Larry Ryan: It might be a better world, a Premier League stripped of some of the hysteria

If GAA lads turned to Normal People in lockdown, the soccer crowd were better off with Pure Mule.
Larry Ryan: It might be a better world,  a Premier League stripped of some of the hysteria

How easily it all slipped from our vocabularies.

Worldies, parking the bus, and almost hitting it too well. Lost dressing rooms and seeing them given. Expected goals, scoring too early, and the West Ham way. Come-and-get-me pleas, warchests, net spend, demands to announce Sancho.

And, of course, controvassy.

How long since we’ve talked about a goal we’d have talked more about if only Leo Messi had scored it?

Long enough that next time a two-footed tackle goes in, can we really know for sure if he’s that type of player? People change.

Soon it’ll all be back. And already we find ourselves settling into old ways. Scanning fixture lists and TV listings and cancelling the few bits of life that were still available to us.

Some of us will have to retrain in domestic bargaining. Except in the new hypernormal, there will be a match on every day, at every hour. And the dealmaking will need to be more artful than even Trump’s second favourite book could teach us.

Others are steeling themselves for the end of soft living. Bracing for the return of constant agitation. For throwing away two precious points. For having a winner ruled out by the VAR offside line.

And for the return of banter.

Unlike the retired old pro, the one thing many of us didn’t miss was the banter.

Whenever you felt an overwhelming sense of calm over the past months, and couldn’t quite put a finger on why you were coping so well, despite everything, that’s probably what it was.

The lack of bantz.

In those precious days, when we weren’t sure if the world was ending, somehow people stopped seeing each other as Liverpool fans or Manchester United fans. And they found other ways of conversing — even on those Zoom calls that were going nowhere — besides chortling ‘Ole must stay’.

The peace and unity that broke out across the land was helped by the merciful shortage of Premier League nostalgia.

While other sports gorged on the past, soccer’s fast was better observed.

Sure, we’d watch another goals compilation. Or rummage through the World Cups. France v Brazil from 1986 on TG4 had it all, even Motty mysteriously taking over from George.

But wistful reminiscing on club football doesn’t sell well.

‘Hurling people’ can watch old matches with their devotion to a higher calling to unite them. The gah lads have their conviction that football was always that bit less terrible in the old days. And whoever is playing, the rugby guys have their enormous sense of well-being to bond them.

But club football is a niche business. Nobody wants to wallow in another team’s finest hour. Their joy is too painful. Soccer’s great appeal is built on bitterness.

If gah lads turned to Normal People in lockdown and found love, the soccer crowd were better off with the reruns of Pure Mule. Scobie and Shamie Donoghue — domestic rivals begrudging each other scoring.

But during all that time off from old rifts, we were free to dream of a better world. Many vowed that if football should ever come back, they’d be better able to enjoy it. That they mightn’t spend all their hours wishing misfortune on others.

There are even those out there who felt it might be a reasonable price to pay for postponing the apocalypse — Liverpool winning the title.

But all that is already long gone.

It lasted as long as the first confirmation of venues for the run-in and analysis resumed of where Liverpool will win it.

And banter opportunities were sized up.

The chief problem with Project Restart is it’s not a fresh start. Without the reset of a regular off-season, most fans have been denied their summer transfusion of hope.

But at least things will sound different.

Anyone who’s ever stopped to watch three-and-in in the park will manage fine without punters in stadiums. Anyway, now wouldn’t be the time to give a few more racists a stage.

One of the chief ideological objections to VAR will also be eliminated; that the people in the stadium haven’t a breeze what’s going on.

And if you really are pining for Allez Allez Allez, there will probably be a red button option.

Somewhat worryingly, Sky boss man Stephen van Rooyen has promised “some terrific new innovations to give football fans the very best experience of watching live sport”.

Hopefully that doesn’t involve denying us the opportunity to listen to the players’ shouts, so Martin Tyler will get the chance to break Billo’s tally of apologies for inexactitudes.

However it works, we’ll have Longy in there among them, the great survivor, an example to us all, signed on for two more years at the Saints. As a hurling man maybe he's still answering a higher calling, has access to a personal well of hope. So he’ll run all day for you no matter how it’s going. Winning breaking ball.

It might even suit Longy, not having to endure the knowing groans of the crowd after another one slips just past the post.

It might suit us all better, a Premier League stripped of some of the hysteria around it.

And maybe, just maybe, if Liverpool get their business done as soon as possible, we might all be able to settle down to enjoy the rest of it.

Perhaps we might even find the better world we dreamed of. More footballers are finding their voice about the state of the world and football authorities, for once, are not discouraging them.

In that context, whatever our allegiances, it might be easier to see Marcus Rashford as a lad who spent lockdown raising £20million for hungry kids, or Sadio Mane as the man who has built schools and hospitals in Senegal, not the money-grabbers politicians attempted to portray footballers as.

With basketball returning soon too, and the likes of Steve Kerr joining Jurgen Klopp and co back on centre stage, it will hardly do the people of America and England any harm either to regularly hear again from dignified, statesmanlike figures.

Just a shame there aren’t a few more black coaches in there, among the big boys.

One for the real Project Restart.

More in this section