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MARTIN SAMUEL: Ipswich’s fate must serve as a dire warning for Newcastle

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Regroup and bounce back. That’s the plan and it sounds so easy. It’s why so many get taken in. The idea that a club needs to drop down a tier to regain its centre is a fond one, particularly if the manager is unpopular.

Ipswich supporters wanted rid of Mick McCarthy four years ago. When he left and the club sunk to the bottom of the Championship, some even argued it was a price worth paying. Even if they were relegated, they could rebuild in League One for a year. Start playing better football, take an inferior competition by storm. Return with momentum behind them.

That was the 2018-19 season. Now look where they are. Still there. Stranded.

Ipswich players applaud their travelling fans after losing away against Charlton in League One

Ipswich players applaud their travelling fans after losing away against Charlton in League One

Turns out, Ipswich were not so much better than those around them. First year in League One they were sitting 11th when the pandemic intervened. Last season they were ninth and five points short of the play-offs. Currently, they’re 11th again.

Ipswich have new owners, prepared to invest, but the EFL is a competition defined by the poorest and well-supported clubs cannot milk their advantage.

Far from building back better, Ipswich are trapped by bad timing. Since McCarthy left they have burned through three permanent managers and as many caretakers, with Paul Cook the latest to be sacked, on December 4.

Last Tuesday, Ipswich lost 2-0 at Charlton and the mood turned ugly. Interim boss John McGreal sent the players to thank the travelling fans and it almost ended in a fight.

Objects were thrown and a fan was apprehended trying to get to the players on the field.

Newcastle are fighting against relegation this season and won their first game last weekend

Newcastle are fighting against relegation this season and won their first game last weekend

So much for the regroup. And to think there were Newcastle supporters who actually thought it would be good for their club to lose when Steve Bruce was in charge. That would get him sacked and the revival could begin. Yet Newcastle did lose and while those losses eventually cost Bruce his job, it cannot be argued there wasn’t a price to pay.

Eddie Howe has inherited a bitter battle against relegation.

If Newcastle do not survive might they, too, fondly imagine regrouping in the Championship? After all, both relegations in the Mike Ashley era were followed by immediate promotions. With Saudi Arabia behind them, how hard could it be?

The answer: very. The Championship is embracing austerity, too. Stricter financial regulation, ceilings, caps, could be coming — maybe the abolition of parachute payments. Ipswich’s predicament shows there is never a good time to go down. Plus, with football in a state of flux, commonplace misfortune can have severe and unimagined consequences.

Ipswich thought they could step backwards to come forwards. Not when standing on football’s cliff edge, you can’t.

It would be wrong to assume that relegation could be healthy for the club in some ways

It would be wrong to assume that relegation could be healthy for the club in some ways

Origi shows medal rule is mad

Divock Origi has played in 167 games for Liverpool across all competitions.

More than Luis Suarez, Fernando Torres and Javier Mascherano, or John Aldridge, Steve Staunton and Gary Ablett, or Joey Jones and David Fairclough. 

He has scored in four Merseyside derbies, in a Champions League final, against Barcelona, Borussia Dortmund and AC Milan. 

Last week, he contributed the only goal of the game against Wolves. 

Divock Origi's capacity to come on and contribute shows how integral the full squad can be

Divock Origi’s capacity to come on and contribute shows how integral the full squad can be 

Yet, Origi struggles for credibility. Not with his manager, Jurgen Klopp or Liverpool’s fans, who see him as a cult hero. Yet when medals are handed out, Origi is one of those who might have to receive special dispensation. It is a ridiculous practice. 

Any player who has featured at all — or even been named in the 25-man, first-team squad — is entitled to his prize. 

Those who don’t play are vital to maintain morale, keep training competitive and to be ready whenever called upon. That some players still have to be rushed on in the final games of the season to merit a medal is archaic. 

The squad ethic is fundamental to success, yet we seem married to a time when Liverpool could win the title using 14 players, as in 1965-66. They used as many as that at Molineux.

Ralf Rangnick has made Chris Armas, former manager of the New York Red Bulls and Toronto FC, his first signing as Manchester United’s interim manager. 

That’s not one to get hearts racing among the overlords of United’s social media channels. For that reason, it might be just what the place needs. 

Absent Emma winning ‘SPOTY’ would be a reminder of BBC’s humiliating year

Emma Raducanu will not be present, nor will many decorated guests, and Tyson Fury has asked not to be included. Increasingly, the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award is an irrelevance, much like BBC Sport. 

If Raducanu does win, from the broadcasters’ point of view, it will merely be a reminder of the greatest humiliation of the year when an underwhelming, cheap BBC highlights package of her epic US Open win was scrapped when Channel 4 secured the rights from Amazon to show her final triumph live. 

Channel 4 have now partnered with Sky to bring free-to-air coverage of Sunday’s F1 showdown in Abu Dhabi. Yes, competing for exclusive rights to elite sport is beyond the budget of a national broadcaster these days. Yet to lose out on two of the biggest sports stories of 2021 to a direct rival, shows how slow-witted the BBC now are. 

Emma Raducanu's triumph was not shown on the BBC as Channel Four secured rights

Emma Raducanu’s triumph was not shown on the BBC as Channel Four secured rights 

Saudi friends in high places

Let’s get one thing straight. Not only would the Saudi Arabian takeover have gone through under a government regulator for football, it would have been passed a damn sight quicker than the 18 months it took the Premier League to become convinced. 

MPs were appalled by this thought when Tracey Crouch, who headed up the famed fan-led review, sat before them this week, but face facts. We know the back channelling that was going on in the highest political circles. And for all Crouch’s talk of independence, we know from experience that government appointments — and the regulator would be one — do not tend to be mavericks, wildcards or greatly troublesome. 

The Government wants to stay in with our Saudi allies more desperately than anyone and the Saudis have many friends in high places here. Saudi ambassador to the United Kingdom since 2019 is Khalid bin Bandar Al Saud. He was educated at Eton and Oxford, like Boris Johnson, and graduated as a commissioned officer from Sandhurst. 

He is married to Lucy Caroline Cuthbert, daughter of John Aidan Cuthbert, of Beaufront Castle, Hexham, and Lady Victoria Lucy Diana, daughter of Hugh Percy, 10th Duke of Northumberland and niece of Ralph Percy, 12th Duke of Northumberland. So let’s not pretend. 

Tracey Crouch talks about independence but the Government want to stay in with Saudi

Tracey Crouch talks about independence but the Government want to stay in with Saudi 

When golf reconvenes next year it will do so without the extra-length drivers popularised by Bryson DeChambeau. From January 1, the maximum length allowed by the R&A and USGA will be 46 inches. DeChambeau has experimented with 48 inches and Phil Mickelson became the oldest winner of a major with a 47.5 inch model. 

It seems a strange decision, certainly when DeChambeau’s poor results in majors in 2020 — tied 46, tied 38, tied 26, tied 33 — suggests the strategy is no guarantee of success. 

Why not let him try it? Hasn’t DeChambeau’s appliance of science, with erratic returns, not greatly added to the fun of the game? 

With the news that 13 European weightlifters from eight different countries, including 11 medallists, have been charged with doping offences relating to tests prior to the 2012 Games, it is becoming increasingly hard to deny that London may have hosted the dirtiest Olympics of all. It’s fair to say the party’s over. 

Women crowds don’t add up 

The Women’s FA Cup final was attended by 41,000 people, with 1.4 million watching on television. This is no surprise. As a nation, we have become very American in the way we embrace sport. If it’s a big event, or we believe it’s a big event, we go, we buy in, we consume.

The 1994 men’s World Cup in the United States is still the best attended in FIFA’s history, because Americans thought it mattered to be there.

It didn’t mean there was the same huge market for a domestic soccer league, however. Not for many decades, and not in the same numbers, even now.

So to base the appetite for the women’s game on a marquee occasion is as flawed as believing there is a large audience for hockey or rowing, given the viewing figures when Great Britain competes in the Olympics.

People get behind Team GB. That doesn’t mean they’ll be watching Leander race on the Thames any time soon, or turning out for East Grinstead.

English cricket grounds are packed for big Test matches but the county game struggles to survive.

Attendances at Women's Super League games have actually been decreasing

Attendances at Women’s Super League games have actually been decreasing 

Meaning the positives around the Wembley final must be balanced against the 715 who attended Aston Villa at home to Chelsea, or the 502 at Everton’s match with Brighton this season.

Attendances in the Women’s Super League are actually going down. There are familiar complaints about marketing and promotion, but it is not as if the game is without profile these days. Television numbers are healthy but, for all the well-intentioned strategies, what if there simply isn’t the market for live attendance?

It can happen. In 1996, a Labour peer, Lord Hollick, bought the Daily Express. He thought there was a gap in the middle market for a centre-left publication, to counter the Daily Mail.

Turns out there wasn’t.

The left turn alienated quite a few existing Express readers and it transpired Labour voters wouldn’t be seen dead reading a newspaper that was traditionally associated with the Conservatives, no matter its changed politics.

The latest target for women’s football is average gates of 6,000 in the WSL. Yet, while the league was averaging a promising 3,000 in 2019-20, attendances have subsequently been in retreat. Wembley’s gate was encouraging but, sadly, may say more about our love for the big event than the women’s game.

What’s the party line, Julian? 

It is an illustration of the mess Yorkshire have got into that the first job of the new managing director of cricket is to explain to the best man at his wedding how he came to be sacked as batting coach over accusations of racism that happened before he joined the club. 

Paul Grayson was Darren Gough’s best man — and vice versa — and now he is one of 16 Yorkshire coaches dismissed in the fallout from Azeem Rafiq’s allegations of institutionalised racism. Yet these were made before Grayson joined the staff. Unless an investigation has then found evidence of equally disreputable behaviour on his part — and there is no suggestion of this — how can he be cast out as if part of the problem?

Also, it will be interesting to see where DCMS chair Julian Knight stands on culpability for the No 10 Christmas party — given that he fully supported Yorkshire’s indiscriminate clear-out as if all were guilty by association, whether part of the discredited regime or not. Using that logic, there is not a member of the Prime Minister’s office that should still be in the job this morning — those who only joined in the last year, too — including the Prime Minister. What say you Julian?

Paul Grayson was cast out by Yorkshire over accusations of racism from before he joined

Paul Grayson was cast out by Yorkshire over accusations of racism from before he joined 

DON’T LET ELITE IN VIA THE BACK DOOR

A degree of trepidation greets news that the six elite clubs in English football are stalling on the section of the new owners’ charter that outlaws qualifying for the Champions League by any means beyond sporting merit. Is this another way of leaving the door open to the formation of a Super League?

Almost certainly not. More likely the clubs wish to remain amenable to UEFA’s idea of awarding two additional places on historic merit, to the clubs that have the highest co-efficient ranking, but have not made it into the competition via their domestic league. Right now, that would be Barcelona and Juventus.

The way to guard against this being exploited further down the line, then, is for UEFA to abandon it once and for all as a rotten idea that rewards the richest and most storied clubs for entitled mediocrity.

Did you see Sam Kerr dealing with a pitch invader during Chelsea versus Juventus? Is it too soon to make her the Footballer of the Year?

By the sounds of it, BT Sport’s Ashes coverage is as dismal as imagined once it was decided to take the Australian commentary. That, coupled with England’s performance, could make this a very expensive broadcasting mistake, even done on the cheap.

According to FIFA president Gianni Infantino, World Cups taking place in one country, like Qatar in 2022, will be ‘a thing of the past’. We’ll see how that plays out if China ever bids for hosting rights. Reckon they’ll share?

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