New York, Bangkok, Dubai, Middlesbrough

A WORD of warning for Premier League officials: If you do decide to take a round of fixtures abroad, don’t put the destinations to a public vote, or you might face the same problem the Spice Girls did.

When Posh, Baby, Scary and the other one finally persuaded Mel C to join them for a comeback which has proved every bit as successful as Kevin Keegan’s, they decided to let their fans choose one destination on their world tour via an online poll.

If enough people voted for a city, went the logic, the Spice Girls would play a gig there.

Allegedly, the city that got the most votes was Baghdad. (I say allegedly, because the city they chose to play in following the vote was Toronto.)

For that reason, I’m guessing that the Premier League won’t be polling the public to find out where they want the proposed extra rounds of fixtures to be played, lest some mischievous Manchester United fans start launching a campaign to hold the Merseyside derby in Kabul.

I would imagine that this extra round of games would be held in the same places that Premier League clubs currently go for lucrative pre-season games; Bangkok, China, Saudi Arabia, Dubai, New York. If the Premier League were serious about taking the league around the world, they would, of course, go to places where there aren’t billionaire businessmen with an eye on running a top English club.

For instance, the Premier League is hugely popular in Scandinavia, but I suspect the chances of a match taking place in Helsinki are slimmer than the likelihood of Blackburn playing West Ham on Whitby beach.

Gordon Brown this morning talked of how the move could benefit fans over here, because the money made out of games played overseas could result in reduced ticket prices at home. You can get a good idea of how likely this is by looking at the number of clubs who reduced their ticket prices in the wake of the enormous TV deal which kicked in last summer. (Some did. Not many.)

But here’s a thing. I’ve not yet seen one Premier League club speak up against the proposals. And I’ve not yet seen one English-based fan speak up in favour of it. A chasm is opening up. Mind you, outside England, you can find a different view.

Back in October, I interviewed a baseball player called CJ Wilson about this issue. It was just after the New York Giants and the Miami Dolphins had played an NFL game at Wembley. Wilson – a pitcher with the Texas Rangers – had caught a couple of Premier League games during a trip to England, and was keen on the idea of the big teams playing in the States.

From a spectactor’s point of view, I’d really like to see it,” he said. “I’d really like to be able to go to Chicago and see United play Arsenal, or Liverpool play Chelsea.”

Wilson kind of hit upon the problem, though, with the teams he named. Chelsea versus Liverpool would sell out anywhere, as would Manchester United against Arsenal. But what about the other games?

I spent this afternoon watching an uninspiring match between Middlesbrough and Fulham at the Riverside Stadium, which had more than 9,000 empty seats. After Boro went in front through Jeremie Aliadiere in the 11th minute, they seemed content to sit back and hold on for a 1-0 win.

Fulham, whose last away league win was so long ago that it came against a Newcastle side managed by Glenn Roeder, had plenty of possession, but couldn’t figure out how to get into the Middlesbrough penalty area, and so decided to try lots of long-range shots and hope for the best.

Middlesbrough manager Gareth Southgate and his Fulham counterpart Roy Hodgson both spoke afterwards of their players being tired after flying around the world on international duty. There will be a couple of extra flights thrown into the schedule if the Premier League plans go ahead, and perhaps more tales of tiredness if the overseas games fail to live up to the hype.

But if the plan did go ahead, it would at least give Fulham an extra chance to win an away match.


2 Responses to New York, Bangkok, Dubai, Middlesbrough

  1. Chicago says:

    Oh football, and they say sportsmanship is dead

  2. […] I wrote on Saturday that the Premier League risked being at the mercy of mischievous fans if they went ahead with plans to play a round of fixtures overseas, then put the venues of those games to a public vote. (A potential problem I shall refer to from now on as ‘the Spice Girls conundrum‘.) […]

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