Remember how summer used to be? It started as soon as the Scottish Cup final was over and TV wrapped up its coverage with the producer free to try something artful: maybe a slow, stately camera-pan up the Hampden slopes… the steps strewn with Sylvias and Debbies and other beer-can models... up, up, up to the cloudless sky where a seagull was attempting to fly off with half a pie. And summer wouldn’t end until the League Cup sections kicked off the new season a full two months later.
Summer may not have been very hot. It may have featured, as a small-screen consolation for there being no football, Seaside Special hosted by “Diddy” David Hamilton and featuring Mike & Bernie Winters and “Two-Ton” Tessie O’Shea. But the point was it was long, a proper break, a decent amount of time in which to demonstrate you weren’t some kind of slavering monomaniac, unable to engage with the world unless through football. It also afforded a decent amount of time in which to miss football, to get excited about its return. To study the pools guide in your newspaper, containing only Australian fixtures, and reassure yourself: “Not long now.” To see the Aussie matches bumped down the list by Glentoran vs Dundee or Forres Mechanics vs Hearts and murmur: “Soon, soon.” And finally to sit on the terraces in shirt-sleeves to welcome back your faithful friend – Torremolinos tans, shiny new boots, same old glorious grudgefulness.
So what is summer now? It’s those 13 days between the conclusion of Euro 2016 and Celtic vs Leicester City, the opening match in the International Champions Cup. The what?
This is the trainset of Charlie Stillitano, the American who wants to rule over all football, and bear in mind that the US doesn’t have a rail network worth the name. He runs Relevent Sports who organise this summer tourney and bear in mind that relevant is spelled with an a. The ICC is meaningless: superstars strolling around in far-flung locations, maximum glamour in minimal-contact training matches. Last year Paris Saint-Germain topped the North America and Europe group. Who knew?
This will be Celtic’s debut although the competition, if competition it provides, has only been in existence since 2013. Why are they getting involved? To boost the club’s global profile, they say. Maybe, though, sheer panic comes into this. They don’t want to miss the circus – any circus that’s going. But as Charlie giveth with one hand, dishing out the lucrative invites to his summer frivolousness, he threatens to taketh away with the other.
The guy means business. Stillitano it was who wined and dined England’s elite recently to discuss making the Champions League a closed shop. This was going to be extremely bad news for Scottish title-winners and the proposed changes to the tournament which emerged last week didn’t make for any happier reading.
Two groups of eight teams would replace the current eight groups of four. The number of hoops which the Hoops or whoever would have to negotiate to reach the money-spinning juncture would increase to ten qualifying matches. Smaller nations to ours would find it much more difficult to impress security on the door. Meanwhile, those already inside would be guaranteed a minimum of 14 games. Nice for them, virtual oblivion for the rest.
Celtic would obviously oppose moves to “fix” the Champions League for the top clubs but they clearly find it impossible to resist Stillitano’s event which he must hope will rival and usurp the established competition one day. It has big prize money – £1 million-plus per match – and next to no credibility. But I suppose that doesn’t really matter. It has big prize money. End of.
Celtic need more money to buy better players to gatecrash the Champions League and especially if security is going to be tightened. But in order to secure that cash they must play in the ICC right up to and beyond the start of the Scottish domestic season.
I know they’ve ignored the fixture list before so they can swan off for glamorous friendlies in London or wherever but have never understood why this has been allowed to happen, and why it hasn’t prompted any complaint. Celtic can be accused of a certain arrogance while impotence is the problem for the SPFL.
The “improvements” to the Champions League obviously deserve close scrutiny because the current bloated event is going to destroy what some still call the European Cup, a brilliant competition in its early years. But don’t what would essentially be two mini-leagues hint at a different kind of tedium, one Scots know about only too well? Eight-team groups don’t sound too far removed from the original ten-club Scottish Premier League. If Celtic really want to kill the proposed re-vamp they should think about sending Uefa a compilation DVD of what Partick Thistle vs Kilmarnock on-repeat looks like.
We, the fans, don’t need more football, extra tournaments, activity all year round – we need less. The legend of Johan Cruyff burned quite splendidly on few games and even available fewer clips of his genius. I love the inheritors of Cruyff’s crown as much as the next man but don’t need to see any more of Lionel Messi than Spain’s El Clasico and the business end of the Champions League provide and I certainly don’t need to see him in the International Champions Cup.
If I have to watch a summer tournament I’d rather it was a revival of the Drybrough Cup. Or the Skol Festival Trophy, another 1970s entertainment where an overweight Manchester City and Coventry City in a grim brown strip descended on Edinburgh. In fact, I’d rather watch the annual five-a-side tournament in Musselburgh than the blinking ICC.
Mention of Mike & Bernie Winters reminds me of the night those brothers bombed in Glasgow. The first Winters had stuck his head through the theatre curtain to tell some rubbish jokes. When the second – the really unfunny one – revealed himself, the despairing cry rang out: “Christ, there’s two of them!”
The International Champions Cup would love to be regarded as a brother to the Champions League but the pair don’t want to end up the Mike & Bernie Winters of football, inducing nothing but groans.