The return of the Premier League always provokes mixed feelings. On the down side, it heralds the onset of long winter nights with nothing to do but watch football; on the up side, it heralds the onset of long winter nights with nothing to do but watch football.
Of course, football cannot really be back because it never really goes away. Obviously, there’s League of Ireland action and the qualifying rounds of European competitions, which seem to have started some time around Easter this year.
But thanks to football’s long tail of international competitions, many of the beloved cast of characters known as ‘Prem Stars’ also stick around throughout the summer months.
For example, it was quite jarring to flick on the telly in deep July and see that Sadio Mané was STILL playing football. Mané, along with the likes of Cheikhou Kouyaté, Idrissa Gueye and Riyah Mahrez, lined up in the Africa Cup of Nations Final on July 19, which means his 2018/19 season finished five days after Wimbledon.
This feat of staggering endurance seemed especially striking in the case of Mané, the all-action, flashing blade of Liverpool’s relentless pursuit for Premier League and Champions League glory. To find Mané still busting a gut when even Roger Federer had put his feet up seemed scarcely believable. It put one in mind of that time David Blaine suspended himself inside a Perspex box for six weeks: impressive, really, but why?
Still, despite the flagrant disregard for the old adage about absence making the heart grow fonder, the return of the Premier League is broadly a good thing. Or at least, I will accept it as a good thing as long as the following conditions are met over the next 10 months.
Firstly, and this is key: don’t talk to me about your Fantasy League team. Fantasy League teams are like children — nobody cares about them if they’re not their own. So you triple captained Sergio Aguero for a home game against Norwich? And played your bench boost? Well done, truly, you are Rinus Michels reincarnated.
Don’t talk to me about VAR. I don’t want to hear about how it’s destroying the soul of the game. I don’t want hear how reaching the correct decision is more important than having 22 players and 40,000 fans picking their noses for five minutes. Enough. We get it. Less of the magical tidings about what goes on in Stockley Park; it’s not Narnia.
For that matter, I don’t want to hear ex-referees talking on TV. The disembodied voice of Peter Walton telling me that Michael Oliver got that spot on? No thanks. That old saying about the best referee being the one you don’t notice? That. No more superstar refs. Just tell the pundits to learn the rules.
I don’t want to hear about arms in unnatural positions, clear and obvious errors or how being offside is like being pregnant, you either are or you aren’t. Referees will get some things right and some things wrong. Big deal. We all get things wrong. Last week I put a pizza box in the recycling bin.
Get rid of Monday Night Football. Not the highly successful Sky Sports vehicle in which Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher put circles around lazy full-backs. I mean actual football on a Monday night. It’s wrong — worse, even, than football on Thursday nights. Football on a Saturday afternoon has tradition. Football on a Sunday afternoon is a great way to snooze off a roast dinner. Friday night football is an exultant release after the working week. Midweek European nights have a sense of theatre.
Monday night football has none of these things. As an occasion, it is flat and lifeless, stripped of the weekend’s joyous abandon. Monday nights are not for football. They are for turning in early, preoccupied by tomorrow morning’s meeting with Kevin from marketing. Crowds at Premier League matches should be passionate and partisan, spitting obnoxious invective, not fretting distractedly about Powerpoint presentations.
Actually Mr. Neville, while you’re here: come November when Manchester United are enduring their latest sticky spell (Europa League defeat to Sheriff Tiraspol/Paul Pogba likes a Benjamin Mendy Instagram post/Alexis Sanchez locks himself in the toilet), I don’t want to hear about the club’s glorious traditions. No more about young players, wingers and dictatorial Scotsmen.
There is a section of United fans who are like Brexit voters, harking back to a mythical past as a solution for the grim present. Where does that go after Ole? Must be Mark Robins’ turn surely?
I don’t mind if you support Liverpool even though you’re from Limerick or Lucan. That’s fine. Just don’t start speaking like the lovechild of Jimmy Tarbuck and Cilla Black as soon you pull on your replica jersey. You are not a Scouser. You do not hate ‘Mancs’. You’re not allowed to cry uncontrollably when Ferry Across the Mersey comes on the radio. It’s Roberto Firmino, not Bobby Ferrgh-meenio. This means more? Sorry, it really doesn’t.
Can Twitter introduce a logarithm to make me not see arguments between fans of rival Premier League teams? Whatever the internet was invented for, it can’t have been so that someone in Malaysia can tell the world that Mo Salah is a fraud.
For balance, every Manchester City match report needs to include an Abu Dhabi human rights update. Ray Winstone needs to get a real acting job. Anyone found guilty of racist chanting at a football ground must be forced to do Raheem Sterling’s mum’s shopping for 10 years. Chelsea’s name to be officially changed to ‘Frank Lampard’s Chelsea’. Jesse Lingard to discover the pleasant stylings of the Nokia 3310.
Brendan Rodgers to impose a Mickey Harte-style ban on post-match interviews.
Pep Guardiola to continue inventing hybrid forms of clothing. The coatigan and combat chinos have us salivating for more.
Bournemouth. What is a Bournemouth? Can someone find that out?
That’s all. Bring it on. But trust me, I mean it about the Fantasy Football.