As we’re contemplating this evening’s fare, spare a thought for poor Sepp and those FIFA Exco members spending time with their legal teams. This is an occasion they would have expected to attend but no, not this year. Especially for them, this morning’s playlist, Sepp-tic, can be found on Dad’s Jukebox in the right sidebar or here in your browser. The previous 94 – yes, 94 – can be found in the archives.
So to this morning. The eagle-eyed readers will notice that this is just a continuation of a theme but the “And We’re Not In It” offers an unending supply of opportunities; Arsenal won’t be in every final. And frankly, you don’t expect anything less. From me, not Arsenal although you may be thinking that of Arsenal but I set a pretty low bar to begin with so what has Arsenal done to you?
The Champions League. It’s a catchier title for a competition than The Champions League That Then Turns Into A Cup. Long-time readers – and those new to the gig – will know I’m not a fan of the format. I understand why it’s this way, the money from sponsors who see all the big clubs in one tournament, the TV companies who pay for more games and the seeding system required to make sure that UEFA can exploit both.
Just because I understand it doesn’t mean I like it.
Before the early 1990s the European Club Champions Cup existed. Along with its two younger siblings, the UEFA Cup and the European Cup Winners Cup, we quite possibly had as many games played but they were a free draw although UEFA weren’t beyond tinkering with them if the political necessity arose, such as the late 60s when tensions rose in the Cold War.
The Cup Winners Cup was the junior tournament but it was the only trophy that was never successfully defended in the four decades of its’ existence. Fiorentina, Atletico, Ajax, Anderlecht, Parma, PSG and of course, Arsenal, all lost the final as defending holders. It had diminished in popularity by the time the plug was pulled but instead of heeding the warning signs of what the Champions League was going to do to their other club competitions, UEFA ploughed ahead with making money.
The UEFA Cup morphed into the Thursday Night Football League and whilst not quite dying a death, is constantly being revived by electronic paddles. The latest is offering an alternative route into the Champions League but unless the prize money significantly increases, it’s going to end up a tournament consigned to the history books. What then, Monsieur Platini? I doubt you’ll care as you will be FIFA’s president by that time.
I don’t recall whether the finals were televised live in the UK before but Leeds ill-fated trip to Paris certainly was in 1975. Revie’s men were unfortunate, contentious refereeing robbed them of a couple of penalties before a dubiously disallowed goal sparked mayhem in the stands. Leeds lost the plot on and off the pitch and despite losing Uli Hoeness to a tackle that effectively ended his career, Bayern Munich retained the trophy. The Yorkshire club were banned from Europe in a ghastly portent of what the next decade held culminating in the senseless tragedy forever associated with the Heysel Stadium.
It just so happened that my teenage years coincided with the rising prominence of English clubs, mainly Liverpool but Villa and Forest ensured that the finals became as regular a part of the televised football calendar as the FA Cup. Not that the Champions Cup final got the same treatment. Nothing was allowed to interfere with Crossroads or Corrie. And the games always used to be on a Wednesday night; think of the stamina you would have needed to watch a whole day of television in the build up to a 7.45pm kick-off. There’s only so much Jeux Sans Frontieres that you can take.
In much the same way as now, Arsenal didn’t trouble the commentators and presenters. For a start, you had to be champions to qualify and the club was halfway between the 1971 double and 1989. Think about that for a moment. At that point, the last title was won as part of the double and then crowned champions at the home of English football’s dominant club with a goal in the final minutes of the season in a winner-takes-it-all match. How do you top that? Well, for The Invincibles is a pretty good starting point, it has to be said but beating 1989? I’m struggling.
The Champions League (as it now is) is my footballing holy grail. It’s the only trophy Arsenal haven’t won in my lifetime – yes, I’ll count the Fairs Cup as the UEFA Cup even though it wasn’t and isn’t officially recognised as an honour by UEFA – and at this moment in time, Arsenal are as far as away as they ever have been from winning it. The reasons for that are a book in themselves but boil down to three fundamental reasons; we haven’t genuinely been good enough at all, we weren’t good enough on the night and poor refereeing. I can’t think of bad luck robbing us of any victories or progress and a willing to add that to the list if anyone can come up with examples.
Reading the build-up to this match, you feel Arsenal should take hope of doing so. Juventus’ drug-addled past has been put behind them and a squad which cost less than Alexis’ transfer fee to assemble (apparently) stands on the cusp of slinging a stone firmly and squarely onto Goliath’s head. I don’t know if it’s true about the cost of their squad but as with Atletico, Dortmund and others before them, I don’t draw any particular hope from them reaching the final.
Why should it? Arsène isn’t going to suddenly invoke a tactical pragmatism and begin to park buses in Europe, is he? God knows why not, he saw in 2006 how effective that could be when frankly Arsenal almost won the Champions Cup with what would be called the ‘perfect’ run to the finals with more clean sheets than a hotel after wash day. If only we could replicate that. If only, the favourite refrain of the onlooking football supporters.
But it creates an uneasiness which surfaces on days like this. Is my latent OCD coming to the fore that I want them to win this and then the European Super Cup – I’d momentarily forgotten 1995’s aggregate defeat to Milan so that’s a second trophy they haven’t won – before dominating the World Club Cup or whatever that’s now called, winning the FA Cup in the same season just to prove how ludicrous United’s adopted position was. That’s three trophies, in case you hadn’t noticed.
But Juve winning tonight brings the prospect of those three no closer. But you have to hope don’t you? If you don’t have hope as a football supporters, you’ve fallen out of love with football. It underpins everything from avoiding relegation through mid-table obscurity to winning trophies. So I hope Arsenal do win the Champions League in my lifetime.
I just have low expectations.