The Grey Neutral: Leagues, legends and laces

NON-LEAGUE football clubs must be on their knees at present. Some leagues are suspended now which means matchday income will disappear once more. With so much uncertainty surrounding the covid-19 virus, nobody can be certain we shall not move into 2021 and beyond with another stop-start process. Furthermore, with the Christmas period sure to provoke another spike in infection, tiering systems may change, making it near-impossible to proceed with league games. Maybe it is time to implement an emergency league structure comprising local teams to avoid travelling across tiers. It could be compared to wartime when regional leagues were swiftly formed to ensure the public had morale-boosting football to distract them from the horrors of war. When football resumed in the late summer this year, there was no doubt it had a postivie impact. Non-league clubs need the income from matches to survive, surely constructing a make-shift league format to keep clubs operating has to be feasible? It may not attract huge crowds, but if clubs slash their expenses, they can generate enough cash to ride the waves of covid and the economic slump that looks inevitable in 2021.

Paolo Rossi – the face of 82

Paolo Rossi can be filed under the small list of players who were instrumental in driving their country to World Cup glory. Just a short time after another member of that club, Diego Maradona, passed away, Rossi, aged 64, died of lung cancer. The 1982 World Cup wasn’t the best but there were some very memorable moments, not least the game between Brazil and Italy when Rossi scored a hat-trick to knock-out arguably the best team of the time. It was a brilliant story, Rossi’s World Cup, because he had just returned from a three-year ban, the sort of punishment that could have finished many careers. At the time of his ban, he was actually the world’s highest-paid player. In total, he scored nine goals in World Cup matches, spanning 1978 and 1982 and he also netted over 100 goals in Serie A. Rossi was a slight figure, but he was an opportunist who was difficult to mark. He was a genuine Italian great who could have been even greater.

Champions League – stale?

Certain people around Europe are discussing a massive reorganisation of the UEFA Champions League, claiming the current format is in danger of becoming stale. It is hard to agree it has become stale, but predictable may be a more appropriate way to describe the state of UEFA’s flagship competition. If there is some dulling, it is really down to an overwhelming feeling of “same again”. Of the group qualifiers in 2020-21, 12 were in last season’s round of 16. Only one of the 16 – Porto – come from a league outside the so-called “big five”. The other 15 are from Germany (4), Spain (4), England (3), Italy (3) and France (1). Should we be surprised, though? Since 2005, every final has been contested by two clubs from football’s elite band and the winners have been: 4 times – Real Madrid and Barcelona; 2 times – Bayern Munich and Liverpool; 1 time – Chelsea; AC Milan; Inter and Manchester United. Any reorganisation won’t change the real problem of the Champions League, over familiarity.

Zero tolerance

The recent rainbow laces day came and went but the purpose always seems to get a little lost because footballers still don’t feel inclined to “come out”. Like the Black Lives Matter campaign, making gestures will not solve problems unless they translate into proper action. Football seems to have got it a little wrong with BLM – as soon as crowds were allowed back into the ground, we get Millwall and Colchester. Whether or not those jeering the gesture were protesting about the sentiment or the origins of the BLM movement, we will probably never truly know, but it is naïve to assume everyone is going to agree with “taking a knee” even though most right-minded people are 100% behind the need for zero tolerance of both racism and homophobia. Concerted action to identify and remove spectators who display racist or homophobic behaviour would probably be far more effective in the current environment.


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