This one may be a bit wordy, so kick off your heels, loosen your corset, unsnap your stockings, sit back and relax. You too, ladies.
As you know (see “World Cup Willie”), football is an integral part of my life. I’m now able to enjoy watching whole games online just a couple of hours after the final whistle and I never fail to keep up with the highlights. The ups and downs of the 20 Premier League teams are a sort of soap opera, although over the past few years, the lack of variety and the inevitability of the top four spaces being occupied by both Manchester teams, Arsenal and Chelsea rather spoil it for the rest of us. Not so this year.
The EPL script writers ( Copyright Men in Blazers) have thrown everyone for a loop by introducing new characters, transforming others and sending some into what can only be described as a death spiral the likes of which one would never believe in real life. The stand out stars this year have been Leicester City, and for good reason. On April 3 2015 they were in 20th place with 19 points from 29 games and seemed a certain bet for relegation, yet one year later to the day, they were top of the league with 69 points from 31 games and barring an implosion of epic proportions are set to be champions. I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to see them in the top spot. Not only have they upset the old hegemony but they have done it with essentially the same squad as last year and have played some of the most exciting football I have ever seen. Added to which, seven years ago their top scorer, Jamie Vardy was playing for Stocksbridge Park Steels of the Northern Premier League Division One – the eighth level of English football – imagine the third string of a single A baseball team and you’re almost there. Now, he’s one of the leading scorers in the EPL and set to play for England in the European Championships this summer.
Seven years ago , AFC Bournemouth were at the foot of League Two – 92nd out of the 92 teams in the English professional system, with not even the funds to pay their milk bill, let alone their staff. Promoted as champions from the Championship last year, they are now set to remain in the EPL and pocket their share of the $5.1Bn television deal. You can’t help but love them, and not in a patronising way because they’ve fought like devils, beaten Chelsea and Manchester United and played some damn fine football along the way, and all on a tiny budget. Their stadium holds about 11,500. Yes, you aren’t seeing things. There are high schools in Texas with bigger football stadia.
As a dyed in the wool Liverpool fan, the collapse of both Chelsea and Manchester United brought a tingle to my special place, and it has been a delight to see the smug grins wiped off the faces of so many of their fans, as well as the managerial turmoil associated with the spoiled brats of English football not being given their free ride and automatic European Champions League spots.
It’s not all schadenfreude, though. I feel really sorry for fans of Aston Villa who have been treated like dirt by the club’s American owner, a man who cares naught for pride, history or the future and sees no further than the next dollar. It breaks my heart to see a once proud club reduced so, and only hope the fans and players stick together and refloat the sinking ship.
Now you may imagine that I take some delight from Everton’s increasingly poor league position, but not so. I like their manager, Roberto Martinez: He strikes me as a thoroughly decent chap doing his best with a limited budget. I don’t even have any animosity towards Everton fans as the blue half of Merseyside is as passionate about football as the red half. Throw in the performances of sexy, sexy Stoke ((C) MIB), Watford, West Ham and even Tottenham Hotspur who somehow managed to avoid their usual habit of fading fast, and it all adds up to a thoroughly exciting and enjoyable season.
“But what of Liverpool?” I hear you ask. Well, having sacked Brendan Rodgers as manager and replaced him with Jurgen Klopp, we’ve not really done all that well. The thing is, Klopp has had to spend this season getting to know the strengths and weaknesses of the squad, and I expect a grand clearing out over the closed season and next year Liverpool will emerge reborn, ready for a rip roaring season and automatic qualification for the Champions League. I accept now that our dominance of Europe is over – we steamrollered our way across Europe like a Russian tank army from the late ’70s until the late ’80s and those days will live forever in football history, but it would be nice to recapture some of the old magic, I’m just pleased that I’ve been able to enjoy it all without the need to get up before the sparrows and been able to pause play to take a comfort stop or make breakfast.
I’m as old as “Match of the Day” and I can’t imagine not being able to see the show, even though Gary Lineker is the archetypal “Mum – safe” presenter so beloved by the B.B.C., Martin Keown is able to do nothing but recite statistics and Jermain Jenas looks like a little kid overawed by being allowed to stay up late and sit with the grown ups. One thing remains unchanged – Alan Shearer blowing up and barely controlling his urge to swear over yet another dismal Newcastle United performance as they slide relentlessly towards relegation. Someone had better load him up on doggy downers – they play Manchester City tomorrow and Liverpool on Saturday. At least that means next year he will be calmer. Unless that is, he joins Manish Bhasin as co-presenter of “The Football League Show” to provide insight into English football’s second tier.