Sunday 23 October 2016

You should never not watch a match

The Premier League is back next week and we give thanks for the end of the hell that is summer

Published 02/08/2015 | 02:30

The Premier League is back next week and we give thanks for the end of the hell that is summer
The Premier League is back next week and we give thanks for the end of the hell that is summer

Thank God," my friend said, when I met him on the street last week. "Just thank God."

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Though he would not be a man for the organised religion - he would be more the "spiritual" sort - so extreme was his emotion he seemed to have connected with the old-fashioned idea of a single deity which controls all things for good or ill.

In this case, the "ill" was the lack of top action from the Barclays Premier League during the summer, and the "good" is the return of that top action next weekend. God - or God as this desperate man understands him - is good.

But we have been tested, by this unusually long summer, with no World Cup or European Championship, just the Copa America which was held in Chile, thus challenging us with its absurd local custom of starting the matches around midnight, Irish time, or even in the early hours of the morning, Irish time.

In future these South Americans must understand that our needs are more important than theirs, that Irish time is inherently better than Chilean time or Bolivian time or whatever, and they must organise their games accordingly - but that is an issue for another day.

So yes, we have been tested, as we attempted to survive on whatever sustenance that various other sports can offer us, like "listening to an orchestra which is missing the grand piano", as they say.

Though in truth, in that mythical orchestra football is something more than the grand piano. It would also be the strings, maybe the woodwind too, a bit of the brass section perhaps...and yet there are some who cannot hear it at all, or who reject it.

It is now commonplace to hear them arguing that players are being paid ridiculous amounts of money, indeed it has become the standard measurement of extravagance in our culture - how often would we hear someone on a radio panel comparing the pay of nurses and fire-firefighters to these "millionaires kicking a pig's bladder around a field?"

Though there is a certain truth buried deep in there. It is indeed ridiculous that these men who have risen to the high ground of the Premier League entirely on the basis of genuine talent, regardless of what school they went to, with no "pull" of any kind, should be seen as abnormally wealthy, reviled almost as much as hedge fund managers or special advisors to the government - indeed any society in which it has become routine to attack the pay and conditions of highly skilled professional footballers, is a society in trouble.

But still you can hear the cribbing. They say that the relatively weak performances of our teams in the Champions League in recent seasons - Liverpool in particular put up a poor show last year - has "proven" that the Premier League is not "the best league in the world", that that is all hype.

But I have noted that on my television set there are many matches from the supposedly superior Spanish league, and the German league, on the same channels which bring us our top Premier League action. And yet the multitudes seem to prefer a competitive match between two English teams, rather than watching Barcelona sleepwalking through another exquisite five-goal crushing of Deportivo La Coruna.

Then we are told that the Champions League exposes the mediocrity of the Premier League, and yes I acknowledge that the Champions League can be more refined, more intensely brilliant - but I prefer to see it as essentially different in nature to the Premier League, not necessarily superior in all ways.

Because there are ways in which it is clearly not superior - there can be considerable tracts of the Group stages which are not competitive at all, and you know, you'd miss the bit of competition.

Not that we're cribbing here, because after all, it is football. And as we have discovered so many times, you should never not watch a football match.

For example, at lunchtime next Sunday you may think you can get away with not watching the first Super Sunday match of the season, Arsenal at home to West Ham. You may have that one marked down as an obvious home win, but again I would remind you of the great rule: you should never not watch a football match.

I know a man who decided one night that he couldn't be bothered watching the Arsenal and Reading in the Capital One Cup - the game finished 7-5 to the Arsenal, after extra time. That man found out, the hard way, that you should never not watch a football match.

And still...still they come with their cribbing about how ludicrous it is for people from, say, Roscommon, to be regarding themselves as Liverpool fans. In fact, Irish people have been supporting English football teams for so long now, as a natural expression of their humanity and of their longing for a bit of diversion in their lives, it can with some justification be called our national game.

In a similar move, people from Roscommon became fans of the Beatles without thinking it was ridiculous, what with all the great Roscommon bands they could have supported at the time.

Thank God we can admire aspects of a culture other than our own, that we are so open-minded.

Thank God...

Sunday Independent

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