Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Americanized Exceptions to Football I Can Live With

Angelina-Jen: A Derby for the Ages
I'm staunchly opposed to the Americanization of football. I don't want overtime, shootouts, substitutions on the fly, bigger goals or shorter fields. I don't want instant replay, playoffs or field turf.

There's a  lot of don'ts and won'ts in there. There are also exceptions to every rule. Two things American sports do well are create events and honor their best.

I want a Winter Classic-style football event. And I want a world football hall of fame.

The Hall of Fame is easy. Unlike the shit show that is the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, there are clear guidelines a football hall could follow. Such as: Be out of the game five years before you're eligible; you're eligible for only 10 years (if you're not a Hall of Famer in year 1, chances are, you're not one 10 years later); Weighted voting on by journalists and players; and (gulp) FIFA runs it--boy am I asking for a corruption disaster there, aren't I? But if there's one thing they can get right, it's this.

Today's generations, unless they're brow-beaten by overbearing dads, uncles and grandpas, don't know who DiStefano or Eusebio was. Pele? Yeah, he played for the Cosmos! Eusebio? He was in the hospital last week. Second best player to Pele during his time? Really? Hmm?

A Hall of Fame, a museum where careers, players and the game is honored is long overdue for the world's most popular game. It's a destination stop for families on vacation. It's a place players can shoot for once they're done with the game. "I may not win a Champions League or World Cup, but I can still be immortal in the Hall of Fame."

To be done right, it has to be hard to get in. Only the elite get in. I don't want to see Joe Cole's name on the ballot, nor do I want to see John Harkes' even though he's somehow in the US Hall--another story for another day.

The Hall of Fame is easy. The Winter Classic is difficult. The NHL puts two teams on an outdoor rink built inside a football or baseball stadium. It's played on New Year's Day--or thereabouts--and it's a great event. The players love it, the fans love it, the NHL loves it.

For football--I don't want a gimmick. The game still has to count. It has to be played on a regulation field and count in the table. I don't want it indoors, on fake grass, or on ice skates for that matter. But there has to be something big, something that counts, something that would be a legitimate event.

My best effort is a derby day in the same stadium. London is easy: Arsenal-Tottenham; Chelsea-Fulham; West Ham-Millwall. All three games at Wembley; all of them count. In Lisbon, it's Belenenses-Setubal, Sporting-Benfica. In Madrid, it's Real Madrid-Atletico, Getafe-Rayo Vallecano--and so forth.

Imagine the hype of putting all these games in the same park on the same day! Rotate the stadia year after year, charge a lot of money, put it all on TV, whatever it takes. Make it a worldwide derby day where every country's greatest derbies are contested simultaneously.

It's a win all around if you ask me. But this isn't a dictatorship. If you have better ideas, send them along and I'll post them all.

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