The Premier League’s 39th step

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For years we have been warned about climate change and its risks, but ordinary Joe public has shunned the doom merchants and put football ahead of everything else. Traveling the length and breadth of England to follow your team through its relegation wrangle or championship charge has become a way of life for many. Whether standing in the Stretford End or watching Wycombe on television, football is the world’s lingua franca.

But the FA Premier League is flirting with the idea of climate change on the football front after plans for an “international round” of fixtures were revealed earlier this year. This could happen as early as the 2010/2011 season with fans bidding farewell to Derby in favour of Dubai and ditching Stamford Bridge for Sydney.

Lest we forget fifty years ago perhaps the greatest club side of all time, Sir Matt Busby’s Manchester United, were cruelly decimated following that dreadful plane crash in Munich. Half a century ago it was a different story, no pay-per-view packages, no Super Sundays, and no prawn sandwich brigade – just honest, hard-working fans watching their heroes.

Fast forward to 2008 and the gentlemanly landscape has crumbled into a glitzy, profit-driven business with a whole host of foreign players, takeovers and investments.

Is it any wonder why the Premier League has seriously thought about staging an extra league game abroad? They are simply capitalising on the English game’s premier appeal around the world – the only surprise is these talks haven’t happened sooner. When Arsenal faced Manchester United this season, an estimated one billion people watched around the world. The “big four” teams in the Premier League have legions of fans from Tokyo to Toronto and the money men want to fleece them after saturating the market at home.

It is a sign of the times that English football can now be considered a market. Gone are the days when Johnny Haynes raised eyebrows after earning £100 a week, now its all about brands and image rights. Times change, but loyalty doesn’t, and the fans who work all week so they can follow the fortunes of their extended family on a Saturday are now pawns in the Premier League’s plans for global domination.

It is not as if football fans abroad are being starved of the action, television stations screen Premiership football into hundreds of countries worldwide but the lure of greater revenue is enough to move the goalposts one step further. Will it actually work? Will thousands of Japanese fans cram into the Osaka Stadium to watch Middlesbrough vs. Wigan? Will Bolton vs Reading be a box-office smash in the States? Obviously not, these sides fail to fill their own grounds each week in the Premier League.

England fans are beginning to warm to “Don” Fabio and have seen Swede Sven Goran Eriksson in charge of the national side. Arsenal regularly field an eleven bereft of English blood and Chelsea are guilty of this misdemeanour too. Foreign managers and players is one thing but introducing foreign fixtures is a disgraceful attempt to widen the laughable gap between the haves and the have nots. Around the same time the plans were announced, League 1 side Bournemouth entered administration.

The FA are quick to brandish the fist of fury and dock sides points who fail financially but instead of putting money back into the grass roots to help aid ailing teams, the big bucks go to the rich clubs.

It is ironic Premier League managers unanimously backed the plans and encouraged further discussion but subsequently bemoan the fixture pile-up and player burn out when the season reaches its climax. England failed in the World Cup two years ago because the players were tired (no, we were not good enough) so obviously the best thing to do is cart our multi-millionaires around the world for an additional league match. It beggars belief.

The only winners are the FA’s merciless money men who will need to contend with the inevitable G14 Super League dilemma again – will these international fixtures add fuel to the fire of possibility surrounding a breakaway league? The murmurings of a revolutionary league have hardly been extinguished.

FIFA President Sepp Blatter has provided journalists with a plethora of pretentious points in the past, from advocating tighter shorts for women footballers, to lamenting “ill-educated” players. This time, Blatter took a while to pour cold water on the plans but the rumours refuse to evaporate.

Premier League football teams are not the Harlem Globetrotters and instead of prostituting itself to the highest bidder, the real issues in the game need to be addressed. Where is our goal-line technology?

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