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UEFA needs to remove pointless qualifying matches

It would be far easier for me to just phone my reader with this, or email him, but sometimes it’s nice to write something down in the hope that more than 1 person will read it.

I sit writing this watching England v Dan Marino, a Euro 2016 qualifier. As I write this, it’s 0-0 after 20 minutes, it probably won’t stay that way but if it does then my argument will be pointless.

I’ll start by posing a question. Is there too much international football? My personal view is that there is just a tad too much but it’s not a massive problem. The problem lies in the quality of some of the matches. There are too many meaningless and pointless which serve as nothing but to cause problems for club sides, increase risk of injury to players (England just scored) and just generally get in the way of excellent league matches. With stadiums not being filled for these matches and more people watching random folk bake bread or a nice flan than watch England then I’d suggest there is a problem.

There are 54 UEFA members and 53 of them are trying to qualify for Euro 2016, France as host nation don’t need to qualify. I bet they win Euro 2016. Euro 2016 is the first UEFA tournament to feature 24 teams in finals.

Here are the current rankings  in UEFA based on the most recent FIFA rankings.

Make sure you select “UEFA” at the bottom to remove the other confederations.

Source (http://www.fifa.com/worldranking/rankingtable/index.html)
So, what is my point. Take a look at the bottom 20 teams trying in vain (no offence) to qualify for Euro 2016. Now, there are teams not in the top 24 who I’m sure people would want to see at Euro 2016 but for arguments sake, we could at least agree that nobody would complain too much if these were the 24 at Euro 2016. The problem though, is that this tournament is going to serve up some dross which a 16 team tournament rarely does (Austria v Bosnia doesn’t excite in the way France v Italy might). UEFA should have stuck with a 16 team tournament. Euro 2020 is going to be weird as it won’t actually be hosted anywhere which is a shame. If UEFA stick with 24 (and I have no doubt they will) then few countries could ever host this tournament. We are left with England, France, Germany, Spain, Italy. Even the Netherlands and Belgium had to team up to host Euro 2000. A 16 team tournament would though allow more countries the chance of hosting the event.

(Rooney just scored a penalty)

Now we could argue that Poland and Northern Ireland are better than that but they are ranked this way because they don’t win much. We need to look at the bottom teams. San Marino have won precisely 1 match, a friendly against Liechtenstein. These teams are minnows and are never going to qualify. Now the teams ranked 34 down to 40 might have a good run or a fluky draw and qualify as from about 25 down to 40 in the rankings there isn’t a great deal to separate the teams. So for the majority of international sides in the UEFA qualifying they have little to play for but a nice hammering against a big team or maybe scraping a draw at home to Malta. This can’t be good for these countries and if the game is to truly develop they should be playing more regularly against teams of their own level, rather than expensive away trips to teams who will spank them. It doesn’t benefit Spain or Germany if they beat Andorra 6-0.

In order to remove the meaningless games and create some competition, Football should consider a divisional system like Basketball. FIBA Europe runs a tournament called “The European Championships for the Small Countries”. If UEFA did this, we could have the following play against each other for a trophy. The matches would be competitive and I think it would help these countries develop by playing more matches where they have a chance to win.

For example;

Dan Marino, Malta, Faroe Islands, Liechtenstein, Andorra and Luxembourg could play in this “Division C” champs. It could run in a league format every year. With the winner to progress to “Division B”. Ok, so we are left with 47 teams and still quite a few of the minnow of international football but we are making progress.

Why not have a division B for teams ranking from 16 down to 47? These teams can play off for the remaining 8 spots in UEFA’s European Championships. There would be more meaningful games and something to play for. One could argue that the same teams might always qualify from this pool but a quick look at the teams currently in these rankings and you would struggle to accurately predict the 8 teams who would qualify.

So this leaves us with the top 16 teams in Europe. What do we do with them for UEFA Qualifying. Well, firstly I’d say they are automatically in. But i’d have them play each other to determine seedings for the tournament, not ideal but at least the games would generate interest as they are featuring good teams. There would be promotion and relegation between pool A and B, to keep things interesting. Maybe all the bottom 2 teams in each group at the finals could play each other in relegation to pool B playoff’s.

So, there we have an alternative structure on qualifying for a 24 team UEFA tournament. It needs work and tweaking for sure. It also won’t ever happen and it doesn’t address the issue of world cup qualifying.

Any thoughts?

 
2 Comments

Posted by on October 9, 2014 in Random, Sport

 

T20 Cricket and why England needs a franchise model

I’ve been tasked by my reader to write a blog on why England should adopt a franchise model for T20 cricket. Franchise sport isn’t really the done thing in the UK. Sports like Basketball and Ice Hockey although moderately successful, fail to bring in the big crowds to become major players in the sporting landscape of the UK. Cricket in England is based around a historical county model. It hasn’t changed much in the past 100 years so the addition of T20 at the turn of the century, the ECB seemed to shoehorn it in to the county structure. Over the past few years there has been changes to the English domestic T20 tournament and for 2014 we will see the arrival of the NatWest T20 Blast with coloured creases and super overs.

Firstly, when it comes to a domestic T20 tournament. You need to have a catchy name. I give you Big Bash League or Ram Slam T20 Challenge. T20 Blast certainly falls into the catchy name bracket, it’s much better than, for example, Friends Life t20.

The county structure means 18 counties are playing in the NatWest T20 Blast Slam Ram Jam IPL. This is far too many. It means too many games, too many meaningless games and counties struggling to squeeze in fixtures around other formats of the game. The NatWest IPL Big Bash Slam Sweep has taken steps to address this but domestic T20 in England needs to take place over a 6-8 week period. The schedule for 2014 starts on the 16th of May and ends on the 23rd of August. So despite the ECB’s changes, the tournament will still be lost and trundling along without meaning until the later stages.

The successful T20 domestic leagues have between 6 and 8 teams, 18 in England is just too many. Here is what I would do. An 8 franchise model utilising the main test grounds and population centres. To speed things up I’ve also added team names.

North London Lions

South London Sillynannies

Birmingham Rhinos

Manchester Ship Canals

Leeds Brownlees

Nottingham Hooters

Cardiff Rain

Durham Collingwoods

One league, everyone plays each other once. Top 4 go into the semi finals. Nice and simple. My main argument for this and I’m aware I’ve yet to actually make any others, is that T20 fans don’t seem to be hardcore cricket fans. There is nothing wrong with this at all, people go for the experience. This means that they tend to have no allegiance to a particular county and no real interest in 1st class matches. I think this approach would allow for a better deal to be made with broadcasters, less matches means more sell outs and less matches means the tournament will not get lost in other forms of the game. An argument could be made that a shorter T20 season would allow for the career T20 players such as former England player Kevin Pietersen who ply their trade around the world to sign up for the new franchise based English T20 tournament.

What about the counties I hear you cry? Well, does Leicestershire v Essex on a Tuesday really bring in the crowds? I don’t think so. Why not have the counties battle it out for a minor tournament away from the limelight to develop players?

That’s enough. I’m Scottish therefore don’t really know much about cricket.

 
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Posted by on February 5, 2014 in Random

 

Football – 1995 Dream Team’s

A couple of weeks ago I was set a challenge by a good friend (who owns a USA away shirt from 1994, you know, the one with the big stars on it) to come up with my squad of top players from 1995 and to pick my starting 11 using a recognised formation. We all know the only recognised formation in 1995 was the 4-4-2.

MY SQUAD

(GK)

Edwin Van Der Sar – NED, Ajax

Peter Schmeichel – DAN, Manchester United

(DF)

Paolo Maldini – ITA, AC Milan

Marcel Desailly – FRA, AC Milan

Fernando Hierro – SPA, Real Madrid

Michael Reiziger – NED, Ajax

Alessandro Costacurta – ITA, AC Milan

(SW, DF, DM)

Matthias Sammer – GER, Borussia Dortmund

(MF)

Brian Laudrup – DEN, Rangers

Rai – BRA, Paris Saint-Germain

Andreas Moller – GER, Borussia Dortmund

Paul Gascoigne – ENG, Lazio/Rangers (Signed for Rangers in 1995)

Pavel Nedvěd – CZE, AC Sparta Praha

(MF, F)

Ronald de Boer – NED, Ajax

(F)

Hristo Stoichkov – BUL, Barcelona (left Barcelona in 1995 for Parma)

Davor Šuker – CRO, Sevilla

Gabriel Batistuta – ARG, Fiorentina

My starting 11

Van der Sar

Maldini Desailly Hierro Reiziger

Laudrup Moller Nedved Rai

Suker Batistuta

SUBS

Schmeichel, Costacurta, Sammer, Gascoigne, De Boer, Stoichkov

MY MATES SQUAD

GK:

Peter Schmeichel

Cafu, Ronald Koeman, Lothar Matthaus, Paulo Maldini

Andrei Kanchelskis, Gheorghe Hagi, Michael Laudrup, Alessandro Del Piero,

Hristo Stoichkov, Roberto Baggio

SUBS

David Seaman, Tomas Brolin, David Platt, Eric Cantona, Colin Hendry, Matthias Sammer

Who would win and who would be in your squad?

 

 
1 Comment

Posted by on August 9, 2013 in Random

 

The BEST and WORST UK Motorway Service Stations

I probably do more miles than you on the road, unless you are a bus or truck driver, and even then I’ll still put my numbers up against yours. One of the disadvantages of driving so much is having to rely on Motorway service stations for much of one’s essential business when on the road.

So what makes a good service station?

  • Clean toilets – is that too much to ask for?
  • Powerful hand-dryers
  • Variety of food outlets
  • Enough fuel pumps to handle the demand of a busy motorway
  • Location – Ideal location is one which you arrive at when fuel tank is empty and my bladder tank is fuel. Usually about 170 miles from home.
  • Somewhere to sit outside during a nice spring/summer day

If you have any other suggestions then let me know!

So, my WORST UK Service Stations.

  1. Keele (M6) Why? I don’t like having to walk through the food bit to get to the toilets. Also, if you want to go to Waitrose and then back to the Shell station, you have to break the law.
  2. Watford Gap (M1) Desipite some attempt to clean it up, the toilets are often disgusting. It’s always rammed as well and they seem to have new staff at Costa every week meaning long waiting times.
  3. Washington (A1M) It’s a complete dump with expensive fuel and they might as well not bother with the WH Smith.
  4. Hamilton (M74) Dirty toilets which like Keele are through the back of the food bit.
  5. Burton-in-Kendal (M6) Northbound services aren’t the best on the M6 and despite honorable attempts to improve, Burton still makes the list. Don’t stop here, hang on an extra few miles for Tebay Northbound. Don’t drive past Tebay either as then you are left with Southwaite which is also a dump.

And now the BEST UK Service Stations.

This list does change a bit, quite often depending on my route but here is my top 3.

1. Beaconsfield (M40) Accessible from both directions, Beaconsfield is a new player in the service station game. For a while, Oxford was the last chance to fill up before Clackett Lane (now Cobham) so navigationally challenged drivers from the North could often be found driving around West London looking for fuel. Beaconsfield offers the greatest variety of food outlets I’ve ever seen at UK Service Station – McDonald’s, KFC, Starbucks, LP4, El Mexicana, Greggs (yes Gregg’s), Carvery Express, MooDog Treateries and Chozen Noodle. How doesn’t want a bit of mexican food washed down with a noodle box followed by a nice cake from Gregg’s? The Starbucks is 24hours and you can also pop into a decent sized M&S Simply Food or a WH Smith. With the recent news that a Wetherspoons is due to open on site as well, expect popularity of Beaconsfield to rocket. This will be the first pub to open on the Motorway network. With ample parking and a woodland setting away from the bustle of the M40, Beaconsfield is currently the best place to stop for a piss and a burrito in the UK.

2. Tebay Northbound (M6). Always mentioned as “oh yes, Tebay is the best service station”. Well, it’s certainly good and it differs from every other service station in the UK apart from Tebay Southbound. It’s probably the only service station I can remember as a child. There was the cute indoor water feature, the lack of corporate branding etc and it has that national trust feel that a Road Chef on the A1M lacks. It’s actually at a very good spot for piss to miles ratio when driving from THE SOUTH to THE NORTH. The countryside around makes it a nice place for a snooze as well and a gentle stroll to get away from the stresses of the M6 and to take a break from the now seriously dated and overrated Steve Wright show on radio 2. So why isn’t Tebay Northbound number 1 like so many people say it should be? Well, it’s now really busy, the toilets have the truly awful dyson airblades for hand-dryers and they can get occasionally grubby. The food, although good quality, still has a bit of a mass-produced feel and it is seriously expensive. The shop can run out of stuff quicker than a WH Smith at Warwick on the M40. But, it stays in second place because if ever you are driving NORTH and need to stop for a some chicken stuffed with black pudding to take as a gift then there literally is nowhere else on the motorway network where you can do this. A farm shop at a service station? I’ll take that!

3. Wetherby (A1M). A surprise choice I hear you scream. Well, no actually so shut it. The A1M and the M1 have some of the worst services in the country (Woodall on the M1 Southbound is decent though). Wetherby is a relative newcomer to the service station game opening in 2008. It’s quite big as well which always helps. I’ve been here a few times and it’s often full of M62 rugby fans. I’ve always found it to be clean, well stocked and reasonably pleasant. There are some nice seats outside and even some outside catering vans, probably for all the rugby and football fans passing through. There is a decent selection of catering outlets, a favourite of mine being Upper Crust. I like their sandwiches, the ham and mozzarella one is quite nice. Like all decent services it has an M&S simply food as well which is handy if you want a tub of chocolate snacks to eat on the move.

So there is my top 3. A few other positive shouts go to Norton Caynes (M6 Toll) but it lacks variety, Warwick Southbound, Cherwell Valley but NOT Oxford, Oxford’s a complete dump.

 
2 Comments

Posted by on June 7, 2013 in Random, Travel

 

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Where are the best train stations?

I pass through St Pancras station quite a bit these days and often tweet about how magical it is. It is quite simply the best station I’ve ever been to. I’ll come on to why later but first I’d like to run through my top 3 non-London stations.

1. GLASGOW CENTRAL

Once my “home station”, Glasgow Central is a place I look back on with fond memories. I remember trips to Glasgow as a child and always wanting to go in to a burger place which I think was called Davy Crockett’s. It’s now a Burger King. Built in 1879 and offering direct links to London, Glasgow Central offers visitors a glimpse into the new chic and cultured city which is Glasgow, up till 10pm. After 10pm it’s a walk down memory lane as drunken louts wander around the station vomiting before getting the train from the low-level section to somewhere in North Lanarkshire. There is a tremendous Italian coffee shop in the station, it’s actually an independent place where you can get real food and good coffee. A rarity these days in our nations stations.

2. MANCHESTER PICADILLY

What a place. Opened in 1842 and extensively renovated in 2002 and with apparently no work done on the place in those 160 years, it is now a place of glory. Most modern stations are awful and have low ceilings, I hate low ceilings in any travel place (Milano Linate Airport, Heathrow Terminal 2, Glasgow Queen street). The facilities on offer here are excellent, it’s like a shopping centre in a station which is amazing, not like a station within a shopping centre (Elephant and Castle) or a multi-purpose arena in a station (Manchester Victoria). I believe if you tie your visits right you can see Olympic cycling champion Laura Trott alight here.

3. CREWE RAILWAY STATION

Why Crewe? I’ve changed at Crewe quite a lot, built in 1837 it has quite a bit of history and one feels that as soon as you step off and head to Cafe Ritazza for a muffin and a medium americano. I like it here, I don’t particularly want to leave the station whenever I’m there but I do think it could do with a steam train parked up on one of the platform’s just to add to the nostalgia. In an age when many stations are soulless shed’s without even a vending machine, Crewe keeps the golden age of railway travel alive. If anyone ever see’s Dario Gradi here then let me know.

So those are my top 3 non-London stations. I would have done a top 5 but to be honest, most of the stations are pretty poor and don’t really offer much to write about. I could write about places like Corrour or Rannoch in the highlands due to their location but that’s not the point of this blog.

So, St Pancras.

Well, it’s a place of joy. There is the long boulevard style bit with the piano, Kath Kidson and most importantly; FREE BOGS. Yes, free toilets. Of all the things written about St Pancras and its beauty, few mention the free toilets. I can’t explain just how handy they are, saving me 30p on every journey. This totals up to a saving over a year of about £9 which leaves me just enough for my once a year gourmet burger. St Pancras just feels like a nice place to be. I like having to go upstairs to get the East Midlands train service and then seeing the Eurostar.  The departure boards are quite cool; Paris, Market Harborough, Brussels, Gatwick Airport….you can literally go anywhere from here. There is also some nice clouds under the clock at the far end.

 
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Posted by on May 30, 2013 in Random, Travel

 

Commentary and voice-over

Just home from a great week in Bormio for the 2013 English Alpine Championships. Whilst in resort I provided on-site commentary and then voice-over for the two videos below. A fantastic event for a sport which is much in need of further support.

Hope you enjoy the videos!

 
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Posted by on February 25, 2013 in Random, skiing, Snowsports, Sport

 

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Combi Racing in Scotland

This past weekend at Glenshee saw combi racing come to Scotland for the first time.

A combi race sees skiers face a course of varying turn shapes, varied terrain with a mixture of full size slalom gates, giant slalom gates, stubbies and on this occasion ski cross gates. Glenshee kindly built some banked corners and rollers which added an extra dimension to the race.

Skiers in U10, U12 and U14 age categories took to the course and the feedback was extremely positive. This type of event is great for developing all round alpine racing skills and can help engage skiers in ski cross. It’s not about any particular discipline though. It’s about providing a competition environment where skiers are challenged in a safe way and where the skiers have fun!

I enjoyed it, I’ll be working to make sure we get some more and to get a format which can be taken into the snow domes of England as well. Take a look at the video below. Love to hear people’s thoughts.

 
3 Comments

Posted by on February 5, 2013 in Random

 
 
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