London Hearts Supporters Club

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12 of 019 Marvin Anthony Andrews og 84 L SPL A

Cup remains half full for Capital clubs


THE UEFA Cup has always played a secondary role in the shadow of the Champions League. It is Big Brother’s Little Brother, or Pop Idol Extra: a fine show but one which nevertheless takes place to the side of the main event.

The soaring appeal of the Champions League since its adopted group format in 1991 has in many ways served to further devalue UEFA’s second tournament, and you will recall the disbanding of the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1999, another victim of the transformation of the old European Cup.

Many have recently put forward arguments that the UEFA Cup is being additionally depreciated by the appearance of certain clubs in the latter stages who do not, shall we say, prompt much salivating on the part of neutral observers and, more to the point for UEFA, potential sponsors of the competition. Think CSKA Moscow and AZ Alkmaar, who took their place in the semi-finals last week, the Russians seeing off Parma to set up a final meeting in Lisbon with Alkmaar’s conquerors, Sporting Lisbon.

This theory carries the status of being seriously unproven. More pertinently for frequenters of Easter Road, its proposition will be of no consequence to Hibs next season should they attain European qualification. In fact, Tony Mowbray can expect to derive a portion of serious inspiration for his European pre-match team-talks from the advances of Alkmaar. The point being: If a relatively minor club can infiltrate the elite of the competition, why can’t Hibs?

And ponder the situation across the city at Hearts. Their failure to secure third place in the SPL for the third consecutive season has left them on the outside looking in at a tournament which brought in excess of £1 million into the Tynecastle coffers this season, and which allowed them tantalisingly close to a place in the last 32 due to its own revamped group stage. The UEFA Cup is anything but a devalued trophy in Edinburgh.

In his statement on Hearts’ interim financial results posted in January, chief executive Phil Anderton commented: "Turnover has increased by £1.1 million compared to the same period last year and this is largely attributed to the increased revenue from the UEFA Cup group stages, which highlights the value of UEFA qualification and competition progression.

"Unfortunately, we were only able to generate television revenue from one home match against Schalke 04. Murrayfield as a venue for UEFA Cup matches drew average crowds of 25,000 and the excellent commercial facilities were well used."

Those who support the premise that the UEFA Cup has lost some of its appeal will consider that their argument has particular relevance in view of Hampden Park having recently won the right to host the competition’s final in 2007.

"This is great news for Scottish football and the planning starts now to make it an outstanding success," beamed SFA chief executive David Taylor upon confirmation of the announcement. "The Champions League final at Hampden in 2002 was a marvellous event and UEFA were enormously impressed."

They may have been, but those in power at the national stadium should not be lulled into believing a replica of Real Madrid’s showpiece 2-1 victory over Bayer Leverkusen, which was clinched with one of the best goals ever to grace the hallowed turf from Zinedine Zidane, is on the horizon. Especially if teams of equivalent standing to Russia’s CSKA or Alkmaar of Holland are involved, for they would harbour little allure even for a Scottish public always willing to embrace football teams of greater ability to the domestic ones they cheer each weekend.

If we study the Dutch club as an example, though, unearthed are comparisons more than able to act as stimulus for Hibs next season. The side managed by Co Adriaanse play out of the town’s tiny Alkmaarderhout Stadion, which has a capacity almost half that of Easter Road at just 8390. They appear to have defied all logic as Holland’s surprise side this season with a refreshing attacking style, much like Hibs since Mowbray arrived, and currently sit third in the Eredivisie, splitting the traditionally all-conquering triumvirate of PSV Eindhoven, Ajax and Feyenoord.

CSKA carry more of a European pedigree - as Rangers discovered to their cost in this season’s Champions League qualifiers - but domestically they are more hot and cold than a faulty electric shower. Their own CSKA Stadium also has a very modest capacity, only 10,500, and as such is deemed not worthy of hosting glamour European occasions. Instead, the Central Army Sports Club [CSKA] entertain foreign sides by hiring the home of their bitter city rivals, Lokomotiv, for the evening. Pointing out aspects of these clubs that put them on a comparable level with Hibs in no way detracts from either’s right to have progressed so far in the competition, and therein lies the encouragement for all at Easter Road. Alkmaar and CSKA have entertained commendably in storming their way through the rounds, the Dutch club also having beaten Rangers this season as well as Auxerre and Spanish side Villarreal.

The Russians, who parachuted into the UEFA Cup after exiting the Champions League after the group stage, have eliminated the likes of Benfica, Partizan Belgrade and Parma , so the UEFA Cup is not worthy of ailing status just yet.

Hearts, for one, would welcome any idealistic lifeline from Europe’s footballing governors that might permit them more of the spine-tingling nights they experienced last autumn in the tournament’s group stages against Feyenoord, Schalke, Basel and Ferencvaros.

Manager John Robertson said: "I look forward to the big challenges. It was difficult to focus in a way early on this season as we had one big game after another. We were involved in the UEFA Cup, the CIS Cup, we had a tough Christmas and New Year schedule, then there was the Scottish Cup and CIS semi-final. There has been a lot going on. I remember talking to Craig Levein earlier on and he said he was blown away by the enormity of the task at Hearts, and playing in Europe is very much a part of that. It isn’t just a case of turning up to do some coaching and then go home, there are so many more things to do due to the sheer size of the club."

So it is fair to assume that missing out on a relative pot of gold from the UEFA Cup will not sit comfortably with a club who have as lofty ambitions as Hearts, regardless of whether the tournament holds the distinction it enjoyed in past years.

And it is worth mentioning that in the last two decades the occasional appearance of a relative lightweight in European terms in the final has not been uncommon.

Dundee United’s final with Swedish club Gothenburg in 1987 is a prime example, as is the appearance of Hungary’s Videoton in the 1985 final against Real Madrid, Salzburg from Austria in 1994 against Inter Milan, and Spain’s Deportivo Alaves against Liverpool in 2001.

Clearly, the opportunity to get your hands on the trophy with no handles still holds serious lucre on the Continent.


WINNING the UEFA Cup will guarantee the victors a £10million jackpot, a figure which incorporates prize money, TV revenue and extra gate income.

For most clubs, however, and this would have to realistically include Hibs, winning the trophy is an unlikely outcome, which is evidenced by the fact that English sides Middlesbrough and Newcastle fell at the last 16 and quarter-final stages respectively this season.

Reaching those stages brings in a combined total of a few million pounds, which for club directors must be balanced against the fundamental costs of simply playing European matches.

It is not uncommon for the form of teams to suffer domestically due to the extra burden of midweek UEFA Cup football, particularly in the games immediately after rounds of European competition.

A case in point would appear to lie in the form of Ipswich Town, the former club of Easter Road manager Tony Mowbray.

The Suffolk side punched above their weight throughout season 2000-01 to qualify for the following season’s UEFA Cup.

As their European exertions took their toll in 2001-02, despite beating Inter Milan at Portman Road, they were relegated from the Premiership and are still battling to return.

There lies an ominous warning to Mowbray and Hibs about the consequences of multiple tasks to focus on.

Taken from the Scotsman

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