In the world of seven day a week sport, Thursday is still regarded as unfashionable.
In fact I’d go further than that. No-one, apart from TV companies with schedules to think about, seems to like it. Yet this week quarter finals of two significant competitions take place on . . . Thursday.
Significant yes, but with very different outcomes. Amid much talk of crowded calendars, the field in football’s Europa League has finally been reduced from far too many to eight.
Three of them are English (Chelsea, Newcastle and Tottenham) and they’re all in different ties, so the chances of an all Premier League semi final, or even final, remain.
However, what’s the carrot for all this effort, especially for Newcastle, who have played 12 games to get this far ? Sure, a european trophy is not be sniffed at – Newcastle fans fully embraced the old Fairs Cup when United won it in the late 60’s – but it’s a shot to nothing.
Think of the incentive for Alan Pardew and his team now if a spot in the Champions League was available to the winners. Chelsea and Spurs might qualify by other means, but despite a poll showing the majority of top clubs were in favour of such a move, UEFA will not ratify it until next year, with any change – and it’s not guaranteed – to start in 2015.
Contrast that situation with Rugby Union’s Amlin Challenge Cup. Here the mismatches can, in the pool stages, be much greater than in the Europa League, and the parallel is that the qualifiers for the knockout stages also include teams that have dropped out of the Heineken Cup.
The difference comes in the fact that the winners do get a seat at the top table of european rugby next autumn, so for Newcastle, read Bath Rugby. With a difficult Premiership run-in, they potentially have most to gain from winning the Challenge Cup.
Ties are played over 80 minutes rather than two legs as in the Europa League, so home advantage against Stade Francais is worth having. So it is too for Gloucester, who’ve drawn the Thursday night straw for their game with Biarritz.
Gloucester are in a sequence of home games that run Saturday, Friday and Thursday but Kingsholm will be close to full. Wing Jonny May described it as “the game he’d been looking forward to all year” bringing as it does memories of a thrilling win over another top French side, Toulouse, last season.
Two former Gloucester players – scrum half Dimitri Yachvili and full back Iain Balshaw – are also at Biarritz, although Balshaw is unlikely to play because of a knee injury. There will be no quarter asked or given here.
Child or not, Thursday this week has a plethora of sporting choice. But please, keep the Cheltenham Gold Cup on a Friday, and the Grand National, as it is next weekend, on a Saturday.