When growing up there were 3 European football competitions; The European Cup, The Cup Winner Cup and The UEFA Cup and ALL European competition was exciting. Then came the Champions League and the extension the premier European competition to more clubs from the top leagues to provide them with the European mini league they wanted…but what to do with the UEFA Cup and Cup Winners Cup? UEFA’s solution was the Europa League.
All over Europe, European Football remains exciting for clubs and fans alike. Well, all except England. The English strive to get as high up the league as possible, desperate for the recognition this brings and then when a team gets there and for some fans they get the glamour of European football for the first time in a generation, the English media tell them how unlucky they are and treat the tournament as a booby prize. That attitude may well bite the English on the bum with Italy closing in on UEFA rankings and the English in danger of losing a Champions League spot.
That negative attitude to the Europa League concerns UEFA. They want the tournament to retain the prestige the UEFA & CUP Winners Cups had. Last season they held a conference to discuss how to enhance the tournament. One answer has seen a better split of TV monies for this season. Also at that conference they showed some of the negative comments from managers and media – it was all from England.
The tournament DOES suffer from a “second rate Champions League” tag. Having so many CL drop-outs come in twice (like us in the summer & 3rd place CL teams in Feb) is part of the reason. Also holding it on a Thursday night. After the premier European tournament happening Tuesday and Wednesday night, the third night of European football is always going to be one too many for large numbers. If however, the UK is the worst media for running the tournament down then there is one area where UEFA really doesn’t help itself – Kick Offs.
I understand why UEFA have the 6pm & 8pm kick offs. With so many teams and one night allocated for the tournament it allows for TV to maximise it’s coverage and therefore maximise the tv pot. The two staggered times suit MOST of Europe (7pm and 9pm). The 9pm kick off is on the cusp of being too late for some and certainly is for Russia. They therefore have dispensation to NOT have games kicking off at midnight. But there is no such dispensation for UK, Iceland or Portugal.
UK rush hour tends to be between 4pm and 7pm. Apart from a couple of teachers, EVERYONE I know have a workday that ends at 5:30pm. Finishing at that time makes it impossible to attend a 6pm kick off. Even if you work in the east side of the city centre, just two miles from Celtic Park and you rush out of the door at bang on 5:30pm, getting to Celtic Park in time for kick off would be a minor miracle.
I understand the challenges UEFA have in its second tournament having a stature close to the Champions League. The media play a great role in diminishing that stature on these shores, but in having a kick off time here which makes it impossible for thousands of paying fans to attend a game UEFA really don’t help themselves.