Early Doors

Tin pots and silver jugs

Early Doors

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BBC bosses are not noted for their sense of humour - as shown by the continued existence of Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps.

But Mark Thompson and his fellow mandarins might have broken off from sacking thousands of people to allow themselves a brief smile yesterday evening.

Even at the end of four appalling and almost entirely goalless hours of football between Middlesbrough and Sheffield United - broadcast in full on BBC1 - there was a silver lining.

Fine, their Sunday afternoon and Wednesday night prime time schedules had been blown to bits as two tedious sets of 90 minutes segued into a truly soul-crushing extra time period.

Sky Cops fans were left disappointed as TV's number one helicopter-based police reality show was axed, and Bradley Walsh devoured an extra two quid's worth of Custard Creams in the green room as the Lottery Show was delayed until quarter past 11.

Yet none of this mattered because of one fact: no more of this next season.

For ITV and Setanta have splashed out £425 million to show this rubbish until 2013, relieving the BBC and Sky of four years of lower-mid-table Premier League sides against upper-mid-table Championship sides.

These kinds of fixtures are great if you support one of the two teams involved, and borderline unwatchable if you do not.

And given that the 2007/08 schedules were filled with the moderately-sized likes of Wigan, Preston, Stoke and Luton, Early Doors cannot imagine too many henpecked husbands racing home from Ikea to catch a bit of footy on terrestrial TV.

Among the dross, somehow nobody saw fit to provide live pictures of the competition's two highlights; Barnsley and Havant & Waterlooville's visits to Liverpool.

The somewhat sheepish faces in the BBC studio after last night's match at the Riverside said it all: just a few more games - including Boro's quarter final tie with Cardiff - and this is somebody else's problem.

The sixth round has only one game that anyone will want to watch - Barnsley v Chelsea - one game normally confined to the 5.15pm Premier League slot - Manchester United v Portsmouth - and two more fixtures so unremarkable Early Doors would consider it a waste of its not-all-that-precious time to write them out.

Incidentally, Early Doors has been accused of an anti-Middlesbrough bias. It has nothing against them, it's just that they are so very nondescript; if they were somehow expunged from the top flight it would probably be Christmas before anyone noticed.

In fact, if the Premier League had any guts, they would scrap the 39th game concept and relaunch Boro in the Far East as the Shanghai Smoggies.

Anyway, Early Doors welcomes any and all abuse from Middlesbrough fans - it is just nice to know there are some out there.

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If the Intertoto Cup were a person, we'd feel sorry for it.

Constantly mocked for its apparent worthlessness, the competition is treated as a barely second-rate citizen in the usually glam world of football tournaments (where, by the way, the Champions League and the World Cup are the reigning monarchs and the FIFA World Club Cup is nothing more than a drunken hobo lying in the gutter).

Yet rewards for success in the Intertoto Cup are enviable. Qualification for the UEFA Cup still packs a hefty punch in financial terms and it is a great way for younger players to pick up some European experience, albeit at places like Silkeborg and Maribor.

So why the persistent and barely concealed sniggers from the 'big four' when the chasing pack invariably resort to signing up for the summer tournament?

No matter, Manchester City manager Sven-Goran Eriksson clearly has no delusions of grandeur and knowing full well the limitations of his side, he has decided to go down the Intertoto route, even if it does not compare well with his usually swanky tastes.

We all knew the Swede was cannier than he let on when in charge of England (was anyone really fooled by his selections of Michael Ball and Gavin McCann?) and his decision to go for Intertoto glory goes a long way to prove it.

"It feels a little bit like a second division but I would still take it. Absolutely," he said.

Second division? Yes, but with the chance of promotion to a major(ish) European competition. The Intertoto is clearly suffering form a poor reputation.

It's difficult to shake off such a reputation - ask the likes of John Hartson, to take just one example. Although, thinking about it, has he really has tried to turn around the popular belief that he is a lard arse?

Perhaps appearances have a lot to do with it. Hartson has an impressive gut and three double chins; the Jules Rimet trophy, the current incarnation of the World Cup, the FA Cup, the Copa Libertadores are all great looking trophies, worthy of their standing.

But what do the many winners of the Intertoto Cup get? A golden ball engraved with what looks like a complex mathematical equation held in a silver jug, that's all (see photo).

Looking like that, of course it doesn't stand a chance of gaining any kind of meaningful recognition.

Nonetheless, European giants such as Bastia, Perugia, Otelul Galati, Ethnikos Achna FC, Hammarby and Tobol Kostanay will all attest to the benefits of the Intertoto Cup after having enjoyed their own brief moments of European glory.

And to think, City could end their long wait for silverware by joining that list of greats by the end of this year.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY: "We need to make people believe it. I'm 27 now, I don't want to be talking about next season for Liverpool when I'm 32." Steven Gerrard talks about not talking about Liverpool's ambitions before going on to talk about them: "We've got the stadium, the fans, the manager and the players to compete for the Premier League." Confused? He is.

COMING UP: There is not a jot of live football tonight, which frankly makes a nice change. So we suggest you make the most of it and release yourselves from the shackles of your computer. Unless you're into Euroleague basketball, of course.

TODAY'S TALKING POINT: It is a great morning to be eliotot, what with a namecheck here and more stick aimed at his favourite whipping boys Middlesbrough. He or she writes: "A couple of reasons why Liverpool would be better off under DIC: 1. Lots of cash; 2. Bigwigs far away; 3. Lots of cash; 4. Dubaians don't speak Spanish; 5. Lots of cash; 6. Holidays in the sun; 7. Lots of cash; 8. New disciplinary procedure...anyone not pulling their weight on the pitch get 4 hours under the hot Dubai sun. Half the team would end up redder than their shirts."

Inspired by yesterday's comment piece 'The break up of the big four' (you can still find it on Eurosport's Premier League homepage) what are your thoughts on the recent trials and tribulations of the top sides? Are they really in decline or are the likes of Aston Villa, Everton and Spurs just dreaming if they think they can muscle their way into a Champions League spot? Have your say in the usual manner below.

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