This is an idea I’ve been kicking around in the back of my mind for a few weeks now, and I wanted to put it out there for discussion.
Here in the US, all of our major professional sports leagues (NHL, NBA, NFL, and MLB) have their own versions of an All-Star Game, and the NBA, MLB, and NHL all have an All-Star Weekend with festivities usually on Friday and Saturday leading up to the All-Star Game itself on Sunday. The cities hosting the events benefit from a tremendous economic boost during the weekend due to the mass influx of tourists and visitors looking to be a part of the whole showcase and experience.
There is often an extravagant halftime or pre-game musical act as well, and for those of you who haven’t seen an All-Star weekend here in the States, suffice it to say that it is an orgy of sports and entertainment crammed into a two or three-day span. Celebrity sightings are routine during these games, especially if they’re being played in a fun, desirable city like Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, etc.
Before I get to the specifics of my Premiership All-Star Weekend proposal, I want to address the logistics of hosting such an event.
1. To capitalize on financial possibilities and to accommodate the large number of fans who would want to come to this event, only stadiums with a seating capacity of at least 40,000 and are used primarily for soccer would be eligible to host the festivities.
In England, that limits us to Old Trafford, St. James Park, Wembley, Emirates Stadium, the Stadium of Light, the City of Manchester Stadium, Anfield, Stamford Bridge, Villa Park, Goodison Park, and Elland Road. I would also be in favor of playing the game elsewhere in Britain; in Scotland (Celtic Park, Hampden Park, and Ibrox), Ireland (Croke Park), and Wales (Millennium Stadium) to acknowledge the fans who support the league outside of England.
No stadium would be be permitted to host more than once in a 10-year period.
Total stadiums (at least at this point in time): 16
2. The city, stadium, and team hosting the event obviously would be responsible for hiring a sufficient amount of security, with cooperation from national governments. A weekend of this magnitude could very well bring terrorist threats and/or an increased rate of crime (both petty and serious) during the run-up to the weekend and the weekend itself. The number one priority is to keep the fans safe so that they can enjoy their experience without having to worry about their well-being, and it’s also necessary to protect the players themselves.
Now, to the weekend itself. The All-Star Game would be played on Sunday, with a “Young Stars” game on Friday night, a celebrity game on Saturday afternoon, and a skills competition to follow that night. I would schedule the festivities for the weekend immediately following the Champions League final; so this year, for example, it would be the 23rd-25th of May.
Young Stars Game: Players must be 22 or younger to be eligible for this game and can’t have been chosen to play in the “real” All-Star Game. Rosters would be comprised of 18 players, with one squad made up of players who play for clubs that finished in an odd-numbered position that season in the Premiership (1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 15, 17, 19), and the other made up of players who play for clubs that finished in an even-numbered position that year.
Each Premiership team would have at least one representative on the Young Stars rosters, with the manager of that year’s third place team coaching one side, and the manager of that year’s fourth place team coaching the other. Each Premiership team would nominate one player from their team to play, and the other eight players to fill out the roster would be selected by each Young Stars team’s manager. Unlimited substitutions, 9 vs. 9 (8 field players and a goalie), 35-minute halves.
Celebrity Game: This is where I defer to you folks in Britain. Surely there are some British celebrities–actors, singers, models, etc., who love to play soccer and played it growing up that you would love to see play under the bright lights. I don’t know of any offhand, but I’m sure you could find 20 “A-List”, “B-List”, “C-List”, whatever, who fit that description, 10 for each team. Unlimited substitutions, 8 vs. 8 (7 field players and a goalie), 20-minute halves.
This is the part of All-Star Weekend I’m flexible on; it wouldn’t kill me at all to not have this as part of the festivities.
Skills Competition: Taking a page from what the NBA and NHL do, I’d love to see a skills competition featuring Premiership players. To take part, you would have to be named to either the Young Stars Game or the All-Star Game. Two teams would be competing: the British team against the World team, with the Young Stars joining whichever of those they’d belong to.
Here’s a few of the events that I’d propose:
Fastest Man: Three heats, four players in each, two from each team, with the top two finishers from each heat advancing to a six-man final. Goal line to midfield; so depending on the stadium, it’d be anywhere from a 50-60 yard run or thereabouts. Wouldn’t you love to see just a dead sprint between speed merchants like Theo Walcott, Gabby Agbonlahor, Nedum Onouha, Aaron Lennon, and Ashley Young? I know I would.
Hardest Shot: Place the ball at the center of the top of the 18-yard box. Five players from each team, three shots each. A radar gun would be used to measure the velocity of each shot. To count, a shot has to go in the goal; I don’t care how hard you can strike a ball if it goes into Row X. Again, I’d love to see Steven Gerrard, Michael Ballack, Cristiano Ronaldo, Kolo Toure, and others just lay into a ball with no one in front of them.
Obstacle Course: This is something that could be taken straight off the training pitch. Get some cones or flags, put them close together and have the players dribble in and out. Make the players pass a 15 or 20-yard ball into a tight little space. Make them juggle the ball 20-25 times in a row, which should be no problem. Whatever. Come up with some course that challenges and incorporates the different skills it takes to be a player. Fastest time through the course wins, maybe six or eight players competing, three or four from each team.
Dribble-in Penalty Shootout: Taken from the old days of MLS, I think this would be entertaining. Five players on each team start 35 yards from goal and have five seconds to get their shot off, one team at a time. Whichever team scores the most goals wins.
All-Star Game: OK, here’s the centerpiece of the weekend. Again, two teams, the British team against the World team, or you could do the same even and odd thing I proposed for the Young Stars rosters. Each team would be comprised of 20 players (18 field players and two goalkeepers, with each Premiership team from that season having at least one representative so that it’s not just an Arsenal XI or a Manchester United XI. Each goalkeeper would play one half.
Same rules as always, with one exception: unlimited substitutions. The first-place team’s manager would coach one All-Star team (his choice), the second-place team’s manager would coach the other. Each coach would be responsible for picking both goalies and the ten reserves not nominated by each Premiership team. The players that the Premiership teams choose would start the game, so we’d see all 20 teams represented in the starting 22.
To incorporate the fans, perhaps each club could set something up on their website in which their fans select the one guaranteed representative.
This is a very, very rough outline of what I’d like to see one day. I don’t think anything like this would ever happen; All-Star festivities seem to be uniquely American in concept but I’d still love to see this kind of thing in the Premiership.
I’m interested in your feedback, whatever it is. Let me hear what you like in this proposal, let me hear what you’d want to change a little bit, let me hear what you wouldn’t want to see at all. Remember, the point of having an All-Star event, at least ideally, is to show off the game for the fans who love watching it, and to put on a showcase for those fans in a show of thanks and appreciation for coming out each and every week.
What I don’t want to hear is people simply saying that this would never happen and then criticize me for thinking of it; only comment if you have something constructive to say about the concept itself. If you want to say something about it to me, my E-mail address can be found on my personal blog.