Wednesday, June 14, 2006

World Cup Woes

The World Cup is upon us and, lo and behold, it has already impinged on the cricket season. Writing in the EDP, the secretary of the Norfolk Cricket League bemoaned the fact that some players preferred to watch the England v Paraguay game rather than turn out for their club side. He is, of course, absolutely correct.

Now, I'm not a great football fan. Of course, were England to reach the latter stages of the competition some accommodation will have to be made to ensure that cricket matches are played. But, to sit at home and watch a fairly meaningless first round match whilst the rest of your cricket team attempt to make up for your absence is selfishness in the extreme. It's not even good for football. Those cricketers who feel let down are hardly likely to view an England win with the customary enthusiasm. Some might even be hoping for an early exit for the England team so that cricket can go ahead uninterrupted!

The World Cup only serves to highlight the impingement of the football season into every other sporting event in the country. In this World Cup year, you can count on the fingers of both hands the number of weeks in the year when football is not being played. Norwich City FC, I believe, begin their pre-season training on Aug 13! That's about 10 days after the World Cup ends. Nonsense.

It's not even good for the players who are currently sweltering in the blazing sunshine of a German heat wave and trying to play a game that is designed for the cooler months. Praise be to FIFA who have decreed that the referees must allow players to take fluid on board during a match. God help them when our TV screens are awash with pictures of a stricken player being removed from the pitch by ambulance and gruesome photos his subsequent death from heat exhaustion and dehydration.

Why is this so? Football has long since passed the baton of healthy competition to the bean counters. Maximising the income is now the holy grail - not looking after the welfare of the players. The result? Local papers are awash with summer five-a-side tournaments for players as young as 10. Nonsense! Ten year olds have no business running themselves to death in the summer heat! The FA should ban football (including training) for U18's during the months of June, July and August. Matches and training in April and September should only go ahead when the temperature is under 20 degrees. So simple. Chances? None. The FA have become the bean counters.

Players at my club have already been told that if they cry off cricket to watch a "meaningless" football match - they will not play for the club again this season. At the same time, we will work closely with other clubs and the league to adjust start times or playing conditions to allow cricketers to watch important England matches and still participate in their chosen summer sport. With some modicum of common sense, this should ensure that everyone is kept happy. If "cricketers" would really rather sit in the pub, drink lots of beer and chant obscene slogans at hapless refugees from Buenos Aires, then they are probably involved in the wrong sport. We'd be well rid of them.

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