Which planet is Hansen on?

Posted by Steve_M on April 16, 2007, 01:15:14 PM

ďThere are those, like the Watford manager, Aidy Boothroyd, who did not want an FA Cup Final between Chelsea and Manchester United because the English game is becoming too much like Scotlandís Old Firmď, wrote Alan Hansen in todayís Daily Telegraph. 

He continued, ďI can see their argument, but those people are viewing their football from another planet.  This is the final that will open the new Wembley, the stadium that has taken up so much of the FAís time and money.  Chelsea versus Manchester United is a game that will sell around the world in a way that, however brave Mark Hughesí team were at Old Trafford yesterday, Blackburn versus Manchester United would not have done.  Wembley is a fabulous venue and this has the makings of an absolutely compelling final.  Why would you not want to see the two best teams in the country facing each other in the finest surroundings?Ē 

Maybe itís the difference between being a fan, admittedly a biased one and being a pundit who is paid for an opinion and in some ways paid for a viewpoint which trots out the party line that makes me wonder do Hansen and his cronies really know what makes fans tick?  After all, arenít BBC showing the FA Cup final?  Doesnít Alan Hansen work for the BBC?  Youíd hardily expect him to speak in disparaging tones of a game which is supposed to be the pinnacle of club football tournaments. 

As much as Iíve admired Hansen as a player and as a reasonably articulate television analyst, Iíve grown dismissive of his views and indeed tend to turn a deaf ear to most of the so-called experts these days.  I donít need an ex-player to tell me why a substitution was made or why the manager decided to play one player up front when it is blindingly obvious to those that have even the slightest interest in the game.  Few pundits offer real insight these days which is maybe why those like Martin OíNeill are like a breath of fresh air, whereas others like Paul Merson only serve to bemuse fans with their general ignorance and indeed offer themselves up to ridicule when they make rather foolish predictions (do the words Redknapp and Barcelona ring a bell, Paul?)  Somewhere a village is missing its idiot.

At times youíd be better picking a cross-section of fans to give their synopsis of games.  At least they would be honest and not handicapped by having to ensure that their comments are in line with those of whatever media organisation that they happen to be in the employ.  In fact Hansenís comments only exacerbate my frustration that the big clubs and the media ever increasingly believe their own hype and donít understand what the game is about at all and in fact have no interest in telling it like it really is as they pander to their own agendas. 

Hansen mentions Boothroydís comments and to be honest, I find it hard to disagree with the Watford manager.  Obviously I have to admit that my bias colours my vision.  I mean, what Liverpool fan would really want to see Manchester United and Chelsea in the final anyway?  But leaving that aside, FA Cup finals have become on the whole, rather tedious affairs in recent years and you have to go back to 1991 for the last time one of the current Ďbig fourí werenít in the final.  Hard to believe isnít it?  But if that doesnít say something about the modern game, nothing does.  Since 1950 there have usually been 11-12 different finalists in each decade right up to the end of the century.  However since 2000 only three teams outside the Ďbig fourí have made it to the final and does anyone really see that changing by 2010 with the amount of money being spent by these clubs and the fact that each of them can virtually put out two teams of full internationals?  In January, Mourinho had the cheek to whine about his injury list when playing at Anfield and yet nine of the players he fielded that day had played in the 2006 World Cup finals.  If only Aidy Boothroyd lived on that planet. 

Fans of Pompey, Wolves or Chester must be sick of the sight of the same cliche of clubs reaching every final and this does nothing to dispel the general disillusionment that many fans have with the direction the modern game is taking.  Maybe familiarity does breed contempt? 

You can argue that this yearís finalists are the strongest and best footballing ones in the land Ė but quite frankly, so what?  Cup football is not about the best teams being in finals.  It never has been.  Just ask Arsene Wenger who seemed to want to elicit empathy for his view that Liverpool were not the best team in the Champions League in 2005.  Although oddly enough, he didnít repeat his comments the following year when his own team reached the Champions League final in Paris (and won precisely nothing that season).  But then we know Arseneís vision is not the best at times. 

If FA Cup finals were all about the best teams, then surely the League champions and runner-up would be the prime candidates for finalists every year and yet it rarely has been that way.  Teams like Luton, Forest and WBA, would never be allowed near Wembley if you follow Hansenís rationale. 

And thatís the problem which Hansen doesnít seem to realise. 

He claims that people like Boothroyd are viewing football from another planet.  Maybe we are, but he talks as if the new Wembley has to have only the best teams in the final, as if only they will be worthy to tread its hallowed turf. 

Utter nonsense. 

Ask fans about memorable finals (obviously avoiding those involving their own teams) and names like Sunderland, Blackpool, Wimbledon, Coventry and Ipswich spring to mind.  Having two giants of the game taking part doesnít guarantee anything.  Remember 1996?  Liverpool v Manchester United.  Probably the worst final in 50 years, but according to Hansen, itís better having them there because more people will want to watch it and more income can be derived from it.  Thatís why average football fans like myself wonder just what planet the pundits are on at times. 

Super Sunday?  Soporific Sunday mostly when you consider the hype that goes into each game.  Itís football, for goodness sake.  90% of it is dull and tedious Ė thatís the nature of the game and we actually donít mind because if we did, why would 4428 turn out at Rotherham at the weekend to watch their team be relegated?  If we only turned out to watch teams that win trophies, there would only be about half a dozen teams in the whole league. 

Football is much more than winning trophies Ė itís great when you do, but itís a lot more than that.  For smaller clubs and an ever decreasing number of big clubs, itís about a sense of community and identity.  Ask a Hereford fan about great moments in their history and I guarantee Ronnie Radford gets a mention; Colchester fans would mention the game against Leeds; Bournemouth, the MU game; Carlisle and Jimmy Glass and it goes on.  And none of them really believed they were going to win the league or cup because of one victory. 

Watford versus Blackburn would have been just as great a spectacle for the average fan.  Itís the FA Cup final we are talking about here, not the Leyland DAF Freight Rover Trumpton vase.  We talking about an institution.  The only people concerned about big teams in the final are those selling the television rights abroad and thatís where Hansen loses credibility in my eyes. 

So what if two unfashionable teams make the final?  They would have earned the right to be there.  Just because the Beeb or Sky may not make a packet selling it to Singapore or Timbuktu doesnít make any less a spectacle for the average football fan.  Remember when Man City had the play-off game against Gillingham a few years ago at Wembley (when they were two leagues below the Premiership).  A real Wembley cracker, but for Hansen et al they wouldnít be worthy of playing there, at least not in a proper game like the FA cup final. 

Maybe Big Al should climb down from his ivory tower and remember itís the twin towers of Wembley and the cup final occasion itself which fans remember.  Watford and Blackburn sharing a 4-3 thriller would have been just fine on my planet. 

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