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The Midweek Moan: When it comes to football fans, Americans get the better deal

New England Patriots' Tom Brady directs his team-mates during the International Series match victory over St Louis Rams at Wembley Stadium. Photo credit: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire New England Patriots' Tom Brady directs his team-mates during the International Series match victory over St Louis Rams at Wembley Stadium. Photo credit: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

Wednesday, November 7, 2012
3:31 PM

Welcome to the first of a new weekly London24 column taking a frustrated look at the world of sport and having a good old-fashioned rant to get it off our chests

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"If I were paying the premium to watch Arsenal, for example – whose tickets were last month revealed to be the most expensive in the land – then I’d want answers. Answers as to why, during a match, things went wrong, right and everything in between"

James Cunliffe on access to football players

We like to think that we share many similarities with our friends from across the pond but it’s not always the case.

Take sport, for example, as both of us have football as our national games. Ours is a game played predominantly with the feet, involving a traditionally spherical ball.

But to an American, that’s called soccer and it barely raises the pulse stateside, despite what we might be told over here about David Beckham and the MLS.

Nope, cross the Atlantic football is a game played on a gridiron (pitch), by burly men in helmets, shoulder pads and body armour. They throw a prolate spheriod (egg-shaped ball) to each other - similar to rugby - tackle each other to the ground - like in rugby – can score all across the end of the pitch – like in rugby – and only very occasionally kick at some goal posts, which resemble those used in rugby. It is very far from a ball game using the feet.

I’m afraid there’s no comparison with our so-called “beautiful game”. We invented it – despite what FIFA boss Sepp Blatter says – we shipped it around the world and then marketed it, packaged it and made it into big business.

That, however, is definitely something the good old US of A does very well indeed. And if you think our game is all about mega money, then permit me to adopt an Americanism, because you ain’t seen nothing yet.

In the US, the National Football League’s new nine-year TV deal is worth $27billion (£16,904,700). The Premier League have also struck a new deal which will make the English top flight the richest football (soccer) league in the world – but at £3.01billion for three years it’s a package is dwarfed by that of the NFL.

Now I’m not one of those who will bleat on about sky-high salaries for our footballers. The fact is it is about supply and demand. If we weren’t all so obsessed about the game, they wouldn’t earn as much. Don’t like it? Don’t go to games, don’t buy the shirt, don’t get involved at all.

I am, however, one for pointing out one crucial difference between us and the Americans that indirectly affects you, the football fan – and that is access to your heroes.

It’s not cheap to follow an English football club, certainly not a Premier League one and I’m fortunate that I can to watch some top level football as part of my job. But if I were paying the premium to watch Arsenal, for example – whose tickets were last month revealed to be the most expensive in the land – then I’d want answers. Answers as to why, during a match, things went wrong, right and everything in between.

That is where we journalists try to be of service and so the final whistle is when all the fun begins.

Up and down the land, there are armies of people employed to ensure we don’t ask a player why he didn’t seem interested, got sent off, didn’t celebrate his goal or wants to leave the club, plus a myriad of other queries.

If you somehow master the magic handshake that lets a select few stand beside a team bus or smelly changing room, then you run the gauntlet of some footballers speeding past you at a pace they failed to exhibit during the game. Even better still, there’s the old classic of them pretending to talk on their phones as you try to attract their attention.

I don’t expect sympathy. It comes with the territory, but from a fan’s point of view it is almost contemptible.

For the amount of money some of you spend on your clubs I’d advocate that these pampered, well-paid men should be forced to talk to supporters after games, never mind us hacks.

This is where America has it right and it was highlighted last week when the NFL rolled into London for their annual International Series match at Wembley.

Let’s forget for a moment that this fixture is essentially the now muted Premier League proposal of the ‘39th game’ put into practice, where loyal US home supporters are ignored for one game a season in order to take the product to a foreign land.

There are however regular benefits for NFL fans as the games come as value-for-money entertainment packages with a pre-game show, fireworks, cheerleaders and a three-hour spectacle for a contest that lasts an hour.

It’s a pleasant distraction but I’m perfectly happy that our simple but thrilling game is the main focus.

But where the USA excels is post-game. Not only were my colleagues and I free to speak to any player we wished from either the St Louis Rams or New England Patriots, we were allowed into the dressing rooms to do it, quizzing them while they buttoned up their shirts and pulled on their socks. Apparently it’s standard practice in American sports, though you could tell the English chaps, down there in the bowels of Wembley, half expected to be hauled out of there at any second. It didn’t happen and so we had free rein.

Did the players complain? No. They stood there patiently and graciously for up to 20 minutes at a time as questions were fired at them from all angles.

The answers of which were then, no doubt, used to inform the fans. This in turn would bring supporters closer to their chosen club and help build the relationship and the product.

Let’s just call it customer service – another concept that American big business does distinctly better than their British counterparts. And in that area, I’m afraid, football has a lot to learn from our friends from across the pond.

What’s the point of additional referees?

I’m pondering a career change. All I want is something where I get to travel Europe, get front row seats to Champions League games, work extremely short hours and have as little responsibility or accountability as possible.

And after last night’s action I think being an additional assistant referee for UEFA might just fit the bill.

Clearly they’re just an extravagant and inefficient luxury because what did they do when Mario Ballotelli was hauled down in the penalty area yards from their eyes in the 2-2 draw at Ajax? Absolutely zilch.

That’s money for nothing and who wouldn’t want a piece of that?

Mr Platini, you’ll have my application by Monday.

Bad choice Dougie

I know a league campaign is a marathon, not a sprint, so time will tell, but I wonder if Dougie Freedman is wondering whether leaving Crystal Palace was the right move?

The Eagles, under new boss Ian Holloway, thrashed Ipswich 5-0 last night to storm to the top of the Championship, a full 11 points clear of the Scot’s new club Bolton in 17th position.

I bet his replacement can’t believe his luck.

Want to have a good old moan yourself? Tweet @London24Sport using #MidweekMoan

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