BY DAN ROBERTS
My wife would probably say that I spend far too much time watching or reading about football. I don’t have Sky but I do watch a lot of football on BT Sport – no matter where in the world they are broadcasting from. And when she overheard me and a friend talking about our respective fantasy football teams, she was incredulous that ‘grown men’, not content with talking about and watching real football, would spend hours contemplating which Southampton defender they could bring in to maximise their all important points per pound ratio. So its probably best that she doesn’t know that not only do I ‘waste’ my time with real and fantasy football, but that I can spend days, months, even years thinking about imaginary football competitions. Competitions such as the Arctic Cup. I was reminded of this prestigious tournament after reading an excellent piece in The Football Pink about the clubs located within the Shipping Forecast’s boundaries.
It was sometime in the 1990s when I was idly flicking through an atlas (I also like flags of the world – great catch eh?) that I noticed that the Arctic Circle dissects a number of countries up in the high latitudes. It got me to thinking what would happen if these countries, bonded by an imaginary line at the top of the world, came together every four years to compete against each other in a European Championships –style event to see who could claim to be King of the Arctic.
The nations represented are a mixed bunch. There’s the Scandinavian group of Norway, Sweden and Iceland along with Russia, Finland and Greenland (the only non FIFA member). The USA and Canada make up the list. Not the most successful group of nations in the footballing world, but some very good sides. Continuing the imaginary theme of this competition, I decided to look back to see who would have probably won the trophy throughout its auspicious history. As this is a creation of my fevered mind I decided that the Arctic Cup would take the same convention as that of other major finals and be held every four years. To avoid fixture congestion it would be held in years when there wasn’t a World Cup or European Championships - obviously. As I think I first dreamt up this tournament sometime in the 1990s, I took 1995 as its inaugural competition. Luckily my day job does sometimes give me a lot of time to search through Wikipedia for information, such as how the competing nations have fared during the last 19 years of high class Arctic football. This will form the basis of my supposition on who would have triumphed every four years.
Using the FIFA rankings as a guide to how well the nations might have done may be flawed in exactly the same way as the FIFA rankings are derided every month they are released (seriously, Switzerland are the sixth best side in the world?) but it does give a good general idea of how the tournament may have panned out. I also looked at the individual nation’s records at World Cups, European Championships and Gold Cups (for the CONCACAF pair) to see how success, or otherwise, at these continental tournaments could have affected the outcome.
What was immediately evident was the almost uniform dip in the rankings by all of the European teams. This was most alarming when looking at Norway’s fall from a frankly inexplicably good 2nd in 1995 to today when they find themselves 60thin the world. Although the Scandinavian countries as a group are not as good as they used to be – including non-Arctic Cup participants Denmark – it is quite a drop for the Norwegians in only 19 years. Everyone else has stayed fairly consistent with only the USA being higher in the rankings now (13th) than they were in 1995. As for possible champions, you can probably instantly disregard Greenland, Canada, Finland and Iceland. Although I would venture that Iceland could be seen as dark horses for the next Arctic Cup scheduled for 2015 if they keep up the form of their World Cup qualifying campaign.
So that leaves Norway, Sweden, Russia and the USA as the four countries who would probably have pushed for honours during the five instalments of the Arctic Cup. Even though Norway has been consistently highly ranked by FIFA, Sweden and Russia have fared much better in European Championships and World Cups during the timeframe. This suggests that they can handle the pressure and perform better when it comes to important games. The USA has also improved markedly since 1995 and would probably be the favourites for next year’s Arctic Cup. This obviously assumes that all nations would release their best players for the tournament. And that this is a real tournament of course, but you’ve come this far so I assume you’ve taken that considerable leap of faith on my behalf.
Looking ahead, the USA seems to be the side that would dominate this tournament for the foreseeable future. With their own domestic league coming on leaps and bounds – and attracting big name national side members such as Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley – the game in the States will seemingly only get stronger. Smaller nations like Sweden will always produce good players but world greats come along only periodically. Who knows what will happen to the Swedish side when Zlatan eventually calls time on his international career? The Arctic Cup would actually be a fairly open and balanced competition with only Greenland not standing a chance of coming away with any victories.
It may have taken up more of my time than is healthy for me but I for one am looking forward to next year’s (admittedly completely made up) edition. In the meantime I have the unenviable task of sorting out the entrants in the bi-annual Tropic of Capricorn Invitational.