The week beginning 6th May 2019.
A date that will long live in the memory of us here mortals lucky enough to witness some sporting greatness we may never see again on the same scale.
Liverpool? 5 times champions of Europe and historically one of England’s greatest clubs. Only Manchester United after the guidance of Sir Alex Ferguson can lay claim to rival. Up against the Artists from Catalonia in a 2nd leg affair that should have been a procession. Led by the maestro of Messi, Superman Suarez and Classy Coutinho, even the Gods would have been forgiven from believing this was a miracle too far. And that’s why we have a love affair like no other with the beautiful game. Witnessing a sea of Red that Moses would have struggled to part at Anfield strike fear into the La Liga giants and lifting the underdogs to arguably the greatest 90 minutes in their history.
We as a connoisseur were spoiled with the delights being served up. A 5 star show that only comes around once in a generation if we are lucky. No. Step up what was formerly known as Amsterdam Arena. And this is where it affects the game closer to home in Scotland.
Tottenham Hotspur. Led by the shrewd genius that is Mauricio Pochettino needing a result in the Amphitheatre that is the Johann Cryuff Arena. Where we have witnessed one of the most exciting young teams European football has produced in many a year. Led by the 19 year old talisman De Ligt and having the strings pulled masterfully by Frankie De Jong. 90 minutes from a 1st European cup final in 23 years. In the stadium that shares the name with who, some would say the greatest European footballer of all time. A side like Liverpool who had 1 hand on the famous trophy throughout the 70s.
Tottenham as we saw, carved open and at half time the Dutch fans were booking flights to Madrid for the June Finale. Chickens and hatching come to mind. Step up Lucas Moura. The greatest 45 minutes he will ever produce to see Spurs into their 1st final at the expense of the thrilling young guns from Amsterdam. The narrowest of margins. 4 seconds. We were truly spoilt and bursting at the seams with what had been served up.
An all English final and congratulations to both clubs. However when Mo Salah is worth more than the entire Ajax starting 11, it makes the achievements of the Dutch side even more remarkable.
A UEFA cup final followed by a semi final of the closed shop Champions league of UEFA. Doing the impossible by dethroning the reigning Kings of Madrid in their own palace. Following that up with dispatching the footballing God that is Ronaldo like any other player. 4 seconds from a 90 minute battle for immortality.
The Dutch eredivisie is comprised of 18 teams. A 34 game season in a country of approx 18 million people. 3 times more than Scotland yet they are dwarfed by the so called big league nations of England, France, Spain, Italy and Germany. The onus clear on technical brilliance that wowed all who were fortunate enough to watch them. Sadly they will most likely be pilfered by the big guns of Europe, however Ajax will reap financial benefits that will keep the golden conveyor belt of talent from their academy turning for years to come.
In Scotland we have a top league of 12. A league where for decades we have sat back in the dark while the rest of Europe powered away on an Express of brilliance. A league of soul destroying substance that has not only stagnated but is in fact in reverse. We have some fine clubs and stadia. The big 2 in Glasgow winning European trophies in their hey day. Aberdeen under Sir Alex in 83 and Dundee United beating the mighty Barcelona home and away in 1980s. And that’s before we get to Hibs and Hearts. We have a product with potential off the charts yet we continue to neglect the worth in front of our eyes.
As a Rangers fan, the events of 2012 were incomprehensible. That argument is for another day. What followed though was a missed chance. The top flight clubs that remained survived on only 2 home games against Celtic. And as Rangers climbed the leagues, they provided gates that would keep some clubs in business for a year or 2. A share of wealth finally throughout our national game.
And now we have had the return to the top flight? And the chance to change gone due to the self preservation and greed of those at the top table. Unwilling to throw any scraps to those below yet have the cheek to bemoan the riches on offer in England that have created such a financial gap. Gluttony holding onto the plum ties against Glasgow’s big 2 and lining their own pockets. Having teams so focused on survival at any costs that football is reduced to kick and rush.
A golden opportunity should have been taken to replicate Holland. A country that may be larger than ours in size, yet only 12th largest population wise, in Europe. We could easily have an 18 team top tier. With the odds of survival even greater than a 12 team league, the chance to try and catch up with the Juggernaut of Europe that has ran out of our sight. To focus on technical ability and youth. To create a domestic product to export to the world that is a lot more pleasing on the eye than the monstrosity we see now. Knowing that if a team is relegated they have a great chance of coming back stronger. Sadly self preservation has scuppered all of this.
Maybe 1998 can be remembered as just another world cup for the tartan army rather than our last one. To have a national team that can produce at last heirs to Dalglish, Cooper, Law, Baxter, Souness and Gemmell that we have shamefully have failed to do. Look at Croatia, World cup finalists with a plethora of talent yet smaller than Scotland.
To see our clubs go into battle in European competition better equipped to at least have a go rather than get humbled year after year.
Ajax should have woken up a sleeping giant in our nation. Instead I fear we will continue to say what if.
We have world class names like Steven Gerrard on our door. We should be trying to entice every other Gerrard and Rodgers out there to the rest of our league.
Our fans deserve better. Our clubs deserve better. Our custodians need to remember they are only that. Our clubs will be here long after they depart this earth.
Football is nothing without fans and if we keep short changing them we risk losing all we hold dear.
Its our beautiful game. It’s time we reclaimed it from Blazers from a Dinosaur age that are unfit for office.