FOX Soccer’s lead analyst reflects on the latest news in and around English soccer.
On Saturday, England hosts world champion Spain at one of the most famous grounds in the world, but before getting to the Three Lions, I want to start with another of England’s most famous venues: a topic that’s grabbed headlines this week; a story that’s very close to my heart.
This week, Newcastle announced St. James’ Park would be renamed Sports Direct Arena. Speaking from the point of view of a supporter and former captain, an official name can only go so far. The ground will always be St. James’ Park. Put any name you want on the building, but in our hearts, we know it as St. James’.
Still, I understand the economy. The club is trying to generate more income, and that’s the modern game. These things are happening everywhere, and Newcastle’s not immune to it. That, I get.
The part I don’t understand is the timing. Right now, everything is going well at the club. The team’s off to a great start: still undefeated through 11 matches in league. They’ve got some big games coming up – games they were set to meet with a lot of positivity. Everything was progressing as well as you could have imagined.
And that’s what made the timing so strange. It’s a down moment for a club that has experienced nothing but ups this season. The announcement distracts from all the good that’s happening on the pitch, and it’s given supporters a reason to feel negative. The club could have picked another time to make the change.
When this announcement was made, a lot of supporters looked to the ownership. For me, Mike Ashley’s done a lot of good at Newcastle. He stood by the club when they were relegated, and he got them back to the Premier League a year later. He’s invested in the team and deserves some credit for the place they’re in now. Still, I see an announcement like this and I wonder about the thinking behind it.
If it were a situation like the Emirates Stadium, that would be different. That was a huge move that redefined the future for Arsenal. Renaming St. James’ Park is not on that level. The money Newcastle’s bringing in is nothing compared to that kind of project. For the money they’re getting, you have to wonder if it’s worth the change.
Life goes on, though, no matter the name on the venue, but I already know the 52,000-plus will be in full voice next home game, singing "St. James’ Park." And I can already imagine what will be going through Alan Pardew’s head: "Oh, no. Not this, again."
But that’s still a ways off. Newcastle isn’t back home until December 3 against Chelsea. For now, England’s back in action, where there’s lots to discuss ahead of Saturday’s match (live, 12 p.m. Eastern, FOX Soccer).
The poppy saga
I had 3000-4000 Newcastle fans on Twitter sharing their protests with me. They couldn’t believe FIFA’s initial decision to prevent England from wearing the poppy on their kits. Thankfully, common sense prevailed; though one man should be singled out for his part in bringing about the change.
Prince William showed great leadership in stepping forward, writing FIFA, and appealing for their reversal. The poppy’s a way for the team to observe a very special day for England and the world – a day we can all share in, remembering the people we honor. Prince William deserves a lot of credit for quickly strong taking action to sure the team was able to take part in that remembrance.
Rooney appeal as obvious decision
England’s going to be wearing the poppy on their armbands, but Wayne Rooney won’t be on the pitch to share in the occasion. He’s been left out by Fabio Capello and, as of now, stands to miss the group stage of next year’s Euro. The FA did decide to appeal his three-match ban, so there’s a chance Rooney could see some time before a knockout round.
To me, appealing was the obvious decision. You don’t want to be frivolous about these things, but the FA needed to stand their ground. Given the player in question, the appeal is worth it. Rooney is just that important to the team.
Beyond the suspension – whether it’s just or excessive – tournaments like these should have their best players playing. Debate all you want about where Rooney falls among the best, but he is one of them. He’ll be one of the stars in Poland and Ukraine, and the more times everybody gets to see him, the better.
My fingers are crossed, but I’m not holding my breath. It’s not often you see these types of rulings overturned. The process is worth the FA’s time, but it’s still a long shot.
Deserved honor for Frank Lampard
But for better news, I want to finish with some thoughts about Frank Lampard, who has been named captain for the Spain match. There are few honors greater than wearing the armband for your country, and for Frank, it’s well deserved. I know Frank, I know his family, and I know he’ll feel this is a great honor. He’s been one of the best players of his generation and a magnificent servant to England. It will be a pleasure to see him walk out at Wembley with the armband, poppy and all.
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