One name is guaranteed to feature for however long this football season is reviewed and remembered: Jake Daniels.
Whenever a story like Daniels’ emerges, it brings to mind the marvellous line from Dónal Óg Cusack’s book, attributed to his father, during ‘the chat’ — a chat of concern, some confusion, and no little love.
‘The abuse you’re going to get about this, I thought it was hard defending you over the short puckouts.”
It's kind of amazing that, 13 years later, somebody like Daniels talking about who he is still makes big, pioneering news. And terribly sad that abuse is still as likely a consequence.
No doubt Daniels’ bravery will hasten the Premier League’s first such pioneer. And surely some day soon, like the short puckout, this will be no big deal anymore.
Safe to say you wouldn’t yet trust a Premier League pitch invasion with a hurley each, like you might see at half-time in Parnell or Wexford Parks.
Thursday night’s Goodison jubilation will provide one of the lasting images from this season. Unfortunately, the scenes will be packaged in a wider narrative about unruly fans after Patrick Vieira lost the rag and a Toffee taunter make as much drama of his outstretched foot as Ruud van Nistelrooy did 18 years ago.
A line in PM O’Sullivan’s column this week didn’t go down that well at home: “A large section of Tipp followers (as opposed to genuine supporters) comprises folks seeking an alibi for a gloat.”
Should we widen that one out to take in the entire football world? All of this week’s outpourings of joy seemed to involve detours to rub it into the vanquished and on Tuesday, Sheffield United’s Billy Sharp was flattened by a flying headbutt from a lunatic who is already in jail.
Isn’t that what social media was created for — pouring banterous poison onto others’ disappointment?
For all football’s advances in sports science and psychology, first principles remain. Back in March Frank Lampard was inquiring after his players’ balls, following cup defeat by Crystal Palace. “Apologies, but that’s the football term,” clarified Lamps. Presumably, the search resumed at half-time on Thursday, with Palace 2-0 up again. And the response suggests the Everton lads didn’t take Lamps’ line of questioning as personally as many pundits imagined.
Do we have to reassess Lamps the gaffer, now he has rolled up his sleeves and earned something not handed to him? Could this be the making of him in the dugout, just as he made his own luck over the years with all the deflections?
For Arsenal, meanwhile, Granit Xhaka appears to have launched the search for balls a little too late.
Or has he? When Tottenham lift the imaginary fourth place trophy on Sunday, Dalo is promising to reproduce a February column from this page which he feels disrespected his beloved Spurs and their prospects of winning the most exciting of all the races. It’s Nicky smiling all over again!
Dalo is mistaken of course. That column was just a reminder that the great race for fourth is all about teams who can be very good and very bad, often in the same match, or even in the same half.
Indeed, since Spurs were very bad, around that time, the column more or less implied, reading closely between the lines, that they would eventually come good.
Of course, it would be in keeping with the traditions of the fourth-place race, and ‘the history of the Tottenham’ for Norwich to produce a twist on Sunday. But the Canaries have been at nothing almost from the very moment Adam Idah got injured.
When the year is reeled in by the reviewers, inevitably there will be Newcastle fans wearing towels on their heads in praise of their new Saudi overlords. Scenes we will doubtless see repeated when the regime lifts the Premier League trophy in a season or two.
Yet there’s still talk of introducing an integrity test for owners, which if done right could become the next big gameshow success, maybe even for Ant and Dec. “For three precious points, what’s your stance on beheading?”
For now, the Saudis look to have all the key Geordie thought leaders in their corner in the battle for hearts and minds. Though they may have made one early tactical error, if we can believe the leaking of next year’s away kit. In a modern Britain not so sharp on reality, but obsessed with optics and the colour of your passport, Newcastle United wearing the Saudi strip could yet become a red line issue.
It’s just a shame they’re not playing each other Sunday, to give us thoroughly scientific results, but we can still assume that the Burnley v Leeds final day relegation face-off will definitively prove which is the best way to sack a much-loved manager.
Are you rewarded for going early — Leeds won that race by nearly two months. Or should you be wary of using up your new gaffer bounce too soon? Incidentally, a University of Cambridge study from 2002 on when to sack the boss put the ‘honeymoon period’ for a manager at eight matches. Not sure the Jesse Marsch love lasted quite that long.
At least Mike Jackson has kept things low-key. If Leeds go down, it may well become a rule of thumb that the incoming saviour should avoid publicly trashing the work of a much-loved predecessor.
Were it a concert poster, their names would still be in small print, but it was the season when the women at least shared billing with the men. When, from our neck of the woods, the likes of Katie McCabe, Grace Moloney and Louise Quinn gained at least some of the weekly visibility of Seamus Coleman, Shane Duffy and Adam Idah.
Sky Sports’ Director of football Gary Hughes put viewing figures ahead of expectations, suggesting the Sunday night WSL game is ‘inheriting’ the Super Sunday audience. Man City v Spurs topped half a million.
Is she seeing and being? Anecdotal evidence finds one small number 11 in this house who warmly welcomed yesterday’s news of Viv Miedema’s contract extension. While there are one or two junior Brighton number 8 shirts knocking around Cork with Connolly on the back — that’s in honour of Megan, not Aaron.
We are losing some constant companions from our lives on Sunday — Misters Dean, Moss and Atkinson will say farewell. All tireless contributors to our old friend controvassy. So which of the departing heroes is likeliest to echo Jeff Winter’s famous words after officiating his final game at Anfield? “The fans behind the goal burst into spontaneous applause. It was longer and louder than normal, even for a big home win. Did they know it was my final visit? Was it applause for me? They are such knowledgeable football people, it would not surprise me.”
Luckily for all the knowledgeable football people nursing various conspiracy theories, Atkinson and Moss will take up jobs at PGMOL, training up a new generation of officials. While Deano, surely warm favourite to do a Winter, will take up residence in the VAR office.
Will the season be remembered at all? It really needs an Aguerooooo in either direction Sunday. Turns out you can have too much of a good thing. The cognoscenti found it terribly tedious and boring earlier in the season when City were handily winning all their matches and cruising clear. But is it all that much more entertaining when both of them are doing it?
Pep Guardiola’s theory that all of the media wants Liverpool to win it has been swiftly dismissed by all of the media. But of course it’s true. A City win won’t sell too many pullouts or even generate that many clicks. It’s not even good for business on social. After all, how much banterous poison can you really pour on a team who will probably still walk away with a treble?