From the album ‘Sylvester’ (1977)
From the album ‘Sylvester’ (1977)
And so another season in the Premier League.
This one has arrived quickly, with a foreboding urgency. The combination of the World Cup stifling the transfer market for five weeks, and the transfer window in England ending before the season starts, drastically condensed the time clubs had to shape their squads.
Amazingly, the Premier League clubs have voluntarily placed themselves at a serious competitive disadvantage with other European leagues. This summer the English transfer window closed on the ninth of August, while most clubs in Europe have until the thirty-first of August to buy players. English clubs can still sell players to foreign clubs, but won’t be able to buy a replacement. It’s akin to a Marathon runner shooting themselves in the foot at the start line.
Why was this implemented? And in a World Cup year too? The Premier League’s financial success has bred arrogance among its members that adopting more contrarian ideas will work because privatising and rebranding the top division did over twenty years ago.
It’s also a cynical attempt to maintain the Premier League’s contentious reputation as radical and collegiate. As someone once said, you can either cheat, be smarter or be first. The Premier League clubs believe that being first is being smarter, and it shares a synergy with the haughty, spiteful, jingoistic dogma that made Brexit seem like a good idea – ‘Fuck their rules. Let’s make up our own, even if it doesn’t work, at least it’s ours! Ours are better! We’re better, you cants!’ It’s an unnecessary, ill-informed step into the unknown, with its success (or failure) to be dictated by envy. If you didn’t know you’d reasonably assume that most Premier League clubs are owned by Brexiteers. So why don’t John Dyson and that tit-rifle who owns the awful Gastroenteritispub chain Wetherspoons buy themselves a middle of the road Premier League club? You’ll never qualify for Europe anyway lads. No need to worry about exporting to Slovakia, Belgium, Austria or Denmark if you own Crystal Palace or Bournemouth.
Speaking of mediocrity, the league is now, more than ever, firmly divided into two sections – the haves and the have-nots. This fissure is widening, and it makes me question whether the Premier League’s even distribution of television and prize money is working as intended.
The other fourteen clubs, yes, that’s the number of have-nots, are all potential relegation candidates. There is no midtable mediocrity anymore. Stoke City, relegated last season, had been in the Premier League for a decade, are an example, in any given season, that any of these clubs – through a combination of mismanaging their transfer activity, suffering a cluster of injuries, or hiring the wrong manager and failing to sack him in time – are susceptible to the drop.
Another woeful result of the Premier League’s fair distribution of wealth is the hyperinflation of players to laughable London house price levels. It hasn’t closed the gap with the haves, as the have-nots, at best, are paying more in transfer fees and wages for the same mediocre stuff. At worst they’re paying more to get less, see – Richarlison to Everton, fee could rise to £50m. Fucking. Hell. On Toast. Still, the restraint (relative to last summer) being displayed by many of the middle and lower tier Premier League clubs has enormous educational value for us all, as it’ll be symptomatic of our weekly post-Brexit shops.
Should the likes of Burnley have the same financial opportunity to succeed as Manchester United? We live in an era of oligarch owners. Financial Fair Play is a mirage. Parity, and its associated notion of fairness, is a lie. Personally I see the current division of revenue as grossly unfair to the six haves. They’re the clubs who generate the Premier League’s immense commercial revenues, not the Premier League brand. Southampton versus Watford, nobody cares. Liverpool versus Manchester City, half of Asia will be watching.
Now if that makes me a football Tory, then so be it. Football isn’t important, it’s also a business and it and businesses aren’t fair anyway. Hey, it’s not as though I’m proposing to axe child benefit for single mums, demanding nurses and firemen have their wages cut, while Amazon is afforded another tax loophole.
Also not important is the order in which the have-nots will finish. So I won’t bother with them. Three of them will be relegated, which, in my opinion, isn’t enough. Here’s how the top six will shake out – at least I was right about Manchester City winning the league last year;
Thursday Night Wankers:
6th – Arsenal
Stan Kroenke’s slated takeover foretells more misery for Arsenal, as his American sports franchises tend to wallow in profitable mediocrity. It feels like Groundhog Day, only sans Wenger. Their summer business was lukewarm water, it targeted long term weaknesses, but the quality of the players themselves and their suitability to Premier League football appears questionable. Aaron Ramsey’s contract is up next summer and you get the sense, as with Alexis Sanchez and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, that he’s primed to join a rival for a reduced fee in January or for free next summer.
So when they finish sixth again, and Ramsey fucks off, who gets the blame now that Wenger’s gone? Even if, by the end, according to The Internet Arses, he wasn’t good for anything, he was at least a good punching bag clad in a sleeping bag.
5th – Tottenham Hotspur
Mauri Pochettino called the club’s decision to not buy anyone ‘brave’, what he thinks about it privately is another matter. Personally I vote for ‘stupid’. Even I was astounded that bean counter Levy sanctioned no spending. Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised given the punitive cost of renovating White Hart Lane into a massive toilet bowl. Suitably, relative to expectations, I predict this season will be filled with shite, but at least Harry Kane was top scorer at the World Cup. Nothing screams loser more than claiming phantom touches on a teammates’ goal and cleaving to the importance of winning meaningless individual awards and achievements when you and your team wins fuck all.
Top Four Trophies:
4th – Manchester United
Normally I’d suggest nobody buys Mourinho’s method. His reverse pseudo-psychology through the media would’ve intrigued Marshall McLuhan, but I suspect there’s something to it this time. Seeing two of his biggest professional rivals being treated with such reverence – Guardiola leading City to the league at a canter and with style and the likeability of Liverpool under Jürgen Klopp (and flush with cash to spend) – is clearly irritating him.
Despite his hand-wringing and moaning over a lack of signings and certain players remaining against his wishes, United, to date, haven’t lost anyone significant. But there are genuine reasons for scepticism; Marouane fucking Fellaini’s still around, and most metrics suggest United were unsustainably fortunate last season, thanks largely to David De Gea. They’ll probably need to create more chances and allow fewer attempts at goal to match their point total from last season.
That’s achievable with this squad, but will finishing in the top four be enough for Mourinho to retain his position? And, if he’s as miserable as he appears to be, why on earth would he want it to be?
3rd – Chelsea
I really have no clue how this will play out. They’re going from a pragmatic form of counter attacking Catenaccio to embracing risk with fluid attacking and pressing.
Crucially they’ve given Mauricio Sarri the tools to play his brand of football. Eden Hazard and Willian are still around and a midfield of new signings Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic, paired with N’Golo Kante, looks formidable. Then there’s Cesc Fabregas. He’s never matched the hype he had surrounding him as a kid at Arsenal, but when he’s on song his teams tend to win.
Essentially swapping Courtois for Kepa Arrizabalaga and paying £40m odd to do so looks like an iffy piece of business before the fact, and can Sarri get more out of Alvaro Morata? If he does Chelsea have the talent to challenge.
2nd – Liverpool
They navigated the truncated window efficiently and aimed to fix their biggest weaknesses from last season; composure in midfield and erratic goalkeeping – the two things which were brutally exposed in Kiev.
They will be relentless, and entertaining, and while that matters, ultimately it must amount to something substantial. Klopp’s yet to sustain a challenge for the league and Liverpool hasn’t won a trophy in six years. Rectifying both seems more realistic than overhauling City this season. However, they appear to be the only team, unless Chelsea adapts quickly, who have the talent and intent to test the reigning champions.
Let’s hope they do. Most of the Premier League’s games are meaningless, but nothing makes a season more boring than a non-existent title race.
1st – Manchester City
Guardiola will be under pressure to succeed where City has yet to, and where he hasn’t since his spell at Barcelona, in the Champions League. How will this affect their Premier League campaign? That’s the only question I have. Remember, they finished nineteen points clear of Manchester United last season. A significant regression of ten points puts them on ninety, and no team that’s accrued ninety points has failed to win the title in the Premier League era. The best second place finisher was Manchester United, who reached eighty-nine points and lost on goal difference to City in 2011-12.
They’ll win it again, but let’s hope it’s as uncomfortable and dramatic as their first Premier league title.
From the album ‘The Serpent’s Egg’ (1988)
From the album ‘Oil Of Every Pearl’s Un-insides’ (2018)
In the epilogue to Margaret Atwood’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale a group of intellectuals argue whether Offred’s account of Gilead’s brutal theocracy was reliable.
There is no ambiguity in the television adaptation – so far. The viewer is given full omniscience, interspersed with fragmented flashbacks of how Gilead was formed. While this construct is effective in analogously connecting elements of Gilead with present day political idiocy and is an extremely compelling fable, it’s also a potential weakness for the show’s longevity. How long can we endure Offred’s formulaic psychological torture which combines ceremonial rapings, estrangement from her husband exiled in Canada, a forbidden relationship with Nick (the Waterford’s driver), and her seemingly forlorn quest to free herself and her daughter Hannah.
Two seasons in, and thanks to the writing, I’m invested in June Osborne’s struggle. You can only marvel at Elizabeth Moss. Her turn as Offred is a real tour de force, mostly for its physical element. At critical moments her face reveals a gamut of conflicting emotions; anger, satisfaction, remorse, defiance, resignation, fear and depression, sometimes within seconds of the other.
The contaminated Offred, Serena and Fred dynamic is a grim ménage-a-trois of threats, loathing, contempt and above all passive-aggressive manipulation. Offred’s pugnaciousness creates a growing distrust and distance between Serena and Fred, who, as equals, were of a radicalised singular mind and integral in orchestrating Gilead’s formation. Our initial disdain for Serena’s obsession with being a mother, her spiteful jealousy of Offred’s fertility and willing sacrificing of her political influence (she’s forbidden by law from reading and writing) and the freedom of all other women, starts to morph into pity when she is cowed in her attempts to smooth Gilead’s intellectual neutering of women. While she begins to have grave doubts about Gilead’s direction, Fred, in a position of ever-increasing power, thanks entirely to his gender, becomes entirely pre-occupied with displays of cruelty to maintain the domestic patriarchy. It’s June’s indefatigable persistence, focused insubordination and intelligence in resistance, ‘don’t let the bastards grind you down’ she graffittis on the wall before her latest escape attempt, to the manipulations of Fred and Serena, that Fred finds alluring, partly because these single-minded traits remind of him of how Serena used to be.
All of the narrative’s subjects, regardless of their strata, yield to Gilead’s totalitarianism, which combines the absolutism of Nazi Germany’s Endlosung, a Gestapo like militia named ‘Angels’, an Orwellianesque vaporisation of Handmaid’s past identities (nameless, like an unperson), a social hierarchy that’s instituted the kind of reductive misogyny you’d find in Saudi Arabia, a political structure reminiscent of North Korea’s theocratic military dictatorship, The Eyes (who spy on everyone, including Gilead’s elite) are akin to the Stasi, punishments for breaking the laws of god borrow from Stalinism’s cruelty and the Westboro Baptist Church’s loony devoutness justifies anything ‘under his eye’.
This is an absurd mixture, but without fictitious licence it would be impossible to envision such an emphatic collapse of first world values and freedoms as presented in Gilead. It’s not only the scale but the detail of the dystopia (and its cause – wide scale human infertility through pollution) that rubbishes the hypocrisies, apathy and scripted discourse found in contemporary politics that’s seen the rise of Trumps’s America, Putin’s Russia and Brexit. The vogue of right wing anxieties fuelled by a disingenuous demonisation of minority rights encroaching on theirs is a central target here. In Gilead gender traitors (their euphemism for homosexuals), Muslims, Jews and other heretics are hanged on a ‘wall’ Gilead’s citizens are made to pass. Trump’s yet to build his. There’s always an unforeseen price to pay for reversing integration and rights just to realise economic and social ideologies – in Gilead there’s no freedom of speech, no bowling alleys, takeaway pizzas, monster-trucks, golf courses, nightclubs, professional sports, internet (no online porn for you, laddie), television, gambling, cinemas, or bouncy castles. And it begs the question, just what have they done to Las Vegas? The mind boggles – carpet bombed it with copies of the New Testament? Nor are there garish public shows of hedonism, opulence or individuality. So a Trumpian alt-right wet dream it is not.
Regardless, no work of fiction is obligated to be impartial. The visual arts offer, or should offer, a method of examining the nature of politics, culture and social mores, with the diverse and partisan perspectives they contain enriching polemics. June Osborne’s life as Offred and her internal monologues serve as a cautionary allegory which criticises not only the danger of fascist tendencies going unchecked but the state (and intelligence) of moderate resolve as negligent, due to its unwillingness to challenge extremist ideas unless it’s on their terms.
The peculiar nature of surrogacy in Gilead, which ignores the realities of evolutionary biology in favour of warped ideology, is used to question whether children have a biological and psychological need to be with their mothers whenever possible. June betrays her biological instincts with her new-born baby (and endangers her own wellbeing) during an escape attempt at the end of season two. It’s a brilliant (and hopefully) inverted twist on Sophie’s Choice, and is the only likely way of maintaining June’s hopes that she can succeed in freeing both of her daughters from Gilead.
It’s a fleeting moment of choice that betrays a maxim from Aunt Lydia, Gilead’s truest believer, that Gilead’s ‘freedom from choice’ has liberated its citizens from ‘freedom to choose’. Funnily enough this quote reveals more about the modern psyche than it does of Gilead’s repugnant ideology. We would descend into anarchy without the illusion of freedom that consumerist choice provides. The cost of preferring to buy stuff than be altruistic is all too real if we’re prepared to look. While the Handmaid’s Tale plot is arresting, and Gilead cautions at the cost of blitheness and naivety, it’s not prophetic. We watch, and recoil, because it reveals that we know we cannot be trusted to choose correctly.