No picnic for English clubs by the sea
European football, of a kind, arrives on the south coast. Phil Shaw reports
Here's one for Arsenal supporters to gloat about. Tottenham Hotspur returned to European competition yesterday, only to be beaten 2-0 by a moderate Swiss side, Lucerne, and outdrawn at the gate by a collection of cuddly toys.
At Brighton's Goldstone Ground, a team who who should have been billed as Tottenham Hotchpotch coaxed fewer than 2,500 stalwarts to sit in the shade on a scorching afternoon and watch their opening Intertoto Cup game. In neighbouring Hove Park, a Teddy Bears' Picnic attracted more than twice as many furry companions.
Every bear that ever there was, at least in East Sussex, seemed to be gathered there. Yet across the road there was no sign of Spurs' Teddy - Sheringham, that is - or any of his high-profile colleagues. Wearing the cockerel instead were the captain of Barnet, Mark Newson, Northampton's Ian Sampson, Charlton's Alan Pardew and, even more bizarre, St Mirren's David Byrne, playing for his 14th club.
Only three of the "home" side have appeared in the Premiership, whereas Lucerne, who finished sixth in Switzerland, were at full strength. In the circumstances, and compared with a similarly depleted Wimbledon's 4-0 drubbing by Turkey's sixth-placed club the previous day, defeat was no disgrace.
Spurs had two "goals" disallowed, and must have drawn encouragement from the showing of Steven Slade, a 19-year-old striker from Romford who is built more like Joanna Lumley than Jonah Lomu. However, the fact that Lucerne's players actually knew each other gradually told, and in the 69th minute the splendidly named Martin Fink converted a cross.
Petre Aleksandrov headed the second with three minutes remaining. With his white head-band and curly hair, the Bulgarian was a dead ringer for Brighton's own Steve Foster - Fozzie Bear? - though he is hardly the kind of "crack Continental" to help establish the Intertoto Cup in Britain.
For this is a tournament to make the Auto Windscreens Shield and the Anglo-Italian Cup look massively popular. Until clubs field full-strength teams, which would mean overworked players foregoing their holidays, summer football will never grip the popular imagination.
The night before the opening day in the Hove festival of football, the Bosnian coach of Bursaspor Kulubu, Wimbledon's opponents, sat up studying videos of the Dons. "Warren Barton and Dean Holdsworth," said Nejat Biyedic with an authority undermined only by the fact that Barton recently joined Newcastle. "And Vinnie Jones," he grinned.
In the event, not one Wimbledon first-team player appeared, and a side comprising youth players, reserves and loan signing met a predictable fate. The faces were not those Biyedic anticipated, but as he said afterwards, the hosts' approach had been exactly as he expected: "Long balls . . . typical English."
A third of Saturday's 1,879 crowd were Turkish-Cypriots from London. Taunted with "you're worse than Crystal Palace" after an early miskick, they were soon banging drums and waving flags. Bursapor's badge depicts an alligator with a ball in its mouth, an appropriate metaphor for their superiority once Ecument Shain fired them ahead.
John Cheesewright, borrowed from Colchester, gifted them a second goal. The Wimbledon XI's only experienced player, the 32-year-old Danny O'Shea, strove to prevent a Turkey shoot on his day release from Northampton, but further goals rewarded Bursapor and the live television audience back home.
Sam Hammam, Wimbledon's owner, conceded it was "men against boys", but predicted that the Intertoto would soon replace the League Cup in the priorities of Premiership clubs. "The concept is perfect," he said. "It's the timing that's wrong."
Wimbledon are back at their Hove from home a week next Saturday to tackle Beitar Jerusalem, a fixture sandwiched between trips to Slovakia and Belgium. Spurs also return, to face Osters of Sweden, as well as travelling to Slovenia and Germany. Sheffield Wednesday, beaten 1-0 in Basle, may stage their home games at South Yorkshire's own San Siro, Millmoor at Rotherham.
The champions from each of the 12 groups, plus the four best runners- up then go into a knock-out competition, with the last four guaranteed entry to the Uefa Cup preliminary round. The English trio will have full squads available by then. In the meantime, the tournament's credibility looks as threadbare as some of the picnic-goers in the park.
Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Day; Newson, Coll, Sampson, Clapham; Byrne (Spencer, 83), Pardew, Watson, McMahon; Slade, Hendry (Wormull, 74).
Lucerne (4-4-2): Mutter (Karpf, h-t); Emur, Wolf, Wyss, Baumann; Jollen, Bwalya, Sawu, Melina (Camenzind, 65); Fink, Aleksandrov.
Referee: B. Saules (France).
Goals: Sahin (6) 0-1; Kilic (26) 0-2; Sahin (55) 0-3; Unal (77) 0-4.
Wimbledon (4-4-2): Cheesewright; O'Kane, O'Shea, Laidlaw, Skinner; Payne (Euell, 77), Newhouse, Appleton, Piper; Dobbs, Tomlinson (Thomas, 58).
Bursapor Kulubu (1-2-5-2): Gancev (Dincbudak, 85); Ozer; Unal, Ornek; Kilic, Devrim (Akdogan, 81), Koseoglu, Akjun, Yildirim; Sahin (Sen, 64), Baljic.
Referee: R Olsen (Norway).
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