The European Championships are over. Mercifully no more players collapsed with cardiac issues and Italy saved us from a tidal wave of insufferable English triumphalism, which, with a win, would finally be liberated from the embarrassment of perpetual failure. The inevitable lack of humility in victory, almost fevered because they’ve had to ‘wait so long for it to come home’ would be weaponised by the worst people, helping to further sweep over the retrograde path Brexit has set the UK on and obfuscate the dismal sociological precepts that fuelled its creation.
Instead defeat revealed the insecurities and petty grudges held by a large minority of the English populace. Even for those who’ve never had it so good, it’s hard to reconcile a notion of national pride based almost entirely on a myopic version of the ‘glorious’ white parochial past with the country’s present status as an also-ran or has-been in virtually any field, while having to square this contemporary mediocrity with the imposition of ever increasing diversity. Lashing out at soft targets in the immediate aftermath of a disappointment is much easier than introspection. Take back control. Get tanked and coked up, go home and beat up your wife. Openly indulge in sexist behaviour. Smash up an Italian restaurant. Beat up ‘some cunt’ who ‘looks foreign’. Get on Twitter and Instagram to post racist emojis at the black and mixed race English players.
When Buyako Saka missed I immediately closed my eyes and winced because I knew what was coming his way. Feeling a level of sympathy for any member of the England team failing in a penalty shootout was a peculiar experience. Normally it’s a cast-iron pleasure.
The normal England fans who just want to enjoy watching their team play football can’t help who else supports their team. But ‘singing fer Ingerlund’ at football means following along with some absolute trash; Piers Morgan, Daily Mail readers, the Royals, Boris Johnson, Baddiel and Skinner, Katie Hopkins and Nigel Farage. And I have to ask whether the majority of England fans really want to challenge, and ultimately change, the yob mentality that dogs England’s support. Look, I get it, it’s just football, it’s not worth the grief. It’s less risky to follow the herd and boo the opposition’s anthem and the players when they take a knee, than speaking up and telling everyone in your section to pipe down.
For those of us who have no affiliation to England there were additional reasons to root for their failure. Some of the England players are likeable, but several are dislikeable too, which aids the schadenfreude. Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane both revealed themselves to be perpetual cheats. Best, by that I mean worst, of all is Jordan Pickford (nobody represents failing upwards better). Pickford’s toe-curling arrogant village idiot routine perfectly embodies English delusion and irrationality when it comes to believing in their cod status as a top footballing nation.
I happened upon the World Matchplay darts last week, and here the behaviour of England’s football fans pre and post-match (especially the final) was in stark juxtaposition to the atmosphere created by the darts crowd. Just like an England football crowd, a darts crowd is always boozed up (with quite a few in fancy dress too, but no chainmail in sight, thankfully). However, compared to football, and rugby and cricket fall into the same category as the darts, the atmosphere is completely benign. There’s no tawdry Ten German Bombers, Agincourt, I’d rather be a Paki than a Turk, Great Escape chants here. You can’t blame demographics either, as there is an overlap between those who follow multiple sports. Supporting England at football connotes something a wee bit sinister for a significant number of people who actively take it up. International football, thanks in part to its overwhelming popularity, has become one of the last vessels where indulging in the elements synonymous with yob culture and where overt displays of jingoism is seen as a virtue.
This isn’t a valid comparison, and I know it. Darts is a glorified pub game, a bit of a laugh. Football, an infinitely more popular sport, is far more integral to one’s national pride and self-worth. There’s also a silent acknowledgement from all attendees how patently ridiculous professional darts is as a spectacle, with their cheering when a 180 is scored just adding to the farce. The combination of seeing overweight men with magnificent moobs and bingo-wings, adorned in garish shirts, who also happen to be some of the ugliest humans to ever exist, gurning in celebration after winning a leg is mesmeric. Ideologically I support the idea of a classless society, but it’s hard not view darts as the white van man Olympics.
Unlike the European Championships, and particularly the final (with England fans indulging in moronic and unruly behaviour pre and post match, aided by complete disorganisation from the authorities in and around Wembley), last season’s Premier League was relatively uneventful. Despite Covid-19 lingering perpetually its threat was navigated successfully and disruptions to games were kept to a minimum. There was no title race and relegation was decided with several games to go. The only excitement during the run in was for third and fourth place, which, unless you’re a fan of the clubs involved, is as unsexy a ‘prize’ as there is. At least they haven’t started handing out a trophy for finishing second, third and fourth the same way the winners of the Championship playoffs get awarded a trophy for finishing third (who came up with that one?).
Liverpool had the most schizoid season. They looked like title winners at Christmas, followed by a calamitous run of form starting in January that saw six straight home defeats, largely precipitated by mass injuries in defence (which I somehow predicted, albeit in jest) before closing by winning eight of their last ten games and drawing the other two. Liverpool’s recovery was aided by Leicester hideously collapsing yet again from an almost certain top four finish for a second straight season to finish fifth. Chelsea also benefitted from Leicester choking on their own vomit. Despite sacking their manager mid-season (even if it was a clear upgrade – quelle surprise, hiring Frank Lampard didn’t work out) and a lacklustre finish to the league campaign and defeat in the FA cup final, they still won the Champions League. Let’s not give Roman Abramovich any ideas that this trend of sacking managers mid-season and winning the biggest prize in club football is sustainable.
Right now, the Premier League can puff its chest out and say with complete confidence it has avoided the worst effects of the pandemic. While the Spanish and French leagues are implementing austerity measures, and the Bundesliga and Serie A clubs are being circumspect, the Premier League has retained and maintained its revenue streams. However, if you want your brand to continue to be the best you’d better innovate and evolve and there needs to be a level of competitiveness in most years, at both ends of the table.
The last two Premier League seasons have been relatively dull. So I’m here to help by proposing ways to inject more chaos and unpredictability into the sport that’s not by way of ineptitude – and that’s in reference to VAR and the Premier League referees being incapable of deciphering moving images (see videos below this paragraph). Let’s start by having the summer transfer window in Europe close on July 31st. First, a confession, I created this proposal to suit myself. Editing this column at the last minute in a catatonic stupor in case any significant transfers occur is really sad behaviour and I’ve decided life is too short for it to continue. It also signifies that I’m taking this preview piece too seriously, it’s a bit of frivolous fun with (mostly) daft predictions. This self-imposed arrangement of posting my preview column on the eve of the first round of games only made sense when the English transfer window closed before the first weekend of the season. The Premier League has reverted, seemingly for good, to the transfer window closing at the end of August.
So, assuming the chi of a darts crowd, I’m choosing hedonism and infantilism. As a teetotaller, this is a modest reward, but, trust me, for a terrible writer like myself being this self-serving is the equivalent of someone in a dart’s crowd downing a few pints in quick succession. If Harry Kane and Jack Grealish sign for Manchester City in August, so what? For many they were already favourites to win the league.
There are other, better, reasons for closing the transfer window at the end of July. They don’t deserve it, but the internet generation need help and looking after. For you sad bastard Twitter aggregators who stay inside all summer and have Sky Sports News on waiting for transfer news to break to parlay it into followers, condensing the time to conduct transfer business would make it more frantic and entertaining. It would also give you the whole of August to do something else with yourselves, like wanking, or talking to an actual living person.
From a competitive standpoint a shorter transfer window would force clubs to plan ahead. This would penalise the poorly run clubs and benefit those who are efficient. Natural selection worked until us humans fucked it.
There is no chance of this happening of course. Sky, who pay the Premier League quite a bit of cash, make a good amount of money (relatively speaking) during their fallow summer period from transfer season. Truncating that costs. It would likely reduce the amount of money spent on transfers, which means less money going into the pockets of agents and the players. And don’t forget, just about everything in football is motivated by profits these days.
Anyway, enough rambling lamentations and on to some dreadful predictions. Because nobody cares about them, except the Chinese, denigrate gamblers and Chinese degenerate gamblers, I’m not going to talk about the mid-table clubs. I’ll pick the three clubs to go down, who’ll suffer Thursday night wankerdom, the top four and who’ll win the league.
Chaff For The Championship
Last year’s relegation battle was as appealing as watching Sean Dyche sniff his fingers – he strikes me as the sort who doesn’t wash his hands after going to the loo. At least we have a Premier League debutant in Brentford. They played attacking football to get here. Let’s hope that continues and they (or anyone for that matter) survive in lieu of those who play regressive stuff – Burnley, Burnley and Burnley again.
In reality it’s highly likely Brentford will go straight back down. Over the last three years five of the last nine teams to achieve promotion have been relegated after one season. This becomes six if you include Sheffield United, relegated after their second top flight season, who were so abysmal last season that they deserve to be included in this statistic.
For the bettors, Norwich and Watford are also reasonable punts for the drop, they’ve been consistent yo-yo clubs (too good for the Championship – not good enough for the Premier League) along with the dull as dishwater West Bromwich Albion. Once again, contracting the Premier League, and increasing the number of clubs relegated each season, as I’ve advocated for quite some time, would lob a hand grenade at this repetitive bollocks. Even dropping to eighteen teams would place several more teams under the perennial threat of relegation. It’s the anti-Josef Mengele approach to eugenics, let’s exterminate Burnley by expanding the relegation gene pool. I’d also advocate more immigration for the city of Burnley, but that’s unfair on the immigrants. Moving to Burnley is a fate nobody deserves.
As for my relegation picks, I’m undecided. My hearts says Burnley (still not spending much cash, making their continued survival infuriatingly inexplicable, and even more infuriatingly, admirable), Crystal Palace (who, with a new manager and heavily refactored squad could be anything) and Watford. My head says all three promoted clubs will struggle, as will Newcastle United. I’d write more on Newcastle, but the Premier League’s laughable myopia (and newly discovered moral compass) over fit and proper tests for the potential sale of the club is simply cruel. Newcastle have the sheer misfortune of having Mike Ashley as their owner. Ashley isn’t fit and proper (in every sense). Yet because Newcastle are the most recent attendee to the ‘let’s sell out to a sovereign wealth fund with an iffy human rights record’ party (this time it’s the Saudis), this after the criticism of the Premier League for not vetting new owners thoroughly or being transparent enough with the process, the sale of Newcastle is being properly scrutinised. I don’t believe in luck, but if I said that to a Newcastle fan they’d have every right to headbutt me. Steve Bruce remains in charge (because if you’re going to torture a fanbase, why be half-arsed about it?) and they haven’t invested in their squad and don’t look like doing so, so that just adds to the negative vibe.
Cases can also be made for Brighton, Crystal Palace and Southampton. All three will struggle to score goals. And it wouldn’t surprise me if Wolves and Everton struggled early but ultimately found themselves being the best of the worst. Rafa Benitez managing Everton should be a bigger story, and perhaps it will be. It’s only pre-season and already things have started on a sour note with a player being suspended for alleged under age sex-offenses (just call it for what it is – Noncing – or Savilling, which as an adjective, even sounds disgusting). Benitez once referred to Everton as a ‘small club’. The fans haven’t forgotten, but Farhad Moshiri is yet another tone deaf owner. He simply doesn’t care, he just wants their money.
Speaking of not caring, I really don’t care who gets relegated. I’m too much of a wimp to bet money on it, but I’ll plump for Watford, Norwich and Newcastle United (perhaps another relegation will finally flush Mike ‘the turd’ Ashley?).
Thursday Night Wankerdom (including the even more humiliating Europa Conference League edition)
Leicester will be kicking themselves for ending up with Thursday night football having looked as certain as can be for a Champions League place with five games remaining. But they should remind themselves that they’re Leicester City and not become a club, say Spurs, that develops delusions of grandeur. Finishing fifth and winning the FA cup was a good season, and, given they’ve bought early and seemingly well, I’d say they’re well placed to do something similar again.
Speaking of Spurs, to paraphrase Malcolm Tucker, their managerial search was a massive abortion. While the process was a mess, the result did net them Nuno, who showed a degree of competency at Wolves. Harry Kane’s future is lingering menacingly like Stuart Hall outside the ladies’ toilet. Little doubt Daniel Levy won’t help Tottenham’s chances by dragging this one out right to the end of August only to end up with either a disgruntled player and a thin squad or plenty of cash but no time to spend it to replace Kane and improve the other areas of the team. Either way, the producers of Sky Sports News will be praying it is so. Keep hope alive? Nah, keep hype (and that fucking cataract inducing yellow breaking news bar) alive.
You know how the pandemic was supposed to cause a recession in the transfer market and contraction in transfer fees and salaries. Well Arsenal signed Ben White for £50m. So yeah, that was clearly a load of bollocks. And Arsenal still look bollocks to me. They seem to be doing the Everton routine of splurging large transfer fees on mediocre players, employing a mediocre manager and expecting it to result in Champions League football. Will they finish above Spurs? I say yes. Sixth. And let’s not get this twisted, this is wholly an indictment of Spurs.
Top Four Twattery
In last year’s column I said that I’d reassess United’s credentials as title challengers when they had a proper manager.
Well, they’ve only gone and given Ole Gunnar Solskjaer a contract extension! This after a diabolical performance in the Europa League final and a second place finish in the league – and United were never in with a genuine shot of winning the league. Framed as progress by some, belief in continuity by others, just inexplicable to the rest.
Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane make them better, but this team’s weaknesses lie elsewhere and they remind me of Liverpool during the nineties under Roy Evans; unbalanced, undisciplined, overrated, liable to collapse mentally when it matters most and managed by a tenured club man who is out of his depth, thanks to those above him not having a clue or just not truly giving a fuck.
Chelsea, on the other hand, do have a proper coach and ruthless cunt of an owner and they look far better equipped to challenge if they can acquire a centre forward who scores goals. Erling Haaland, Harry Kane or Romelu Lukaku will cost serious cash. Even Abramovich must have a limit. Recent big money purchases haven’t brought the dividends expected.
Perhaps Timo Werner will redeem himself and find his Bundesliga form, and Kai Havertz only started to produce when Tuchel arrived and his injuries cleared up. His winning goal in the Champions League final and his clear qualities when he was able to play are reasons for expectations remaining high.
Still, I’m a see it to believe it kind of guy. And Chelsea and United need to prove they can go the distance. While a title challenge is uncertain, their squads are good enough to avoid the pratfall that is Thursday night football. United fourth and Chelsea third.
That leaves Liverpool and defending Champions Manchester City. Though one wonders what might’ve been of the title race that wasn’t if Liverpool hadn’t suffered a catastrophic cluster of injuries in central defence during the middle of the season.
Always in City’s favour is their ability and willingness to spend what it takes to acquire the players they want. Getting Jack Grealish in, as rumoured, should finally replace Leroy Sane on the left. And if Harry Kane is to arrive (no sure thing) this is Daniel Levy we’re talking about (does he haggle over everything? The cost of a takeaway pizza? His mobile phone bill?), it’s hard not to see Kane finally adding to the only silverware he knows – top scorer trophies.
City’s financial shenanigans are receiving more attention than normal. I’ll call it cheating because that’s what it is. £600m more in revenue than Manchester United? Yeah, sure thing. Everybody knows they’re at it. But there’s a collective reluctance to challenge this specific form of cheating. It’s rarely debated, the players City may purchase with their ill-gotten gains attracts far more clicks. My thesis is twofold; first, football is one of the few routes of escapism for the everyman, and nobody wants to read about sports-washing in the Financial Times. Second, everybody has hopes that one day they’ll live to see their team be the best, whether it’s Lincoln City, Darlington or Southend, and getting bought by a sovereign wealth fund and your club used for sports-washing is the quickest and easiest route. And, of course, the more sports-washing that occurs the less likely building incrementally and smartly is to succeed. In the era of a disposable culture disposed to instant gratification, imposing stricter rules on spending and the sources of revenue being subject to closer scrutiny likely crushes that we all dream of a sugar daddy Sheikh buying our club. It’s a disparate view of the game’s sanctity, the fierceness of rivalry (and the preserve of hope) often impedes calls for fairer modes of competition. Arsenal’s signing of Ben White might in part explain the wider apathy shown towards financially doped clubs (particularly from skint clubs down the football pyramid), when the other relatively wealthy clubs (basically most of the clubs in the Premier League), are that profligate with their cash, sympathy for their calls for fairness and restrictions being placed on the likes of City is limited.
Bottom line – Liverpool simply don’t have the same margin for error given their squad depth (as we saw last season), and could use at least two more signings in attack. Perhaps they’ll get them, but I can be sure City will get theirs. So I’ll pick City to win the league again, because given the extent of the forgery they always should. That they haven’t won seven straight league titles and conceivably may not win again this season is at least something and a reason to keep watching. The Premier League had better watch it’s step though, if City aren’t challenged on the pitch and off it, people could start to turn off.