Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Perfect play-off

If there's one thing the English Premier League enjoys, then it is spreading the influence of the "Best League In The World." Like a benign corporate John Terry, this is a business concept willing to spread the seed of happiness around the globe.

From cheap polyester shirts to the cult of Beckham, from a football model based on nothing but hard cash to the, literally, unmissable charisma of Jamie Redknapp.

The world wants English football and English football is happy to give of itself with the generosity of a text message from Ashley Cole.

We can but look on in awe as the English behemoth bestrides the globe. English football is the global currency, a lingua franca with the vocabulary provided by Andy Gray. Those of us condemned to follow Scottish football can only eke an existence in the shadows, a nation of Wayne Bridges in a world of Hugh Hefners.

Thankfully the men in charge of English football are no strangers to self awareness. They know their worth, the power of their every utterance. They realise that a meeting of the powerbrokers in the English game has taken on the global significance of a modern day Yalta Conference.

So it is that we are given the privilege of sharing in their every discourse on how to do the charitable thing and spread themselves even more thickly upon the global consciousnes. The 39th game? The entry of Rangers and Celtic? Mere philanthropy. Like the British imperialists of old spreading civilisation across the planet, they are but doing their moral duty. Any money made in the process is a necessary evil of allowing a billion Chinese the chance to watch Bolton play Stoke.

When we are lucky enough an idea will occasionally spring from this crucible of humanity that, with the humility of the tenant famer accepting scraps from the squire's table, we might adopt to bring sustenance to our own, malnourished game.

Yesterday was one of those red letter days. Still hurt that few of the disciples were willing to accept the self sacrificing missionary work that would have spread the gospel in the form of the blessed 39th game, a new hymn was sung.

The light of democracy would shine throughout English football in the form of play offs for the fourth Champion's League spot. The 39th game would be replaced by a series of games with the ultimate prize of a place in the qualifying rounds of the continental behemoth. Thus the quad-opoly of the Big Four could be broken and the unique excitement of the "Best League In The World" could be stretched over an extra few weeks. Any money made in the process would, of course, be a necessary evil of allowing English football to give yet more of itself to the global village.

Now, is it just me, or is this not a blueprint for our own future? There are surely only benefits.

Old Firm complaints that the lack of competition at home renders them impotent abroad? Sorted. Win the league or risk losing the Champion's League place. That should offer the higher stakes of real competition.

Ten teams fighting it out for nothing more than third? Sorted. Finish third or fourth and you could be but two or three games away from taking the prize of second place anyway.

Too many meaningless games? Sorted. There would still be a lot of meaningless games. But Hibs and Hearts playing off for the right to play Rangers at Hampden with the Champion's League at stake? That's got to be marketable.

There's too many games already? Sorted. Listen to what our English cousins are saying. The English Premier League has already found the answer. Not too many games, not enough games. If there is a risk of people losing interest in a product simply give them more of the product. It's a no brainer.

Other teams would struggle in the Champion's League? Well, really? Who are we comparing them to? The all conquering Old Firm? And it's only by exposure to the top level that our "provincial" clubs can truly aspire to greatness.

It would be unfair on the team finishing second? No, it wouldn't. Look at the existing cup competitions. Rangers and Celtic would most likely take the majority of the play off titles. But every so often they would lose. And that would be as refershing for our game as a dose of Shake 'N' Vac on a musty shagpile.

And it need not stop at the top. A four way play off at the bottom. The second placed team in the First Division and the teams finishing 9th, 10th and 11th in the SPL. Those meaningless fixtures are disappearing over the horizon.

Let's get this done. English football sneezes and we get a cold? Good, let's get swine 'flu. This English proposal gives us the chance to stand on the shoulder of giants. This is our chance to march into the sunlight.

Scottish football will be reborn thanks to the TV evangelists of the south.