If the big club- small club divide made football predicable, the small clubs have made it boring.
When I was young, to the horror of my mum, we discovered mice had been entering our kitchen in search of some home comforts. I was happy because it meant we were getting a cat! Bert, as he was named, had a long, happy and full life and the mouse population kept our house at a distance.
Although the city population of mice always exceeds that of humans and cats, it is always the cat that wins. The mice can run and hide, and maybe sometimes they can sneek in the kitchen and out when the cat is otherwise occupied, but, usually, the cat spies the mouse, and it’s goodnight mouse.
For me, football has become like a game of cat and mouse. The further the top four pulled away from the rest of the league, the more their chances of winning diminished. They would go into every match against the top four with outside odds of winning, and barring exceptions the big four picked up the points.
Recently, two things have changed to tip this balance. The first was a Darwinism: The mice learned to adapt. They used the proverbial bus and parked it in front of the goal. They learned to play with eleven men behind the ball, and kill the game. And they learned to live from the counter attack. There earlier attempts to play two strikers and bravely attempt to offer some sort of couragious attack often failed because they would get caught out behind and mercilessly put to the sword. Now the attack was abandoned for a war of attrition, and small strategic strikes.
For the top teams it mean limited chances to score. Like the mouse sitting in it’s hole in the wall and leaving the cat pacing up and down outside, unable to crawl in. The advantage though was that once you scored one, the mice were dead. They would then have to abandon their negativity and play two strikers and try to get the equaliser. This sudden adaption from defensive to attack, mid game, doesnt work, and they usually concede another three goals. But, for the mice, the chance to get point was marginally better than before. So we now go to games watching something more akin to Tom and Jerry: Where the mice sit chuckling at the impotence of the mighty Cat.
The second factor that has recently change is the money and players flowing into the premiership. Suddenly small teams like Bolton, Portsmouth, West ham and (not so small) Aston Villa all have money to spend and the services of good professionals. The main fact though is, that despite the reinforcement the style hasnt change in the way that they approach the top four games. This season, we have faced the same boring tactics whether from Portsmouth, Everton, Bolton or Aston Villa. Defend at all costs. Eleven men behind the ball, and hope that the counter attack brings something.
This style of football has similarities with ‘žkick and rush’œ. The style that saw Wimbledon climb from four divisions in four or five years. It also saw Cambridge fans desert their club in protest at the death of football. For me, this new form of negativism is similar, it is just played with better players.
Villa fans claim their teams style of play isnt sleep inducing.
You may argue that any tactic is okay, it is the winning that counts: But I would argue that against Villa,Portsmouth and Everton (to name but a few) only ONE team wanted to win, and, whilst some managers place more importance on defence than attack, to abandon attack complete, is not real football. It is defeatist, and defeatism shouldn’t be rewarded with points.
Another Villa fan falls asleep whilst watching online.
I am not about to follow the ridiculous idea that draws should be replace with penalties: That would just encourage more and more negative football. Then, the defeatists wouldnt get just ONE point from their game killing tactics: They would get all three! That would just reward and promote negative football.
The solution? I dont know. One idea is to reduce the number of men in a team from eleven to ten. The game has become so fast that players dont have any time on the ball anymore and ten defenders would be less effective than eleven! It would open up the game more.
All too often, after such matches, our own team are criticised. But I say, there was only one team who wanted to win and it wasnt the negative play of Aston Villa. Football for me is to win, it isnt NOT to lose. Too many times this season it just reminds me of Tom and Jerry, and, I really wish once that Tom, would catch the Jerry! Just like my old cat Bert did!