Stoppage Time – International Football Blog

It’s Cup Final Week For Stoppage Time

Posted in European Football, UK Football by peterbein on May 13, 2010
Scottish Cup

Stoppage Time will be in Glasgow to watch the Scottish Cup final between Dundee United and Ross County

“Stoppage Time – International Football Blog” is going to two cup finals in the space of a week but they’re not, perhaps, the cup finals that would immediately spring to mind on most fans’ radar. I’ll be at Hampden Park on Saturday, May 15th to witness what should be a fascinating duel as Scottish Premier League (SPL) side Dundee United face off against First Division (second tier) underdogs Ross County for the Active Nation Scottish Cup Final. Should favourites Dundee United win the trophy it’ll be their first piece of silverware since 1993-94 when the Tangerines defeating Glasgow Rangers to win the same trophy. For Ross County it’s a first major final in a season which has seen them knock out SPL giants Glasgow Celtic and Hibernian FC on the way to the big one.

On Wednesday May 19th I shall be, barring any disruption from a certain Icelandic volcano, at Skonto Stadium in the Latvian capital of Riga to watch a cup final which was every bit as unexpected as its Scottish counterpart. FK Jelgava, newly promoted to the Latvian top flight (Virslīga), play against FK Jūrmala-VV with the former hoping to win the cup for the third time whilst the latter will be playing in their first ever final. FK Jelgava have surprised everybody by disposing of Latvian giants Liepājas Metalurgs and Skonto Riga in the quarter-finals and semi-finals respectively having taken both teams to penalty shoot-outs in order to progress. FK Jūrmala-VV have had an easier route to the final knocking out SK Blāzma Rēzekne and JFK Olimps/RFS from Riga in the hope of landing the big prize.

Read “Stoppage Time – International Football Blog” for the best of the action.

Latvian Cup

FC Daugava won the 2008 Latvian Cup. Stoppage Time will be in Riga to see who wins in 2009-10

Scotland: SPL in need of a shake-up

Posted in UK Football by peterbein on April 13, 2010
Rangers FC

Current SPL champions Glasgow Rangers have called for the league split system to be scrapped

The voices seem to get louder and louder at this time of year from the Scottish Premier League (SPL), and the clubs within it, over the issue of the controversial “league split” system which sees the twelve clubs in Scotland’s top flight split into two groups of six for the final five matches of the league season. This season is no exception with many critics of the system expressing disbelief in this year’s end of season fixtures with some teams having to play certain opposition for a third time away from home. The SPL have argued that there was no way that the post-split fixtures could have worked out with everybody having two home and two away games against all opposition this season because of the way the table finished after 33 games. If that’s the case then there is only one thing to do and that is to scrap the current system.

After the announcement on Saturday that champions Glasgow Rangers will have to play three away games in a row in the final games of the season the club have lashed out at the SPL saying that the system lacks “sporting integrity”, especially as they have to play Dundee United for the third time in four league fixtures between the two clubs this season away from home. Seeing as Rangers finished top of the table at the time of the split it seems like they’re being penalised for their success. It also doesn’t help Rangers that the three away games against Hibernian, Dundee United and Celtic come in the space of ten days so it’s just as well that Rangers will have a double digit lead going into the final five games of the 2009-10 season. But Rangers are far from the only team that are unhappy with their lot. Motherwell are angry at having to play Glasgow Celtic for a third time away from home and St Mirren also have a third away game at Falkirk. For any team that is fighting for European places or against relegation it is invariably going to be controversial to keep a system which can throw up these sorts of anomalies from time to time.

So what changes should be made to eradicate the need for a split? Rangers’ coach Walter Smith has often called for an eighteen team league with each team playing everyone else twice a season, instead of the usual four times as it is currently, meaning thirty four league games a season for each club – four fewer than it stands at the moment. If anything, in my opinion, eighteen teams may just be a couple of teams too many as the necessary quality and finance just isn’t there at the moment to sustain a league of such numbers. Gradually I feel that the Scottish Premier League should be looking at ways to increase the league to sixteen teams, therefore playing thirty league matches. This will mean that clubs have more time to recuperate inbetween matches, even allowing for the fact that there are two domestic cup competitions in Scotland. At least there will be a balanced fixture list which is drawn up at the start of the season with teams not playing against the same opposition so many times. The clubs may talk about losing potential revenue, especially the smaller clubs who rely on the Old Firm coming to their grounds at least four times a season, but I think the financial aspects will sort themselves out over time. If one wants an example of a country with a sixteen team league and two domestic knockout competitions which is doing well in UEFA’S Co-Efficient table (a system used to rank leagues across Europe) then Portugal is perfect. Using a similar system to the one suggested Portugal currently ranks as Europe’s ninth strongest league in the UEFA rankings and their clubs have often performed well in European competition, an area where Scottish football as a whole really needs to improve despite the heroics of the Old Firm reaching UEFA Cup finals in recent years.

In my view the split, which has been a part of the SPL since 2001, has not helped the quality of the league whatsoever. It was used as a balancing measure between those people who advocated a smaller league but who wanted the income and additional revenue by the extra end-of-season matches created. Now that this silly situation has come about it is time that the powers-that-be in Scottish football began to produce a new system which reflects fairness, balance and which is seen, most of all, to help the quality of the domestic game.

England’s Premier League – a glorified SPL?

Posted in UK Football by peterbein on December 6, 2009
Manchester United 2008-09

Manchester United win yet another title in 2008-09, their eleventh in seventeen years

“The most exciting league in the world” is a phrase that’s become synonymous with Sky TV’s presentation of the Barclay’s Premier League, such is the TV station’s devotion to hyping up even the most dullest of matches.  Although there are great players and teams in the league, just how true is it to say that the English Premier League is “the most exciting league in the world”?

One couldn’t doubt the quality of the players on show in the Premier League, on the contrary it’s true to say that with players such as Fernando Torres, Wayne Rooney and Dider Drogba to name but three that the English Premier League contains some of the finest players in the modern game. However this discussion focuses on the concept that the league is branded as much about ‘entertainment’ as much as it is ‘sport’. When one thinks of last day cliffhangers they are very few and far between in the Premier League. As for the multitude of teams capable of winning the title in any given season then you can usually count them with a couple of fingers on one hand. If this criteria were applied to football then the English Premier League (EPL) would be no better than being a glorified Scottish Premier League (SPL).

When people in England talk about the SPL they will patronisingly refer to it as a ‘pub league’ and lament the fact that only two teams, Rangers and Celtic (the Old Firm), have any chance of winning the title. But it’s usually the case that only two teams have any chance of winning the EPL too, Manchester United and A.N. Other. The main challenger to United may change from time to time but it’s hardly any more exciting to see the Red Devils win title after title than it is to see two supposed ‘pub teams’ in Rangers and Celtic win title after title north of the border.

The only thing that maintains a sense of quality in England is the notion of the ‘Big Four’ (i.e. Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool) and their regular appearances in the UEFA Champions League, European football’s showpiece tournament, helping to preserve English football’s position in the UEFA Co-Efficient table (a place in the top three of this table guarantees a nation four places in the Champions League). It seems increasingly the case, however, that some teams are happy just to finish in a top four spot – ‘fourth is the new first’ if you want – and secure the riches that the Champions League provides. In the case of the Old Firm at least they have been punching above their weight in European competition. Regular Champions League appearances coupled with two UEFA Cup finals, Celtic in 2004 and Rangers in 2008, has seen the SPL maintain a respectable standing despite its lack of wealth and international exposure. There have been examples in recent years of  English teams qualifying for the Europa League (ex-UEFA Cup) then trying as hard to get knocked out of a competition that they’ve tried even harder to qualify for. When some English club managers talk about finishing in the top four rather than winning a trophy then it seems to strengthen the view that most clubs in the EPL have very limited ambitions.

Another thing which adds to the lack of real excitement in the overall picture of the English Premier League is the absence of any final day cliffhangers at the top of the table. There may be some exciting finishes at the bottom of the table but the lack of any meaningful matches in respect of the championship means that the EPL is not always so worthy of its hype. You would think this would worry the people at Sky TV seeing as they talk about “the most exciting league in the world” as if its an unquestionable truth. Despite the dominance of the Old Firm in Scotland at least there have been exciting climaxes on the final day in three of the last five seasons including the last two in 2007-08 and 2008-09. Since the English Premier League’s formation in 1992-93 there have been only two final day pieces of drama to witness: the 1994-95 season when Blackburn Rovers beat Manchester United to the title despite losing their final game against Liverpool and the 1998-99 season where Manchester United saw off a spirited Tottenham Hotspur performance at Old Trafford to beat nearest challengers Arsenal to the title by one point. All of the other Premier League titles have been decided on or before the penultimate matchday.

One may argue that it’s too early to write off the English Premier League as a contest but then there are teams such as Liverpool and Arsenal whose title challenges have been written off as early as December after some bad results therefore leaving Manchester United and Chelsea as the only realistic challengers. The irony is that the EPL doesn’t look as entertaining from a competition point of view as its northern neighbour at the moment where the Old Firm have a challenge from Hibernian and Dundee United. For those of you who enjoy a regular two-horse race then “the most exciting league in the world” may just be your best bet for the season.