If I’m being honest, it’s been a difficult time. I’m not gonna lie, our ancient rhythms have been severely disrupted. And though we rejoice at the start of the Premier League this weekend, we can never forget that this was the summer when they stole the World Cup from us.
Some of us were so upset about it, we even found ourselves looking at Love Island — which is why we’re now starting articles with “If I’m being honest”, and “I’m not gonna lie”.
But it will be argued that’s all over now, and we have a full Premier League programme in front of us, as well as a World Cup starting in November. Sorry, I’m not having that.
Our ancient rhythms now have to deal not only with the deprivation of a World Cup in summer, as nature intended it, but with an upheaval in our club season the effects of which are as yet unknowable. But we know this much: a cherished part of our culture can simply be ripped up by horrible people with no consequences. Other than some commentary in this paper, was there even a petition that you could sign? A call to Liveline?
I’m not gonna lie, well actually I was lying to some extent, because I am pleased that with Egypt not qualifying for Qatar, the best player in the world, Mohamed Salah, will have a month off during the season while the other stars of the Premier League are burning themselves to a crisp in the furnaces of Doha.
If I’m being completely honest, now we have somehow lived through that terrible month of June, we have at least avoided the suffering that comes with the ending of a World Cup. It never started, so it never finished.
And, who knows? With the tournament scheduled to end a week before Christmas, we will doubtless get some merciful release there from the atrocities of the Yuletide season.
But if I’m being honest, the gala opening of this Premier League season has been slightly challenged by the only thing that can challenge it: more football, the kind played by women.
There is only one valid response to the enormous success of the European Championship won by England’s Lionesses, and that is to celebrate it unconditionally. And no, I don’t mean all that shallow enthusiasm of radio and TV presenters who have no true understanding of these things.
This is what I mean: if you’re a football man, and you’ve spent much of your life complaining that women have no interest in the game, and you see these women playing it who quite possibly love it even more than you do, because they had to try harder to play it… and if you then start cribbing that they don’t play it as well as Mo Salah, you are simply a contemptible fool, to be shunned by all good men.
Some of the reaction to the Lionesses was from women declaring that if only they’d known how great this football thing was, they’d have been following it a long time ago.
It will be fascinating to see if they maintain that interest by checking out the forthcoming Premier League action, if they can come to realise that football is not just a part of life, as such, that their entire lives so far have indeed been largely meaningless without it.
The journalist Simon Kuper has proposed the paying of reparations to finance the growth of women’s football, which was enormously popular during the years of World War I, but was then banned by the football authorities when the “real” football resumed.
It’s a great shout from “Kup”, but since it implies a kind of restorative justice, it’s hard to see it gaining much traction in today’s game. If there was such a thirst for justice in the Premier League, Manchester City and Newcastle United wouldn’t be allowed to have owners who are essentially very rich countries.
And reparations would be made by awarding last season’s title to Liverpool. Some would argue that by the same token the previous season’s title would go to runners-up Manchester United, but perhaps there would be a Statute of Limitations issue there.
And yet how beautiful this game must be, that we can love it despite the evil which it embodies. The Premier League, with its addictions to blood money and gambling money and just plain silly money, is in some ways an abomination.
Yet the storied greatness of the football clubs of England has such deep roots in our culture that with hardly any effort, a person in Portarlington or Portumna can be talking about a team in Liverpool or Manchester or Nottingham as “us”. These are the primal energies which are not understood by those excitable broadcasters looking to men’s and women’s football for what they call “entertainment”.
Love Island is entertainment. But there is a deeper peace in the hearts of men and increasingly women which starts again this weekend and which will not stop until the end of next May — if I’m being honest.
When we’re talking about sport, for many what we’re really talking about is gambling. In this country and the UK, there is one fixture being played constantly, between the betting corporations and the governments. And the ideal result for both is a scoreless draw.
Consider this: in the teeth of a global gambling pandemic, by the end of this Premier League season it will be 10 years since Ireland drafted its updated gambling legislation. Even the installation of a regulator, though long promised, has not happened yet.
In the UK, it seemed the Tories were going to introduce a ban on shirt sponsorship and a levy to fund addiction treatment, which was so out of character for them as to be unbelievable.
Here, after all, is an industry which facilitates like few others the transfer of resources from the poor to the rich. For Tories, what’s not to like ?
Turned out it was unbelievable. Once the betting corporations really got stuck in, there was talk of front-of-shirt sponsorship being phased out over a few years, but they could still advertise on shirt-sleeves.
Clubs argued they were already committed to these deals, which merely endorsed what we’ve been saying in these pages. So deeply has Big Gambling embedded itself in the finances of many sports, they would hardly exist at all without it.
But the main “compromise” is for changes to be voluntary rather than mandatory. This is a triumph for the bookies, because it frames the levy on addiction treatment not as a clear obligation, but something that might be contributed out of the goodness of their hearts. Thus the causal link between gambling and addiction is weakened.
“It’s vital that it’s mandatory rather than voluntary,” says Stewart Kenny, founder of Paddy Power but also of the self-explanatory Stop Gambling Harm. He was referring to an excellent move in Australia whereby punters will be given monthly statements by the bookie. If it was voluntary, “the very people who need them most are the people who won’t request them”, Kenny says.
Australia is literally the worst in the world for gambling. It seems that’s what it takes, to get anything done.
Judge Gamble (what a link, eh?) was explaining it to Alex Jones like she was talking to a child. “You must tell the truth while you testify. This is not your show,” the Texas judge said to the broadcaster of conspiracies and Trumpist propaganda who was ordered to pay $49.3m (€48.4m) in damages, for claiming the Sandy Hook school massacre was a hoax.
When Jones blabbered that “I believe what I said was true”, Gamble stopped him. “You believe everything you say is true, but it isn’t. Your beliefs do not make something true. That is… that is what we’re doing here.”
To this apocalyptically appalling case, somehow she brought a blast of light.