In an unprecedented development, it has been widely accepted the Premier League has returned at roughly the correct time. Ordinarily, this weekend brings widespread resistance from complainants grousing at life’s natural rhythms.
“Don’t tell me it’s back already,” goes the historic rallying call from the kind of people who scoff that the pubs will be full of lads “roaring at Stoke v Bolton”, knowing full well that neither Stoke or Bolton are in the Premier League, but aware that no pair of unglamorous teams will ever fit this complaint as suitably.
But there isn’t much of that kind of thing about this year. Indeed there is a notable lack of annoyance at the return of the Premier League.
By all accounts, the Irish Times letters page, a natural home for this kind of thing, has had only one correspondent registering dismay — a response to a feature about Dublin pubs where you can watch the Premier League from a man who “would respectfully suggest proper Dublin pubs are ones where you cannot watch the Premier League”.
But in general, people seem to be putting up with the return of the great juggernaut, mainly keeping a lid on their simmering rage even while Fantasy Football enthusiasts explain at length how they have got Salah and Kane and Aguero into the same team.
So what could this unusual sanguinity mean? And is it a state of affairs that should worry The Best League in the World? Since consultants are the kind of people who can magic league tables out of culture, an Ernst and Young report recently described the Premier League as “one of the UK’s best cultural exports”.
As the UK government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport puts it, “the Premier League is more than one of the world’s greatest sporting competitions, it is a hugely successful British brand and export that helps to promote a positive image of Britain on the global stage”.
But just when Britain’s brand could do with a little boost on the world stage, could the Premier League be losing its grip on the culture of its nearest neighbours?
Especially since lingering British influence on these shores is now concentrated, Dónal Óg Cusack suggests, on driving sweepers out of hurling and persuading lads to ‘drive it’, instead of playing through the lines. And maybe on Love Island.
Of course, the Premier League remains the single most important thing in many people’s lives. But has it somehow drifted from the consciousness of Official Ireland? Has it slid to the margins with X Factor and EastEnders, the casual observer now oblivious to when it starts and finishes?
Time was we were all besotted by its soap opera dramas and endless controvassy. When John Terry’s love life would provoke Sunday think pieces maybe a query on Questions and Answers.
Some would argue that peak Premier League arrived as long ago as 2001, when Taoiseach Bertie Ahern appeared as a pundit on RTÉ’s The Premiership — a point underlined by many Irish people’s insistence on still calling it the Premiership.
In the years that followed, the Saturday trips to Old Trafford were as plentiful as Fat Frogs. But perhaps the high watermark of Premier League influence on our culture came fully 10 years ago when Seamus Callanan scored a goal in the Munster Championship and produced Nicolas Anelka’s butterfly celebration.
It truly was embedded. At that stage, word of Wayne Rooney’s hamstring strain might trump an All-Ireland final on the radio sports bulletins.
Across the workplaces of the land, it was more or less HR policy that positive feedback should be delivered by shouting “Take a bow, son” in an exaggerated Scottish accent.
Indeed, for all the technical and tactical innovation there has been since, were we ever as engaged as when Andy Gray hunched over a three-foot pitch shuffling red and yellow checkers into the channels?
These were admittedly simpler times, when rather than rooting for illegal streams on Saturdays we made do with the late Tom Tyrrell on Today FM, roaring on United and telling us the play was all in the middle of the pitch “like a giant Easter egg”.
And then lads from Kerry would ring up to lecture Fergie that ‘we’ need to get rid of Beckham. It contributed more to our language and lexicon in those years than a dozen trips to the Gaeltacht. For me. Big ask. All credit. Tell you what. At the end of the day. Top top.
But not any more. What is the last catchphrase the Premier League has given us? Where is the next ‘Unbelievable, Jeff’ going to come from? Has even Merse’s ‘worldy’ truly taken off? Not until we hear Cyril Farrell use it to describe a Bubbles point from the sideline that goes in off the beans. For me.
Instead, all we hear the GAA lads talk about are learnings and work-ons, the language of Rugby Country. And we need articles in the paper to tell us where we might be able to watch the match on television.
Where has it all gone wrong? The departure of Mourinho was a critical blow, the one figure who could still guarantee attention if not trophies.
But in reality the Premier League was built on Manchester United winning. And “I used to follow United” has become the refrain of a disconnected people. Manchester City are a buffer, a backstop, preventing hearts and minds truly engaging. Interestingly, Pep has now taken to wearing cargo chinos, a nod to salad days.
Liverpool look the best bet to rescue it all. Reds have been reappearing steadily from the woodwork and should they end the great famine there is no telling how many people from all walks of Irish life who will remember a great childhood devotion to King Kenny and co.
Ironically, it is the club whose fans refuse to identify as British needed to revive Britain’s great cultural export.