Danny Peacock March 19, 2021

You might notice I’ve been quiet on here in recent months. Not really having my say on much that goes off, simply because I can’t be bothered. Football since March 2020 has not been the same, but we all still expect the same results, despite professional players playing more now in a shorter space of time than they have ever been asked before. It doesn’t add up… A global pandemic that forces ‘Joe Public’ to stay at home to save lives whilst footballers ‘elite’ of course… Have to play more games in fewer days, simply to entertain us in our living rooms… Then we have the audacity to ‘kick off’ and ‘complain’ when our teams don’t win or perform well enough…

I still love football, I love top flight ‘elite level’ football, I love lower league and non-league football, I love grassroots football and I love football across all walks for different reasons, but I don’t love football during covid times, I understand the ‘entertainment’ aspect, the show must go on and all that… But I don’t get why it couldn’t have been streamlined, less games, less importance, the levels of performance currently for me have dropped significantly because there’s too much bloody football… It’s not healthy…. Especially during a pandemic.

I support Nottingham Forest but this year couldn’t give a crap about any game they play in. It means nothing… I support them for selfish reasons, because it’s my team, the one which I can go watch, the one which I want to see play at Wembley, in cup finals, reach the Premier League, but if I can’t go, all that means nothing… I support them, want them to do well, but then I don’t…. Imagine playing their first ever game under the arch at the new Wembley Stadium without me in attendance? Imagine reaching the Premier League, hosting the likes of Manchester United and Liverpool for the first time in twenty years and I can’t go? Fuck that!!!! I want to be there!!!!

In fact the only reason I’ve watched football this year is because I have a) a fantasy football team and b) the odd bet that makes it interesting… Otherwise… I don’t give a damn…

I don’t care who wins what, but seeing Rangers win a first league title in ten years, watching fans line the streets (even though they weren’t supposed to) was pretty special… To me football is ‘about’ the fans… The reason we do this… The reason people play… To make others happy in doing something they are good at… Rangers ‘deserve’ to have fans watch them and celebrate with them after 10 hard and depressing years of Celtic dominance.

I find it hard to watch, cup finals and important games that have nobody in attendance, it’s not the same, but that’s not to say we’ve not had some good games of football this season… I just can’t remember them…

I don’t care about the Premier League, City can have it, the FA Cup has lost its glamour… The Champions League is same old same old… Lower league football has died of death, I no longer know who’s top of what… The scouting has gone down the pan… My network isn’t what it used to be as none of my sources can get to games… It’s really been hard watching, knowing that whoever wins titles will still create history, but it’s the occasion, that people speak of, being part of something, that makes it all special… The White Horse Final… Real Madrid at Hampden… The 66 World Cup… the stories I hear of Forest playing in Madrid and Munich, Barton bus loads of travelling red dogs… 2020 and 2021 has none of these stories… Society doesn’t allow it…

But I sat back on the sofa last night and reminisced about better times… I don’t know what it is about Thursday nights.. I get a bit of time to myself and end up having the TV remote too… I’m a big lover of all things football, but my biggest love is the elite levels of each country on earth…. Something special about being best in your country, then taking on the best in another country, to see who’s better… I’ve always loved that… Perhaps it’s the patriotism in me?

I get the Champions League is still the ‘B all and end all’ when it comes to finding out who the best teams in Europe (and the planet) are… But unless you’re English, German, Spanish, maybe Italian or French… It doesn’t really matter… The best leagues have the best clubs which have the best players.. So until that changes.. The UCL will always be dominated by those ‘few’ elite billionaire businesses involved…

The Europa League however…. Well that is not like that!

I remember playing a video game on my commodore 64 in the early 1990’s called Manchester United in Europe… Based on their Cup Winners Cup exploits in Rotterdam against Barcelona.

Because of that, I remember teams like Ferencvaros, Admira Wacker, Standard Liege, Viking Stavanger and Neuchatel Xamax…

In fact I was in Sicily for my honeymoon a couple of years back and met a Swiss couple who’s fella  got talking to me because he noticed I was reading Peter Crouch’s autobiography.. He was from Luzern and was astounded by the fact I knew that they won the Swiss league title in the 1980’s… Playing Manchester United in Europe did that!

It’s amazing what you can learn off video games…

So last night, I sat down as I sometimes do on a Thursday night, for a touch of nostalgia… Europa League football always does this to me… Many of my friends are ‘above it’ often arrogant about their ignorance of the competition… ‘It’s where crap clubs in England go if they don’t make the Champions League’… It’s never been that for me… It has always been about ‘the proper’ European football teams, the names you remember as a kid, the best in Bulgaria, the best in Ukraine, against teams we consider as pretty good in the UK too…. Household names in Italy and Spain, none of the showbiz that goes with Real Madrid, Barcelona, PSG, Bayern Munich, Juventus and UCL soccer… Just blood and guts, earthy football, teams that fancy their chances, teams playing the right way with some of their countries finest stars on show…

Last night Joes Mourinho’s Tottenham Hotspur, bookies favourites to win the competition on these shores, Harry Kane up top and French World Cup winning goalkeeper Hugo Lloris in net, 2-0 up from the first leg, went to Zagreb and got outplayed, smashed 3-0 by Dinamo, a stunning hat-trick by one of the hottest strikers in Croatia (who nobody has heard of), a performance by the best team in Croatia (that no millennial has heard of), that suggests the small country of just 4m might even again go one step further than England in the next major international tournament.

Greek champions Olympiacos beat Arsenal 1-0 last night, they didn’t make it through to the Quarter Finals after the Gunners won the first leg 3-1, but they gave Mikkel Arteta’s side a scare, remember they also knocked them out of the Europa League last year… Two teams very much on a level playing field with like-for-like ability.

Some of you may have read about my liking of Slavia Prague in recent years, watching them play Chelsea a couple of seasons ago they impressed me with their fluidity in attack. The likes of Soucek and Coufal have since moved to the Premier League but Slavia are still an entertaining team, with a few Czech Internationals that played when they beat England in 2019, Slavia have knocked Leicester City and Rangers out of the Europa League. The white and red halved shirts something that ‘every’ kid needs to see when doing their football scholarship… The best team in Czechia deserve to be known for being a bloody good football team.

Molde beating Granada last night stood out for me. Growing up in the 90’s when Norwegian soccer was very much ‘iconic’ thanks to the likes of Jan Aage Fjortoft and ‘super’ Lars Bohinen… The Premier League ravished by Norwegians in its early days.

Ajax reached the final of this competition in 2017 with its best team in a generation, they beat Young Boys last night, two great names of ‘European’ football… That is exactly what European football should be about.

None greater however than two of the most successful heavyweights on the continent, AC Milan and Manchester united played out a cracker in the San Siro and I for the first time in a long time, enjoyed every minute of a football game played in the right way, between two top teams that perhaps don’t get the credit they deserve.

United won it, Pogba scoring the winner and Pogba playing the best 45 minutes I have seen of him in a United shirt, often in the false nine position or left side of midfield after coming on for the injured Marcus Rashford, he was brilliant, match winning, working tirelessly and impressive in possession.

United’s two centre halves who often get unrewarded stick, brilliant, Maguire and Lindelof for me are one of the most underrated centre half pairings on the continent, United held firm with Dean Henderson solid looking in goal, but what I was most happy to see, was a new crop of AC Milan… i rossoneri currently second in Serie A…. Are they getting back to how they were when back in the day?

I remember ‘the great’ AC Milan team of the 80’s and 90’s like it was yesterday… Rossi, Tassotti, Maldini, Albertini, Costacurta, Baresi, Donadoni, Rijkaard, van Basten, Gullit, Evani perhaps my favourite around 1990… I also remember that great team early 2000’s that still included Maldini and Costacurta, that had Nesta and Cafu, Pirlo, Gattuso, Seedorf in midfield, Shevchenko in attack.. Kaka making play. Phenomenal footballers, phenomenal times…

Now I’m far from saying this Milan team is anything like the two great outfits of the nineties and naughties, but this one is one I like… And I haven’t said that for a few years re Milan…

Donnarumma is a goalkeeper that fills me with confidence, 22 years old, 22 Italian caps, 240 appearances already for Milan… The next Buffon? He held everything last night, for me he is the undisputed best in the world pending… In twenty years time he could set all sorts of records… IF he stays at Milan.

What impressed me so much about this Milan was how quick they were, how hard working they were, how fit they were, I read a tweet that highlighted midfielder Frank Kessie’s engine, him saying something along the lines of “If you think I run far, there are people in my country that walk 20 miles just for water” a response that suggests he’s humble and happy to have the opportunity just to play football for a living. Former Torino star Soualiho Meite next to him in the centre of the park. They would run all day, work back for everything, at times last nights match was like a game of basketball, both teams looking to attack at all opportunity.

I liked Theo Hernandez, a left back who powers forward, I liked the young right back Kalulu who looks to have a big future in the game, both could be household names in the French l’equipe in years to come?

Fikayo Tomori and Simon Kjaer in central defence, Tomori thick set and solid, Kjaer reading the play well, an old fashioned English club pairing, I was surprised not to see the Chelsea loanee in the England squad, Italian football could be the making of him.

Tomori playing reminded me of times when Ray Wilkins and Luther Blissett were donning red and black at the San Siro.. Great to see top English talent playing for one of the worlds greatest football clubs.

In attack, Milan do lack the creativity and quality still, of those top tier teams playing Champions League.. Yes they have a legend in Zlatan, almost 40 now he will need to be soon replaced. Hakan Calhanoglu is a lovely footballer whilst Alexis Saelemaekers looks one bright for Belgium’s future.. Players like Castillejo, Brahim Diaz, Rafael Leao we still need more from.

But seeing a top team playing in Europe, getting their mojo back all be it in slim defeat against a top side from ones own Queens country, with players that in the future, could go on to bigger, better, brighter things, gives you an optimistic view of football and its own future… Things won’t always be like this… In fact football during these times of weirdness will ever-be remembered just like it was during the war… As strange, confusing, and secondary to life itself… But i’m ready now… Football is ready now… Let us get our fans back inside the stadiums and let us all get our mojos back to turn the next page in the games beautiful history.

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