Thursday, 16 September 2010

European Football Special: Podcast Episode 1

Ever seen the film The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen? Or more recently The Expendables? They're the stories of what happens when you bring many talented people together - basically lots of explosions. But it's also highly enjoyable stuff.

Well, the European Football Special is a new podcast whose philosophy is much the same. It's a monthly, hour-long trawl through all things European football.

I'll be yapping away about Russian football as usual. Alongside me is Bundesliga Wunderkind Terry Duffelen, Italian football aficionado Chris Nee, French football expert extraordinaire Chris Oakley and El NiƱo Jonathan Fadugba talking about La Liga.

It's all hosted by the superb Graham Sibley and, though I'm biased, it's an hour of your time well spent.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Russian winter season: Luch-Energiya fans speak out

Following the announcement on Monday that Russia's three professional football leagues would be changing to a winter season from 2012, fans of Luch-Energiya Vladivostok have written to President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin desperately asking them to intervene and overrule the decision.

The letter sums up most Russian fans' attitude to the proposal to change Russia's footballing calendar better than I ever could - so I've translated and published the letter below:

"At the meeting of the RFU there has been – and we do not fear to use this word – a monstrous event: the murder of Russian football. Yes, murder no less, and the murderer is none other than the President of the RFU, who is well known to you, Mr. Fursenko. The decision to change the format of the country’s championship over to a “autumn-spring” format is the act in question.

As you know, in this period the Siberian and Far Eastern regions suffer low temperatures and regular snowfall. Naturally, playing football in such conditions is impossible – and not just playing, but watching it in stadiums. This will obviously contribute to the draining of fans away from the game, and the decreasing in popularity of the country’s number one sport. At the moment not one of Russia’s clubs has the infrastructure which allows football to be played in this period, especially not the clubs from the lower divisions who eke out a meagre existence.

It seems that Fursenko has absolutely no interest in how football academies will function, nor that the numbers of fans will decrease in droves. And, by the same token, small clubs won’t receive any support from regional governments, since there is little point in spending money if people don’t go [to the stadiums]. Not one regional government budget can include the construction of a covered sports complex capable of holding 20-40,000 people, nor is the federal budget flexible enough, given that such things cost around $500 million.

Dmitry Anatolevich, Vladimir Vladimirovich! [Here the fans are using Medvedev and Putin's first name and patronymic, a polite form of address in Russia - J.A.] We beg you to intervene in this situation. We understand perfectly well that FIFA is opposed to the intervention of government organs in the work of national football federations, but this is an extreme case, we could lose our football! Please answer the national call and help to save football in Russia!"

A collection of Russian goings-on

It's been a bit quiet on The Cynical Challenge for a few weeks, but there has been plenty going on, particularly in the world of Russian football. I can't possibly tie all the threads together into a single seamless article, so instead let me direct you to a few choice items which should bring you bang up to date.

The Russian national team suffered a shock defeat in their first home Euro 2012 calendar, losing 1-0 to Slovakia at Cherkizovo. The team's struggles to break down the Slovak defence were all the more poignant given a debate which is troubling Russian football fans over whether to grant Brazilian-born Spartak striker Welliton a call-up to the national side. If poor results continue Dick Advocaat may be giving him the call soon.

The Russian league has been rocked by a match-fixing scandal which continues to run and run. A government task-force is looking into cases involving matches between Amkar and Rostov, and Volga and SKA-Energiya, in which evidence provided by bookmakers suggests foul play. Depressingly, most regular watchers of Russian football aren't even surprised.

Russia has also finally unveiled plans to switch to an autumn-spring season calendar from 2012. It's largely a gesture aimed at the country's biggest clubs, helping them to improve their record in European competition. But it does come at the expense of the vast majority of smaller teams who now have to come up with a way of hosting matches in Russia's frosty mid-winter.

And, with that story in mind, in a glorious piece of timing Rubin Kazan lost their opening Champions League group match away to FC Copenhagen this week. Read my profile of the team and have a laugh at my wildly optimistic prediction.