Thursday 7th February, 2008 will forever be the day that English club football did not so much cross the line as surge over it like the tape had just gone up at the start of the Grand National. The smaller Premiership clubs raced down the opening gallop, seemingly even more enthusiastic than the elite few to extend jet-set football beyond the confines of exhibition kickabouts. And yet, eight days later, it looks as if the whole field could be unseated at the first fence: Blatter's Brook.
The announcement of the top flight's intentions was breathtaking in its audacity. The Americans, who've had a masterly grasp of the relationship between a sport and its business arm for many years, were dipping their toes in the water of territorial expansion: an NFL game here, an ice hockey fixture there. Eagerly seizing on the cautious enthusiasm that met those ventures the Premiership went instead straight for win or bust - a whole tranche of matches to be played across various continents over the course of a weekend, or possibly even a single day.
The welcome mat regularly laid out for visiting Premier Leaguers in exotic locations such as Dubai, Sydney, New York, Bangkok and Cape Town was taken as an open invitation to come together for something more permanent, but the holiday romance turned frosty as soon as the locals' families realised that the tourists were expecting to jump back on the next plane and settle down. The Asian Football Confederation is implacably opposed to the idea, Football Federation Australia gave it short shrift and the US Soccer Federation said they wouldn't allow it if FIFA was against it. FIFA president Sepp Blatter looks to have waited a week to gauge world opinion before wading in last night with an interview granted to the BBC in which he said:
This does not take into consideration the fans of the clubs and it gives the impression that they just want to go on tour to make some money. This will never happen, at least as long as I am the president of FIFA.
A Norwegian Blue lends his support to the Premiership's latest initiative via Somerslea's Flickr stream.
Blatter holds plenty enough sway, and especially with exactly the nations that our clubs are trying to court, to make good on that and it looks as if his intervention may have been perfectly timed to be the decisive rebuff that stalls the whole idea before it's really got off the drawing board. Considering the heat still tangible around the Premiership's administration in the wake of last year's Carlos Tevez affair it's hard to see how the Premiership's directors (all two of them) could shake off the embarrassment brought to their precious brand by a manoeuvre that appears to have no fallback option.
Even if they go, the fact remains that they claim unequicoval support from the Premiership's whole membership, not only for the seismic proposal to put matches beyond the physical reach of their core fanbase but also, apparently, to perpetrate that by casually discarding the idea of the league season as a level playing field, in theory at least, where everybody plays everybody else once home and away.
If, like the NFL you started with a lopsided arrangement people will run with it, but perhaps the most astonishing thing about this Premiership proposal is that it seems that most of the people at the sharp end of Premiership clubs hold a basic nod to sporting equilibrium as not worth cash dangled half way across the world. We predicted last year that the risk of relegation would soon become a thing of the past in the race for "Planet Megabucks", and we even caught sight of this bombshell to some extent, but not even we never imagined this bizarrely haphazard format of the "39th game" with the seeded draw. The Premiership is contemplating a lengthy stride along the path away from sport and towards entertainment. Can they smell what The Rock is cookin'?