Former Boro favourite Mark Burke has agreed to write a regular column for miniboro.com giving his views on the wider stories surrounding football. This feature will appear as and when Mark has the time to contribute but I hope it will become a mainstay of the site going forward.
This month Mark ponders the question “Is UEFA’S Europeanisation Of Football Killing The English Game?”
This article – Is There A UEFA Conspiracy To Ruin English Football Through Referees? - is from the voice of Midlands sport – Tom Ross. He believes there is some kind of plot by UEFA to undermine the English game through the banning of tackling and the harsh punishments that follow (what are in English eyes) strong but fair challenges.
Whilst I don’t think UEFA are setting out deliberately influence English football, this would be a little arrogant and assuming we are at the forefront of UEFA’s mind, or more specifically Michel Platini. But I do think that the gradual ‘Europeanisation’ of football and society in general is having a big, big impact on the English game, argue amongst yourselves whether its a good or bad influence.
Aside from the tackling issue, which I’ll get back to, there are various things I think that need looking at. Now you might call me old fashioned after you read this but do read it, think about it and then call me old fashioned if you really want. I write these pieces about things that interest me but also to start debate.
The English game has been built on a foundation of “the best team wins the league”. Full stop, no arguments and to do this, crucially, in the English manner, they must play in varying weather conditions, on various pitches, they must play at times of the year when NOBODY else is playing, Christmas, New Year, there is NO break, the games are played close together, the crowd are fanatical, a spectacle in themselves etc etc. This is what English football was famed for, why people want to come and watch, why TV wants to pay so much money for it.
Now things are changing, there are calls for a winter break in line with Europe (we had winter breaks in Holland and they are of great benefit to players, no doubt) but the English game is/was renowned for NOT having a break, a reason why our players were so admired and respected, they keep going, they are crazy!! Do we not risk that by having a winter break (aside from the fact the weather is so variable when do you have it?) I am talking as a lover of the game and not as a coach or a player (as I have just said a break is of great value to players)
This is troubling because if these changes come in the game we knew will be changed and those that created/forced/lobbied for the changes won’t even be here and our game is changed forever, while we will be left sitting in the stadiums thinking, what was that? can we change it back?
The tackling issue is also something that is troubling and symptomatic of a wider issue. We are reaching a point where across Europe there is standard being set for a foul ie as soon as studs are shown pheeep! Foul.
Of course this is coming from somebody who never tackled anybody in his lfe but for that reason I can really appreciate a good, strong fair tackle, we had a player at Middlesbrough - Gary Hamilton and when he tackled you he did it with his whole body, it was a pleasure to be tackled by him as he did it with such power and precision that you had to admire it as you were left on the floor in a heap.
It’s a little bit like the European experiment, where cultural differences, massive cultural differences are swept aside for a one size fits all policy (regardless of the fact that it doesn’t work). Individual cultures are too different, what suits the Germans doesnt necessarily suit the Greeks, watching the latters economy spiral out of control is a case in point.
With regards to football, England, in my opinion is a unique football culture admired and respected around the world, so why try to change it?
The English game was initially developed,a hundred plus years ago as game of stamina, endurance and strength and this still runs true today, you see it in the eyes of the fans and feel it in your being at the grounds, that ‘English’ roar, that passion that drives team forward is a special thing, this strange island nation (as my Dutch friends say) ready to fight any who dare cross us, this seeps into our football. We gave it to the world, they refined it to suit them and bloody hell now they are beating us!
This culture, this tradition is in the blood of the English supporter. Once the influx of foreign talent, players and coaches became (i think) the majority now (?). It is only natural that they will want the rules and the game changed to what they are used to, but thats NOT the reason English football became so popular, it is NOT the reason why Sky paid so much for it, without which they would NOT have come. Okay, ‘some’ may have come but not in such numbers.
The game is bigger, brighter, better. Thats another question myself and friends have talked about, is football ‘better’ quality wise than 20-30 years ago? With all things beings equa, taking into account human physical growth, society changes etc was Vieira better than Robson? Was Henry better than Dalglish? Is Gerrard better than Brady? etc (questions for another day i think)
So as I was saying the game is bigger, brighter etc than ever before but it needs to retain its identity and what made it great in the first place. Referees MUST be given licence to judge for themselves and not adhere to some dry assessment from above as to what is dangerous and what isn’t. To stop running in fear from assessors, otherwise the game will become sterile, boring and god forbid the fans will start to turn their backs and when that happens?… well thats it then, the game is nothing without them.
We must remember what made it great while still allowing room for modernisation and progression, for example the changes to stadiums after the terrible things that occurred in the 80’s.
As I said at the start, I just want to start a debate and see what people think, some of the points may be old fashioned and not moving with the time but I am a true believer in preserving the essence, the soul, retaining the heart and the core and then building and modernising around that so the spirit shines through.
NB: this article has also appeared on Sabotage Times