Big spenders with flash cars they may be, but Tony Cascarino says Premiership footballers will never double-cross you
I’ll tell you what’s great about the game of football in this country: honesty. Why? Well, you try having a Bet on Football league or elsewhere on the continent, and you’ll see why!
Football in this country has the passion to keep the fans and punters loyal. It’s just one of the things which makes me proud to have been a professional footballer in England.
That’s why pundits and so-called experts talking about teams having nothing to play for in mid-table is a load of bollocks. Aside from money being heavily involved in today’s game, with places up the league ladder offering greater rewards, there is still a lot of personal pride in players’ performances. Okay, so established players may take their foot off the gas a little late in the season, safe in the knowledge their place in the side is safe. But, what about the youngsters who are playing for their futures and playing for the eyes of the scouts in the stands? This honesty has an impact at the end of every season, and will certainly have an effect on the upcoming relegation battle in the Premiership.
Look at Norwich last year. They went into the final day of the campaign needing a win at Craven Cottage against a Fulham side that supposedly had ‘nothing to play for’. The Canaries were thumped 6-0. That wouldn’t happen on the Continent. No chance! This is going to sound obvious, but, the championships in this country have always been won by the ‘real’ winners, and it’s vice versa for those sides who suffer relegation – they deserve to go down.
On the subject of who’s going to beat the drop, I have previously argued the case for Birmingham, and I’m not about to change my mind. Of all the gaps to be bridged in English football at the foot of the respective tables, that stands out as the one for me. Odds of 4/5 to stay up may not offer much hope for the blue half of the country’s second city, but West Brom at evens to go down are the team for me. The Baggies just don’t have the firepower and I’m struggling to work out how they have accumulated so many points. That’s why I’d back them to drop down into the Championship. With tough games in the runin at the Hawthorns against Manchester United, Liverpool and Bolton, and away trips to Tottenham and Arsenal, surely you can see my point?
One of the teams to replace Bryan Robson’s men will obviously be Reading. Punters who backed Ladbrokes’ odds of 20/1 pre season will be laughing. Sheffield United, who started the season all guns blazing, will probably be joining them, but Watford look a side on the up with some very good young players. Leeds and Crystal Palace stand out with sports betting sites to go up ahead of them at 2/1 and 9/4 respectively, but Watford at 7/2 look value to me. Play-off wise, they look the team to beat.
At the other end of the table, it saddens me to see one of my old clubs, Millwall, struggling following the highs of reaching the FA Cup final less than two years ago. I grew up in the area and was a regular at The Den, and I know how the fans feel. The club didn’t have the greatest preparation in the summer when they appointed Steve Claridge and sacked him just weeks later, but their problems started 18 months ago with Dennis Wise and the then-chairman, Theo Paphitis. The money from the cup final wasn’t there for Dennis to build on the squad, and the relationship between him and Paphitis suffered.
I hate cliches, and especially the old ‘six-pointer’ line, but Millwall have plenty of those coming up. Still, you would expect the players – on the honesty tip here again – to stand up for themselves, and the home clashes with Leicester and Brighton could be the Lions’ saving grace.
A cushy little number
It’s unlikely that England will need any saving grace following the dream draw for the 2008 European Championship qualification. The man filling Mr Erikkson’s shoes has a nice little job to walk into on that front.
Only Croatia and Russia stand out in Group E as any sort of threat, and in fairness, England made the former look fairly average in the European Championships in 2004. As a result they are already as short as 2/5 with VCBet to win their group.
Wales and the Republic of Ireland have a tougher draw in Group D, and obviously I would love to see a new-look Ireland under Steve Staunton prosper. Wales, under John Toshack, have problems. A lot of players are coming to the end of their careers, and the manager has already lost the striking ability of John Hartson.
Northern Ireland face Spain and Sweden, and as for Scotland, the only thing their fans are likely to shout about is the fact that they’ll be seeing some top-class internationals with both France and Italy visiting Hampden Park. But the Tartan Army enjoyed relative success in Italy against the Azzurri in their World Cup qualifying campaign last year. Although they are only priced at 7/1 with William Hill to qualify, their players will certainly be prepared to roll their sleeves up and have another go.