The UEFA Champions league is probably the most important football competition on the planet. Whilst we all love watching the World Cup, it does not feature the best teams. Team selection is based on nationality, so by definition it is impossible to put the eleven best players on the planet on the same team. Theoretically at least, in the Champions league, you can have a multi national team which contains the eleven best players on the planet. However as football is a team game, they are not always going to win. Tactics, mistakes, off days, perverse decisions have all conspired to ensure that we've not seen a team retain the trophy. That is why football is such a fascinationg sport. As it is a relatively low scoring game, a team can sneak a goal and then hang on for dear life. Sometimes the better team gets rattled and the worse team get two or three. Sometimes a young player will come out of nowhere and change the dynamics. Sometimes a referee will send off a teams key player and the dynamics will change.
These are the reasons we love football. But then there is the dark side of the game. Corruption is endemic at the highest levels. We find that Michel Platini was given over a million pounds by Sepp Blatter as some part of a verbal agreement. Then there is racism. In the UK this has largely been banished. Black players do not get monkey chants or bananas thrown at them. On the odd occasion where this does happen, the culprits are quickly identified and usually arrested and banned from football. Any team in the UK tolerating such behaviour by their fans would quickly be fined, banned and have all manner of sanction. The UK game is not perfect (note the lack of BME Managers), but compared to Europe, we are doing ok. The FA have clear policies and these have made a difference.
As a Manchester City FC supporter, I am aware of the huge contribution that black players have made to the club. I can remember back in the early 1980's going to see City play Fulham at Craven Cottage. At the time the City goalkeeper was Alex Williams. Of all the positions on the field, the keeper is the most exposed to the fans and any abuse. I was with a couple of friends who were Fulham fans. Williams spent about ten minutes on the end of a whole barrage of vile abuse about the colour of his skin. His behaviour was incredible in the circumstances. Someone threw a banana at him, he picked it up, put it behind the goal and said "Cheers, I'll have that later", giving a thumbs up and a broad smile.About 20 seconds later he pulled off a truly astonishing save. The bullies in the crowd realised that they weren't going to get under his skin, so they shut up. In fact at the end of the game, he came over and had a bit of banter with the same people who'd been giving him abuse. The general consenus was that he was a great bloke amongst the people who had started out screaming abuse. There are many ways to win an argument, but that day Alex Williams gave a lot of people a lesson in dignity, humour and respect. He should never have had to, but players like Williams were vanguards in the English game. Another moment that springs to mind was the amazing goal John Barnes scored as England beat Brazil 3-1 in the Maracana. Only an idiot would fail to be proud of Barnes and his efforts for our country.
But UEFA are still languishing in the stone age when it comes to Racism. If you are a high profile black player and your team is drawn against certain teams in the Champions League or Europa Cup, you know you will get abuse, bananas and monnkey chants. And perhaps more worryingly, you know that unlike the FFC fans in 1983, you won't win them over with humour, dignity, skill and banter. You know that you will be made to feel awful. That is bad enough, but perhaps the most sickening thing of all, you know that clubs who do this will face no sanction at all. A Portuguese club received a £16,000 fine for the racist abuse dished out to Mario Balloteli whilst playing for Manchester City. This is nothing compared to the millions the club received for playing in the tournament. A UEFA ban on Russian fans watching the club play City was ignored by the club, with 400 fans let in. No sanction was taken. The only way that this will change is if clubs are thrown out of the competition. I'd say that there should be a simple system of escalating penalties. For one incident, lose all income from the tie. For two, lose all income from the competition and for three get thrown out for three years. Of course, a lone nutter in the crowd shouldn't be able to cause such a sanction, but should be identified and ejected. We are talking about large sections of the crowd. I would say that if such chanting occurs, the referee should pull the players off the pitch, they should announce that the tie will be awarded to the team on the receiving end, with the team being given a 3-0 win if they are losing or drawing or add three goals to the score if they are winning. The team would then retake the feild. If the chanting continues, that is that. Then the sanctions listed above would kick in. It may be that some morons in the stands won't care, but the clubs will and will soon figure out how to sort the problem out.
Manchester City FC fans feel that the UEFA has it in for them. They are the victims of "financial fair play" rules. These are imposed by a bunch of greedy troughers, who think million pound bungs are the way to do business. They suspect that the draws are always rigged so City are in "the group of death" and play the best teams in the knockout rounds. If UEFA wasn't so corrupt, I would probably dismiss such talk as "bonkers conspiracy theories" but when you see the sheer scale of what has been going on, surely anything is possible?
At the recent Champions League game against Sevilla, City fans let UEFA know what they think of them. They booe'd the Champions League Anthem. I am 100% with them on this. I think it is a horrible piece of music. It is a revolting piece of cod Opera. It is overblown, pompous and grating. City have certain songs which you will always hear at the Etihad. Blue Moon is the City anthem. Hey Jude is played at the interval and Roll with It by Oasis at the end. These are proper songs that football fans love. The Champions League Anthem, to me and to the majority of City fans sums up everything that is wrong with the way football is run. It was immediately announced after the game that City are under investigation by UEFA down to this well deserved rebuke to UEFA. It is strange how the disciplinary porcess can be invoked so rapidly over such a trivial incident, when Platini is still in a job and Blatter is still in a job at FIFA, despite clear evidence of all manner of shenanigans. It seems that insulting a banal piece of music is more serious in UEFA's mind than the insulting of black players and corruption. The English clubs were banned for five years for Heysel, but there are dozens of places that City fans will go and be at risk of stabbings and violence in the streets before and after. It seems that it is only English fans who faace such sanction. The Premiership is probably the worlds most popular televised league. I believe this is because the global TV audience recognises that in the UK we love great footballers regardless of creed and colour and we take them to our hearts.
Sadly UEFA have a reputation for only caring about UEFA. I congratulate the City fans for exposing this hypocricy. I applaud City manager Manuel Pelligrini for siding with the fans on the issue. And I hope that all of the other English fans of clubs will join in and boo the Champions League anthem before every game until UEFA sorts itself out.