Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Cardiff in the UEFA Cup? Perish the thought!

Cardiff City, of course, is headed to new Wembley for a semi-final in the craziest FA Cup this side of 1980. They'll be playing Barnsley, the giant-killers (great example in that link of an American journalist having to write for an unfamiliar audience, by the way). Fortunately, Cardiff are not giants, so the Bluebirds have a reasonable chance of advancing to the final, a game in which a win earns the victors a trip to Europe's second-most-important pan-national club tournament.

That is, of course, unless that winning team is Cardiff.

As background, I should mention that from a soccer standpoint, Wales is as independent of England as is Brazil, with it's own National Team, (such as it is), own governing body (such as it is -- which isn't much), and even its own top-level league (such as it is -- which isn't much -- at all -- no, seriously -- it's crap -- no offense -- and don't even get me started on the FAW Premier Cup). Cardiff, along with a few other clubs, play in the English system because, historically, the FA of Wales was even more crap than it is now. However, the Bluebirds still played in the Welsh Cup, run by the FAW along the same lines as England's FA Cup. Cardiff often won this cup, and with it the right to play in European competitions that eventually merged into and/or evolved into and/or were replaced by the UEFA Cup. Cardiff was in many ways very lucky to be able to do this, but the spots were Wales's to give, and they gave them to any team based in Wales that won the Welsh Cup.

Eventually, however, the FAW began to notice that the rest of Europe was (a) annoyed that England's smaller neighbors had an anachronistically large influence on the rules of soccer, and (b) noticing how truly crap the FAW was. Therefore, to ensure their survival and that of the national team (both laudable ends, particularly the latter), the FAW tried to appear to be aiming for Scottish levels of non-crap. To that end, they set up the League of Wales (meh -- whatever, but the potentially ultra-prestigious Champions League is based on doing well in League play, and they wanted to enter somebody), but they declared that only teams competing in a Welsh league would be allowed to play in the Welsh Cup, with the prize of a UEFA Cup berth. Of course, for the FAW, the result was excluding their three best clubs and three more that could arguably be the next three best clubs (i.e. Newport County, Colwyn Bay, and Merthyr Tydfil), and the lack of any positive Welsh results in European club tournaments speaks volumes. The FAW are crap.

As has already been mentioned once or twice, the FAW are a bit crap, and the League of Wales is also quite a bit crap (and of course I mean strictly from a competitive standpoint; far be it from me to impugn someone for supporting their local club, but still, it's really crap). Because of this, Cardiff and the rest told the FAW what they could do with their League, knowing full well that the alternative was a competitive ghetto of trans-Glaswegian proportions. In return, they gave up the possibility of any European tournaments, as the English FA was content to allow the clubs to remain in the English pyramid, but loathe to give up any lucrative European spots to "foreign" clubs.

Of course, it has been decades since a Welsh club was in England's top flight, and even longer since any were challenging for European slots through either the league or the FA Cup or League Cup. Therefore, the Exiles major gripe has been with the FAW, and not the English FA. On the Welsh side, the FAW have realized how badly they've dropped the ball, leaking cockamamie schemes to help the Welsh big three back into Europe without having to backpedal and restart the pissing match that got them into this mess in the first place. As to the English side, only Cardiff's recent surprising success in the FA Cup has been able to get people talking, and as the only club to take the FA Cup outside of England, you'd think the FA might have a bit of love for one of its stepchildren (or is that step-dragons?).

Still, the Bluebirds do have at least one potential white knight, and of course, there is a (very) long way to go to keep this from becoming a (very) moot point for at least another year. And ultimately, the Exiles' best chance of European play is to figure out some way to help the FAW, which is crap, after all, figure out a way to extricate its foot from its mouth so it can enter its best clubs into European competition, an area where it is a uniquely deficient governing body.

To close, I will simply say, "GOOO BLOOOOBIRDS!"

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