It is easy to laugh at Todd Boehly’s big ideas for English football, but first be aware of how previous innovations were received.
The introduction of a second substitute, initially proposed in 1986, was rejected on the grounds it would constitute another meal, another appearance fee and an extra hotel room on away trips.
Later, Arsenal vice-chairman David Dein arrived with the idea of putting players’ names on shirts. One club owner opposed it claiming his laundry room wasn’t big enough to cope. As it was, a player could take any shirt with a number on the back. Once they were individually assigned that wouldn’t be possible.
It was only in 1993 when Dein walked in with Manchester United, Blackburn and Arsenal shirts he had specially made, reading GIGGS 11, SHEARER 9 and ADAMS 6, that his fellow directors saw the potential.
Dein had an eye on shirt sales, obviously, but also on building the profile of individuals on television overseas. Now players are valued for the merchandise they shift and their fame around the globe. And where did Dein get that idea from? America. So it’s not all bad.
Todd Boehly made a pitch this week for the Premier League to host an ‘All-Star’ style game
There was a time when putting extra cash registers in the club shop to cut queues on match days was seen as commercial genius. Kick-off times aside – and much of the anger there is to do with inadequate public transport – modern football is fan friendlier. And the germs of most of those schemes have come from across the Atlantic.
Usually introduced by men steeped in English football, mind. Dein was an Arsenal regular from school age. By contrast, Boehly has been here a metaphorical five minutes and he already thinks he knows what’s best. A North versus South all-star game to raise money for the lower leagues, as happens in America? Play-offs to decide relegation? These are not ideas whose time has come.
Even our own promotion play-offs, hugely successful in a commercial sense, still don’t sit right with fair competition. Each Championship team plays 46 games through a season to decide who comes first, second and third. Quite why the third best team is then pitched into a further contest with the club in sixth before facing another match against the team in fourth or fifth remains a mystery.
The only justification is that everyone is aware of the rules before they start. But it really is nonsense. And the bottom three go down. We know that. Why should fourth from bottom then get dragged into the drama?
American sports such as the NFL and NBA host an annual all-star game, with LA Lakers superstar LeBron James (pictured) a constant presence in the exhibition-style contest
One imagines that Boehly isn’t proposing that, were Chelsea to win the league across 38 hard-fought matches, they should play-off against Europa League qualifiers.
Then again, Boehly’s background is a sport – Major League Baseball – where 162 matches only get a franchise to stage two. Potentially, there are another 22 games after that. Less isn’t more in American sport.
And the All-Star Game isn’t just a glorified Soccer Aid either. It has wider significance. From 1973 until this season, baseball’s two leagues, National and American, played by different rules. In the National League, the pitcher had to bat. In the American League, he was replaced at bat by a Designated Hitter.
And from 2003 to 2016, to add extra spice, when the Leagues contested the All-Star Game, whoever came out on top got homefield advantage at the World Series, its champion playing at home and to their rules in four of the seven games.
Equally, two of the biggest American sports, baseball and NFL, don’t really enjoy significant international competition. So the All-Star Game is the one time players from the many franchises come together in a scratch team and have to make it work.
We already have that here. It’s called international football. Throughout the season, there are regular gatherings in which players from arch-rivals join together and do the best they can.
What Boehly is missing is that top players face off all the time in international football (pictured: England’s Raheem Sterling tackling Italy midfielder Jorginho)
John Stones and Harry Maguire; Bruno Fernandes and Bernardo Silva. Seeing if Liverpool and Manchester United players, or those of Manchester City and Chelsea, can function as a team is not a step into the unknown in football.
Next week, Gareth Southgate will try just that, when England face Italy. Also, with such a cosmopolitan league, we are even used to seeing team-mates in opposition – Mason Mount and Reece James against Jorginho, for instance.
What is considered an honour in America – like being selected for the British and Irish Lions, another all-star team – would be humdrum to most English eyes. And this is before we even consider scheduling, release and squad composition.
Pick your North XI right now. It’s Manchester City. Manchester City with a small sprinkling of Liverpool. So why would anyone from the Midlands, North East or Yorkshire feel kinship?
Equally, if we went down the MLB route with every club represented, it means leaving out some of the best players. If Kevin De Bruyne and Erling Haaland take up City’s allocation, what of Phil Foden, Rodri, Joao Cancelo, Silva and Ederson? Many of the game’s biggest stars would be excluded.
More amusing, but just as unlikely to occur, would be a recreation of the State of Origin game between Queensland and New South Wales that exists in Australia’s rugby league. In those states it is the sporting event of the year. Players do not represent their clubs but the state in which they were born or first entered the game.
Now imagine a North v South football match, with Nick Pope or Jadon Sancho being called back to the South, passing Ben Davies on the other side of the motorway. And yes, we know where Neath and Swansea are on the map, but you’d have to afford the Celtic nations affinity with the North, surely?
What fun. But utterly impractical. For a start, it is a parochial match, excluding the foreign players that comprise many of the biggest names in our league.
With so many foreign stars in the league, such as Germany’s Kai Havertz (right), following the model of Australia’s State of Origin match is also impractical
Equally, identifying with two defined states, Queensland and New South Wales, is easier than with vague concepts of north and south, an arbitrary line drawn below Birmingham.
Who gets behind that? The ECB are already discovering with The Hundred that manufactured loyalties do not last. So, thanks but no thanks on that one, Todd. But do keep thinking of us, if not for us. Better this than a shady little cabal that keeps its plans to itself and tries to ruin football by forming a Super League on the sly.
And Chelsea’s last owner didn’t utter a word in close to 20 years. His every last judgment was a puzzle. So we can hardly complain if his successor likes to talk out loud.
Because not every idea from America stinks. The one where commercial revenue gained outside a franchise’s immediate locality is pooled and shared – so that a New York Yankees baseball cap bought in Arizona is split 30 ways? That’s interesting.
And the fillip American sport gives its weaker clubs by allowing them a jump in the post-season transfer market. That could make a competitive difference, too.
Is there anything we could do here, to even out the competition? These are concepts worth exploring. You will notice, however, that the new owner of Chelsea wasn’t much interested in that kind of blue-sky thinking.
HIGH PRICE OF YORKSHIRE’S HASTY CULL
Andrew Gale, former captain and coach of Yorkshire, is the latest to receive a substantial pay-off, following the fallout from the Azeem Rafiq racism scandal. Yorkshire’s policy of sack first, ask questions later, is proving very expensive with £1.9million now set aside for the costs of compensation.
Gale has always denied racism towards Rafiq and accused the ECB of conducting a witch-hunt. As the bill gets steeper, he looks increasingly justified in his anger.
Andrew Gale has agreed to a six-figure compensation deal with Yorkshire over unfair dismissal
THE QUEEN COULD NOT HIDE HER LOVE OF THE RACECOURSE
In the last week, there have been various attempts to paint Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II as British sport’s standard bearer.
She wasn’t. She didn’t care for the national sport, football – it was close to 50 years since she attended an FA Cup final – and her greatest contributions were as a champion of the country, rather than a lover of any game.
So she was brilliant at winning over the vain and impressionable members of the International Olympic Committee to earn London the 2012 Olympics, but you weren’t going to then find her at the judo.
Horse racing was the exception. Horse racing was a passion. The Queen was a country woman at heart. Were it not for abdications and other twists of fate, she would have remained minor royalty living her life in a stately pile, surrounded by horses and dogs.
If her uncle doesn’t relinquish the throne she stays the first daughter of the Duke of York. She’s Princess Beatrice. It makes her extraordinary sense of duty all the more admirable. So, while every sport has tried hard, perhaps the finest tribute of all was the simple racecard for the St Leger meeting at Doncaster on Sunday.
The Queen (middle) did not care too much for football but her true love was horse racing
In sombre monochrome, it showed a young monarch cheering one home at the Derby in 1978, with her fist clenched and arm raised in celebratory salute. It is a special image. There are not too many of her in such a natural pose, enjoying sport. There is no record of her leaping to her feet when England scored in 1966, for instance.
Yet, around racing, she was different. Speaking this week, the Bishop of Durham told a story about sharing a sofa with the Queen, as she watched one of her horses run in America. Paul Butler described her springing up and screaming the horse home, only to see it beaten by a head on the line.
‘She was so cross,’ the Bishop said. And there will be a lot of mourning, pomp and circumstance in the coming days. But if you like to imagine your Queen engaged, human and furiously berating a jockey for missing the break, that one’s for you.
GOT A CUNNING PLAN? THEN DON’T PUT IT ON SOCIAL MEDIA
Sometimes you can be too clever. This fate befell the social media handler for Sheffield International FC, of the Sheffield and District Fair Play League, last Friday afternoon.
‘Because the queen died, we will not be playing our league game against Byron House tomorrow morning at 10.30am,’ read the message. ‘We will instead be aiming to play a friendly tomorrow morning, against Byron House, kick-off 10.30am.’ See what they did?
And, yes, it was an utterly unnecessary intervention into ordinary lives, cancelling grassroots football matches. Let people run about in the fresh air, let them have fun and exercise. Yet, if that is the instruction from the Football Association and you choose to ignore it, don’t make this obvious.
Sheffield International FC’s Twitter activity was proof sometimes it is better to stay quiet
Certainly don’t tweet about it while not even capitalising the Q in Queen; and particularly if you afford the typography of Byron House its due, because that just looks disrespectful.
Sure enough, the Sheffield & Hallamshire County FA are now investigating with punishment promised ‘in the strongest possible terms’.
Meanwhile, Eton School also played on, but didn’t flag it up and claimed their games against Rossall School were trials as part of the pre-season programme. So that’s how the establishment behaves.
The FA should store all of these details for future reference. Football has been ill-prepared to deal with what should have been an anticipated, if sad, event, and has made some very strange and hurried calls.
UEFA’S ANTHEM MAKES LITTLE SENSE
UEFA forbade the playing of the national anthem at matches in Britain this week. Then, as if that wasn’t enough, their statement tried to exude empathy by confirming that, out of respect to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, their own Champions League anthem would also not be played.
As if a glorified marketing company – football’s rulers gave up being much else long ago – gets an anthem. Nations have anthems; UEFA have something the players come out to.
MAY BE BETTER TO WAIT…
Further to last week’s mention of the proposed women’s British and Irish Lions side, England prepared for the World Cup with a 73-7 win over Wales. It takes the aggregate score across their last seven encounters to 383-44; an average of 54-6.
So how many Welsh players would get in ahead of England’s women? And wouldn’t it be better to wait until a composite team could be justified?
WHAT’S TAKEN SO LONG?
The EFL are to hold urgent talks with their clubs over rising energy costs as winter approaches.
Urgent? As long ago as the first week in August, the Isthmian League was discussing early kick-off times to save lighting bills. The EFL will be getting around to this in the next few weeks, apparently.
These people don’t need a government regulator, they need a rocket up their… (but wouldn’t that use more energy? Ed.)