Saturday, May 19, 2007

A Fitting Monument...

Chav CentralThe Killing Fields
I don't completely hate Football. When I was a kid I loved FA Cup Final day. It was one of those special days where Grandstand rolled different opening titles in the same way day they did for the Calcutta Cup match (yeaaaah), the Rugby League challenge cup final (coooool), the Boat Race (ok...pretty dull, especially when Cowley Poly win, but an event nonetheless) and the Grand National (No comment) and you knew it was something special. It didn't matter whether you liked the sport or not. In their own quirky way they appealed to the quirky people we are and the ridiculous became sublime.

Today, those that stayed awake witnessed what was, apparently, a pretty dull game. Ninety minutes of messing around wasn't enough for anything to happen, so I understand they had to sit through another half hour before the least disinterested team won (this was an analysis by a local Chelsea supporter freshly back from north London). I'm actually happy with the result. As a neutral I've got friends of all colours when it comes to kevball, but as a Yorkshireman I believe with a passion that the only good thing to come out of the other side of the Pennines is the M62. The only thing that pissed me off about the game was the endless parroting by the great and the good about how the return of the FA Cup to Wembley (at long last) was some kind of triumph for football.

HQThe Field of Dreams
It isn't. If you don't like the obvious Twickenham comparison, go and look at Croke Park in Dublin, an even larger stadium built around even less economically powerful sports. Arenas like these are a testament to the enduring passion within their respective sports, sensible (yes even the RFU manages it once in a while) private sector planning and funding, and, cliched as it may sound, a 'can do' attitude. Wembley is a monument to everything wrong about big government. An already rich sport blackmails government after government to underwrite their new national stadium. The contractors know that it's taxpayer's money underwriting the project so they know they have carte blanche to be as slow, sloppy and lazy as they like because they have tabloid ministers chasing tabloid headlines. You can read all the amazing statistic you like about this behemoth but at the end of the day it was delivered laughably late, under spec. and over budget, an international joke just like the centrepiece team that will play there. According to the BBC commentary at one point, the reason that it was such a crap game was because of the grass! How many millions and nobody realised that the playing surface might be important?

The malign influence of what is, at heart, a decent game is everywhere. Sky Sports is based not far from where I live and I once got seriously lashed with one of their finance guys. He effectively told me that the most efficient way for them to organise themselves would be to have two separate streams, a 'Sky Football' with three channels, and a single 'Sky Other Sports' channel, with padding like WWF, poker, and darts padding out each. The only problem about this model was that too many people might only subscribe to the latter offering when would make it harder to underwrite the obscene costs of their soccer coverage.

If you wanted quality cup final action today you needed to be at the other side of London. All credit to Bath, and their always creditable support, for their performance at the Stoop in the European Challenge Cup final. Despite supporting Saracens, who they unexpectedly dumped out of the competition at the semi-final stage, I've always had a certain respect for Bath rugby, even if getting engaged at the Recreation ground during an away game was perhaps going a step too far. At the end of the day though, I think the better team won today. That said, there was more 'bodies on the line' passion, guts and desire displayed by the whole Bath team in any one of the last twenty minutes than in the whole of NuWembley's moribund offering.

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