League matches is a branding exercise, forged in executive offices for marketing purposes. It has nothing to do with sport or sportsmanship.
A handshake, at a football match, is voluntary. Traditionally it takes place at the end of the game and represents a mutual appreciation of a fairly fought contest. To shake hands before a match might seem a decent gesture but, really, what does it mean
Snub: Anton Ferdinand walks past Chelsea captain John Terry without shaking his hand
People shake hands as a greeting, by way of introduction, as an act of courtesy. In these contexts, the handshake is redundant before an event as sweaty and edgy as a clash between old rivals like Queens Park Rangers and Chelsea.
So what is it for It is there to make the Premier League respectable. This is a product being sold around the world and a lot of people work very hard to get it looking its best. Ever wondered why we see the military parachuting in with the FA Cup or League Cup, or in prominent positions at Wembley for England internationals, yet never in the Premier League Images of British soldiers do not play well in some, lucrative, parts of the world. The Premier League, with one eye fixed on its foreign clients, knows it is better for sales abroad to keep the men in uniform out of the picture.
Many Premier League matches take place in an atmosphere with all the charm of a bear pit. There are cheats, and the odd thug, and plenty of behaviour that is an affront in many cultures, including our own.
No thanks: Ferdinand also opted not to shake Ashley Cole's hand before QPR's game against Chelsea
So some genius came up with the idea of the friendly pre-match handshake. Brands it as the Premier League, brands it as family entertainment, brands it the way English football would like to be seen: hard but fair.
So do not lose sleep over this latest debasing of the pre-match ritual. All that was spoiled is some ad man’s dream
And while we’re at it…
Sitting with Andy Murray less than a year ago, he explained the contradictions of the coach-player relationship.
‘I found it very stressful travelling on my own with just a coach for company at first,’ he said. ‘It’s a weird relationship because the coach is usually older but the player is the boss. He is telling you what to do, you are trying to make the right decisions for your career, yet you’re not experienced enough, not really. You don’t know what is best for you yet.
‘Players have to be very selfish and you’re together breakfast, lunch and dinner. It is hard to get the balance right sometimes.
‘With my first coach, Mark Petchey, we went from getting on really well to our relationship ending quickly. One moment I was staying in the attic at his house, the next it was all downhill.
Perfect match: Andy Murray (left) has seen his form improve since linking up with Ivan Lendl (right)
‘I think it was two or three weeks from winning my first tournament to us splitting. It all became too much. Maybe we didn’t keep the professional and personal apart and that is tough when you are 40 weeks together. If you’re acting up on court or not working hard enough, it becomes difficult for a coach to say anything if you have become too close.’
And that, between the lines, explains the magic of Ivan Lendl. Murray is still the boss but he knows what is best now. And what is best is to play close attention to an eight-time Grand Slam winner, a man who will never confuse a personal and professional relationship. According to Murray, Lendl didn’t even join the party after his US Open win. ‘He just kept telling us how dead he was, how tired he was,’ he said. ‘We’re different characters, but similar in a lot of ways.’
One imagines Murray doesn’t feel like he has to be the boss when Lendl is around. He has, noticeably, curbed his excesses on court perhaps out of respect for the man in his corner. And he is old enough to make clear choices, but also to defer to Lendl’s knowledge and experience.
It is the coaching relationship, the equal partnership, he has been searching for throughout his career. Close, but not familiar.
Foreign record says Dan isn’t the man
Dan Ashworth is a fine acquisition as the Football Association’s technical director. Everyone says so.
Performing a similar duty at West Bromwich Albion, he is regarded as the man behind Steve Clarke’s impressively cohesive squad, and the architect of Premier League consolidation under Roy Hodgson. He spots talent early, buys it cheap and has also created a first-class youth academy.
Moving on up: Dan Ashworth (left) is the Football Association's new technical director
So, just one question. Should we not be worried that Albion’s team against Fulham on Saturday included not one Englishman beyond the back four, and only six English players in a squad of 18
There is not a whole lot of cause for talent spotting in the Congo as technical director of the FA. Ashworth needs to work with what we have here; something his Albion, like all Premier League clubs, were not excessively anxious to do.
City have arrived
Tuesday, September 18, 2012, Manchester City will play Real Madrid as equals in the Bernabeu Stadium; 14 years ago, give or take a few days, on September 12, 1998, they played Macclesfield Town at Moss Rose in what was then Football League Division Two.
An 86th-minute goal by Shaun Goater separated the teams.
Anyone who wishes to curb the opportunity for other clubs to follow in City’s footsteps really doesn’t get what makes football wonderful.
From Stoke to Madrid: Manchester City face Real in the Champions League this week
Work to do for Coleman
‘There was not always a plan B,’ Wales manager Chris Coleman said of the work of his predecessors. He promptly lost 6-1 to Serbia. At least we now know what the B stands for.