If you supported a top club in a small country, how could you dream of winning the Champions League again?

Rhys Jaggar and Tony Attwood

There are fans of a certain age who can remember Ajax being top dogs in Europe. In fact, that was really the first dominant European side I remember as a boy. Cruyff et al. I wasn’t quite old enough to remember the Lisbon Lions or Feyenoord, but both won the European Cup. Young fans probably wouldn’t know that Club Brugge went to Wembley in 1978 to play in the European Cup Final either.

Although Ajax won again in 1995, there’s a fair question to be asked: ‘are Celtic, Rangers, Feyenoord and Ajax and many more lacking in fans, stadia, expertise and passion worthy of being European Champions?’ And I think the answer is No! And if the variant question: ‘do you think they could do it without a billionaire owner?’ I think the answer in future years, as it stands, must be ‘Sadly, no.’

Why? Simple. Domestic media income simply isn’t enough to allow them to compete with the ‘Big 4 leagues’. That might become 5 if France grow again, but currently, realistically, the Champions League is really about Italy, Spain, England and, to a lesser extent, Germany.

Is that a good thing or a bad thing? I guess that depends who you are.

If you’re a money man at a top club, it’s a good thing. And if you’re a fan who only cares about your club and that’s Real, Utd, Milan, Arsenal etc, it’s a good thing too.

But is it a good thing for European football if passion slowly dies in some of its hottest hotbeds, due simply to historical accidents of national borders?

I don’t think so. To me, truly being European Champions means a fair fight between all European countries, based on football commitment and expertise, not solely about the money domestic leagues can attract.

So if I were Michel Platini and UEFA, I’d take seriously the thought that allowing smaller, less wealthy countries to realign leagues across national boundaries might be something worth considering right now.

  • Scotland/Norway/Sweden/Finland/Denmark/Holland/Belgium? Possibly Portugal too?
  • Greece/Turkey/Romania/Bulgaria/Serbia/Croatia/Bosnia/Albania/Macedonia?
  • Belarus/Ukraine/Poland/Hungary/Czech Rep/Slovakia/Slovenia/Austria/Switzerland?

There’s probably a better media deal to be had in such a situation. Probably more genuine week-to-week competition to be had in football terms. A chance for fans to go to Europe without necessarily qualifying for UEFA’s Cup competitions. A chance to refresh the Champions League by equipping more clubs more equally for the competition…

The idea was there a couple of years ago and there seemed to be a real interest in it, but UEFA put the lid on the idea, and it died.  (UEFA of course want to preserve national identity so they can continue their country against country competitions.  FIFA feels the same.)

But there had a been a sudden revival of interest just recently (at least in the UK) because of the position of Scotland.  Dominated utterly by two clubs with a big support, but now only one Champions League spot, and that starting with the preliminary rounds.  Both Celtic and Rangers performed poorly in Europe this year, and that combined with a better performance from Belgian clubs has meant that Belgium as risen above Scotland in the UEFA tables.

Since by definition only one of Rangers and Celtic can win the league each year, one is going to have to do without the extra cash.  And given that a TV deal in Scotland is far less meaningful than in England, this could spell danger.  Imagine if either team goes on one of those 9-in-a-row things they have in Scotland, and the other is permanently excluded from Europe, what then?

Add to this the fact that Rangers are already in very serious financial trouble, and the news from Scotland is not good.  Celtic may not like Rangers and vice versa, but if either them started to slip away, that would spell utter disaster for Scottish football.  You can run a competition with two giants, but not with one.

And let us remember one other thing.  The traditional top three in the Dutch league have been Ajax, PSV, and Feyenoord.  But last season AZ and FC Twente were the top two clubs.  If the Dutch had lost its top clubs to a European league that presumably would have removed the meaning of the achievement of AZ and FC Twente.

So it might not be as easy as it looks.  Promotion and relegation from the Euro leagues back to their national leagues?  Would that solve the problem?

Put another way: is there a solution?



Ashley Cole has filed for divorce from the KGB in Fulham.  “I thought the club loved me,” said a tearful Cole.   When asked about Cheryl he denied having had an affair with anyone of that name.  “That’s not Tiger Woods’ wife is it?” he asked, wiping a tear from his eye.

Cole has indicated that he would like to play for Real Madrid in future.  When asked if he planned to learn Spanish, the man who has been left back behind his mobile phone so often in his career he’s lost count said, “I can grunt in any language you want mate.”

Ashley Cole will start in goal for England in their friendly against Egypt at Wembley on 3 March.  “I want him where I can see him,” said Hench Mann, head of Mrs Cole’s security team.  “He will owe my employer £8 trillion once the divorce is settled, and she doesn’t want him spending it on mobile phone calls.”

When Untold Rumours caught up with the leader of England’s 2018 World Cup bid he was smiling like a man who has just pulled off a brilliant PR trick.

“Internationally, people look at our football sex scandals and quite enjoy them.  It took me some time to organise the events, but with the help of A Cole and J Terry I got it sorted,” said Andy Pandy, the 2018-bid chief executive.   “By far the most important thing is to ensure that no one starts to ask questions about why England employed as its manager a man who has been found guilty of tax evasion in Italy and who is facing further charges at the moment.  If they started asking those questions now, we would be in real trouble, given that we don’t even have a clue over who owns some of our clubs while we allow others to be run by gun runners, homophobes and bent lawyers.  But thankfully Cole and Terry were very compliant.  I don’t think they even noticed they were set up.”


Vote now for the biggest prat in English football.  The polls are still open.

Arsenal win the league: the start of the new golden era.

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The England captain we signed from Kettering Town.

Why did Arsenal move to Highbury, and not somewhere else?

Arsenal in 1910 – the first edition of this book has almost sold out.  We will be publishing a second edition shortly, but if you want one of the First Edition copies, you should order now.  It is Arsenal in 1910, the complete story as a novel.

7 Replies to “If you supported a top club in a small country, how could you dream of winning the Champions League again?”

  1. Why not require fair distribution of TV deals across Uefa leagues? They seem to be the real problem… Dont know if that it even realistic or fair but that seems to be the biggest issue…

  2. Once again the Untold goes further than others. This is not really Arsenal related in the first place but could well be in the future.
    As living in a small country, in square meters and football wise, I can say that the idea of a bigger league with other country’s is a bit like the monster of Loch Ness. It appears in the news and then goes away untill their is another crisis and so it goes on and on.

    In Belgium and Holland there has been talks of putting the best teams together in a Be(lgium)Ne(therlands) League. A bit like the Arsenal BeNeLux fanclub but without Luxemburg.

    But the organisation of such a league is so difficult that it looks impossible to organise with 2 country’s so let alone with 7 or 8 country’s.
    To start such a league is very simple. You take the best 6 teams from Belgium and the best 10 teams from Holland and here you go.
    In HOlland it would be no problem to take the best teams but in Belgium this would mean troubles.
    If the Belgium league would end now this would mean that there would be 5 Flemish clubs and 1 club from Brussels (Anderlecht) that would go to the Beneliga (this was the name they used) and no clubs from Wallonie like Standard who is only 7th for the moment.
    So this never would pass in Belgium.

    I give you this example to show you which difficulties there would and could arise and in this case we only talk about 2 country’s.
    Anothe problem would be the teams going up and down. Would you always lower one team from each league ? But this could theoretically mean that if the Belgian clubs would take the first 6 places (never going to happen but it could) and in that case the team that has ended 6th in the league would go down ? So again big problems but if you just let the teams go down who finish at the last 2 places it could mean that after some years you only could have Dutch teams and one Belgian team in it. Every year one Belgian team would go up off course and if two drop down it could take some 5 or 6 years and this could be the case.

    You see a lot of problems to be overcome and off course it all is about self intrest.

  3. the idea of merging leagues is not a bad one, but there is a flaw you didn’t mention. if you have the international leagues and relegation back to the national leagues for the under-performing teams and promotion to the international league for the winners nin the national league, what happens if say celtic and rangers finish 1st and 2nd in the international ‘northern’ league? one or both of them is going to get relegated and replaced by the champions of the scottish league in their absence? or do you keep them there in which case no scottish teams surely get promoted? i think the system only works if there is no promotion or relegation which would be harsh and remove any realistic chance of the national leagues improving in the absence of the best teams. i suppose the question is how much do you want the competition and how much do you care about the morals so to speak of changing the system.

    it was only a handful of years ago we had a final contested by monaco and porto, teams who would apparently need a special league merge to supposedly have a chance. looking at portugal in fact and you can see benfica and porto have been big clubs in the cl pretty regularly for quite some time now, regularly doing reasonably well. realistically there is never going to be a romanian team which has a great chance of winning because money isn’t the only thing missing, more importantly football infrastructure isn’t there. you can have all the money in the world, but how would you entice the top players to play in finland for example? in many of these places they don’t even have big stadia or enough support even to fill them, the pitches are shit and the climate is in some of these places very unattractive. it’s a shame for those places because through bad fortune they have been left behind in footballing terms, but realistically they are beyond saving now as the boat has gone and they weren’t on it.

    but what you’re left with is still a lot of teams from quite a few leagues who have an outside chance. one of these years maybe ajax will decide not to sell half their best young players to the highest bidder and will in which case have a very respectable team. psv knocked us out a few years ago. porto and monaco made the finals another year and it took a wonder goal from ronaldo to knock porto out in the quarters last year. celtic at least have been messing with the big boys in the knockout stages in some recent years, germany has two teams in the knockout stages this year, dynamo kiev could have won their group with inter and barca with one or two more decent results and some romanian or israeli teams i’ve never even heard of have been causing problems for the european champions. lyon and marseille have both done well this year and lyon are usually dangerous in the cl and will probably reach the final sooner or later.

    so overall i think the little leagues are doing extremely well in the cl. also do you really think that if celtic stop playing motherwell and play the danish champions instead that they might improve significantly? realistically all you would have is the best of a bad bunch playing the best of another bad bunch, which is still only bad whichever way you look at it. the only real way teams like celtic could return to elite status is to either improve their academy hugely (still very unlikely) or to merge with the pl, which still leaves all the other scottish teams to fester.

  4. As with most ideas that warrant a better look – whether it’s by trial or a wider debate – the lacking thing is political will.

    There are too many self interests driven by money and what we’re talking about here is drastic change to evolve football. Turkeys rarely vote for Christmas.

    Also, just to add on the issue of money and the motivation for the self preservation of some of the bigger clubs in Europe – I think a time wil come when the internet will play a big role in the broadcasting of football – and hence the distribution and sale of rights.

    Football is suffering the same dilemma that the music and motion picture industry suffered in recent times. They weren’t quick enough to embrace the fact that the internet changed the ways in which consumers wanted to get their music, TV and movies – and they suffered massively.

    It’s only a matter of time when money drives clubs to use the internet to distribute their own rights or to collaborate in rights issues over the internet for customers willing to pay per view.

  5. It’s been done before. England used to be organised under the Football League and the Southern League. It then merged to become a national league. Combining national leagues into multinational leagues is just the next step.

    Walter, I don’t see the problem in combining Belgium and Netherlands. You don’t just take the top clubs from each league, you have to combine the complete thing. So if there are two pro divisions in each of Belgium and Netherlands, you paste them together, so the first year, you’ve got two super division. Half the clubs get relegated after the first year, and then the super divisions split into half, to give you four pro divisions.

    There’s going to be a bias towards the big Dutch clubs anyway, since they’ve got the history, the training, the fanbase. But Belgian clubs would still benefit from the increased exposure. And they get road-trips to Amsterdam! How cool would that be?

  6. Idea is not bad, and in quite similar form it exist as Adriatic League (or NLB league) in basketball. It came after Basketball associations of Serbia, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Montenegro realized its impossible to maintain attendance when you play low graded teams.
    In NLB League playing best teams from this countries, which also have to play national championships which are qualifications for NLB league. But of course it is to many games, so to make it easier Those teams who are in NLB League, play only final four tournament in which is decided national champion. Based on success of teams you have number of spots for teams in League.

    It brought people back to watch basketball after years of stagnation, and former Yugoslavian teams again playing important role in Basketball Champions League and ULEBA Cup (equivalent for UEFA cup).

    But those things are down to UEFA, who hardly have any interest in it, as they now think more commercial. I hardly can imagine that again you will have teams like Red Star (Belgrade), Steaua (Bucharest), or Dinamo Kiev wining CL. You are witness that UEFA wont even let big teams play each other to make improve their chances getting in to finals (best example WC barrage draw, which they organized so France, Portugal, Russia cant play each other, and those rule was realised just few days before draw)

  7. I agree. The only way it would get close to being a workable idea is if all the professional teams from each country merged – i.e. all the scottish teams right down to the third division with all the professional dutch and belgium teams. But this would still be very hard to acomplish realistically., and would only work in all likelihood if their were drivable borders between countries such as Belgium/Netherlands. (so Scottish football is sha**ed still in my opinion).

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