Chris O (follow on Twitter: @COakleyFtbl)
Thu 10 August 2006

Not long to go now...

If you've been waiting patiently for the new Premiership season to start, you'll be relieved to know that the wait is almost over. By way of a tempting entrée before the main course arrives, this Sunday provides us with the Charity Shield match. Sorry - the 'FA Community Shield' match. 'In Partnership with McDonalds'.

Yes, there's only one day of the year when you're allowed to use the phrase 'traditional curtain raiser' and this Sunday is it. The ceremonial coming together of the Premiership champions and the FA Cup winners is almost upon us, but what's it all about and how much do we really value it?

Well it all began back in 1908 as a kind of challenge match between a professional side and an amateur one. They originally played for the Sheriff of London Charity Shield, but the extra bit was dropped for the first game between Manchester United and Queen's Park Rangers and it thereafter became known as the Sheriff of London.

The event took on a rather freeform approach in the early years and was generally played at the end of the season, either at a neutral venue or at the ground of one of the competing teams. It was an approach that allowed for some flexibility, too, as in 1950 the Charity Shield match featured the England World Cup team played a touring team from Canada, England winning 4-2 on the day.

Then in 1959 it was decided to play the match at the start of the season, coinciding as it did with the emergence of some of the great teams of the era. Teams like Manchester United, Wolves, Bolton and Burnley had their time in the spotlight, as did Tottenham Hotspur who won the double in 1961. They ended up playing an FA XI that year, and beat them 3-2.

The 1960's saw the trend for high-scoring games continue, the highlight being Manchester City's 6-1 defeat of West Bromwich Albion in 1968. But in the 1970's, things started to get a bit serious. Whereas the previous decade saw an average of 4.4 goals scored per game, suddenly it became just 2, and that was largely thanks to Nottingham Forest's 5-0 beating of Ipswich Town in 1978.

The Charity Shield started losing its sense of significance and players lost their commitment and even their composure. In 1974, Leeds United played Liverpool in a stormy affair that saw Kevin Keegan and Billy Bremner sent off for violent conduct. Both players removed their shirts as a gesture of disgust as they left the field and the FA soon after punished them for their part in the affair, handing out a £500 fine and an 11-game ban each.

After the Merseyside domination of the event during the 1980's, the 1990's saw the return of the high-scoring spectacle with Eric Cantona scoring three of Leeds' four goals in a 4-3 win over Liverpool in 1992 and Manchester United beating Newcastle 4-0 in 1996. Even United themselves found themselves on the end of a 3-0 defeat to Arsenal in 1998, but as we entered the 21st century things returned to a more sedentary pace.

The big four - Arsenal, Man United, Chelsea and Liverpool - have appeared in one permutation or another in every final since 1997 and naturally they're close fought affairs. You'll be lucky to even get a penalty shoot-out from it these days, which leads us to think in these fixture-congested times 'is it really worthwhile'?

OK, so admittedly it's only one game per year involving two teams, so dropping it from the footballing calendar won't help matters much, but wouldn't we football fans rather get straight on with the new Premier League one week earlier instead? With clubs getting involved in the early rounds of the Champions League and the UEFA Cup during August these days, it's not as if we're short of some pre-season footy action, so is their a place for the Community Shield in the modern era?

My solution is a simple one. Remove it along with the Football League Cup and any other competition that's lost its purpose, and leave us with some Football matches that really mean something.

The Community Shield was alright once upon a time, but even silverware can lose its lustre. Let's be brave and draw a line under these historical anachronisms so we can look forward to a better game in the future that's better supported.

Got an opinion or any Community Shield memories? Then why not leave us a comment...!

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