Eamon Dunphy loved pre-season. Arriving back at the club to see the pitch with no goalposts and no lines drawn. A clean slate.
In Only a Game? he wrote: “It’s sunny and you’re happy. The team has not been picked yet. The divisions have not been drawn yet. Guys you haven’t liked before, and who you will probably hate again later in the season, seem all right in this kind of atmosphere.”
The audacity of hope. Eamo’s joie de vivre would persist until a 2-0 defeat at Fulham on the opening day.
This is a time of great possibility too for football supporters. For fans of football teams beyond these shores, these are arguably the greatest days of our lives.
When hope waits around every corner in the form of a tenuous transfer link to a ‘proven hitman’ or a ‘goal machine’. When it feels as if everything might just turn out alright.
Arguably only three of life’s renowned comforts have a proven ability to command
financially crippling sums on premium rate telephone calls.
Sexy talk, psychic readings, and transfer gossip.
Many a ‘bill payer’, whose permission wasn’t asked, encountered unexpected bad news from their phone provider and pondered which rabbit hole the chief suspect has begun to explore.
It was mainly a two-horse race. Only the truly psychic ever guessed their nearest and dearest had developed a weakness for Russell Grant and company.
This was a time when hope came at a heavy price. When Ceefax, page 302, and Teletext, page 401, were the primary sources of instant football news.
Gateway drugs to the heavier stuff, available for 48p per minute on Clubcall and Teamtalk.
ARSENAL: £2M Dutch scoring sensation set to sign? Phone 0898...
It was those teasers that opened so many eyes to the syntax of cynicism, to the power of the humble question mark as a key scaffold of the bullshit industry.
We eventually learned the phrases ‘set to’ and ‘poised to’ didn’t necessarily mean there was a club official about to feed a contract into a fax
machine right that minute.
But those cryptic messages also delivered a certain type of hope.
Usually it was false hope, but there were always those who would chase that hope to the ends of the earth.
Lads who might even persuade a teacher to let them make an urgent call home from the school staffroom. And having loudly conducted their half of an imaginary conversation, might return with word that Liverpool were set to swoop for Paul Warhurst.
The kid who could dispense that kind of hope could be king. And with no deadline day, his reign would be long.
Now, we are told, like we were told then, that transfer fees are obscene. Every year, we are sent a sign that things have gone too far, that the madness has finally broken the whole system down.
Kyle Walker for £50m might just be this summer’s sign, sent to test us.
But at least hope is now free. Or at least you’re not charged directly. It flows abundantly from the Twitter tap, a steady stream of summer nourishment. And the tweeter who calls just one big move first can enjoy a long reign as king.
Perhaps it’s true you can have too much of a good thing, though. Maybe the avalanche of hope out there means there is just too much hope being dashed. Maybe it is too much hope that kills you.
There is a fine line between hope and abject despair and recent transfer windows have seen plenty of the latter, with Arsenal fans usually winning the race to the abyss.
But this summer, it is that most potent of all forces, Scouse hope, that is turning sour with impatience.
This week, Jurgen Klopp, the pillar at the heart of their belief system, fretted over what kind of message he could send to placate “nervous fans”.
“I am not nervous — maybe that is the message.”
It was a decent message but one that will struggle to compete with ‘Naby Keita set to ink £80m Reds deal?’
The summer dynamic may have changed slightly in other ways too. Sean Dyche complained this week there is no “true value of worth anymore”. By which Sean presumably means price tags are no longer an accurate guide to a player’s status on the industry recognised top top top top top scale.
It has put an end, for starters, to 90% of ‘wonder kid’ speculation. Rumours linking your club to a 16-year-old French prodigy might have brought a sliver of hope five years ago.
But now, if the lad isn’t already commanding £35m minimum, we can take it for granted that he is not going to be top top top.
It means too that Arsenal fans, after years dreaming of such abandon, can now see £50m lashed out and still not be sure they’ve even landed a top top.
But there are advantages too to this market confusion. There is little or no place any more for those killjoys who fretted about resale value and financial fair play. Who once boasted about getting five Monreals for the price of one Shaw.
Who forgot the joy of the August clean slate. Who knew the price of everything and forgot the value of hope. And glory.
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