Clearing The Summer Hangover
My team, Bostik League Premier Division Kingstonian (Bostik? Evo-Stik? Rhyming adhesives and non-league football… er… league sponsorships, eh?) began their 2017/2018 season this Saturday. But I wasn’t interested.
They did so at Billericay Town, tabloid press darlings, sure-to-be-wisely-gargantuan spenders and inevitable title favourites among football bookies who probably couldn’t name any non-tabloid star ‘Ricay players, let alone rationally analyse their promotion prospects. Paul Konchesky. Jamie O’Hara. Jeez, Jermaine Pennant. Players that football fans have heard of. In the Isthmian League. £35,000 weekly wage bill. In the Isthmian League. But I wasn’t interested.
They did so under the management of red-wine quaffing, Salvador Dali-mustachioed, hardman manager Craig Edwards, who superbly elicited promotion play-off-place form from a previously under-achieving Kingstonian (Ks) team in April and early May to reverse a seemingly inexorable slide towards Division One South; a manager Kingstonian “snapped up” when he escaped the circus-like situation at… Billericay Town.
And… they won. One-nil. Last minute. As, ahem, “provocative” Ks fans’ twitter account “Weaving In and Out” so eloquently put it at 4.48pm on Saturday: “Scenes. Limbs. Lewis Taylor. Oh my.” It was a result which Ks’ official twitter account called a “victory for non-league football,” which sounded a bit much…until a glance at the non-league Twitterati revealed that non-league football rather agreed.
I admit, I allowed myself a wry smile (my colleagues at the Non-League Football Paper [NLP] allowed themselves some even wryer laughter). But I STILL wasn’t THAT interested.
Christmas retail promotions do NOT start earlier each year, it was recently reported. But football close seasons surely get shorter, if close seasons end when pre-seasons begin. Australia’s Tom Rogic barely had one at all. He secured Celtic’s Scottish domestic treble on May 27th. On July 1st, he played in Celtic’s pre-season friendly (PSF) at Rapid Vienna. In-between was Australia’s Russian Confederations Cup campaign, in which he played and scored.
Celtic’s midsummer pre-season, which began four days after midsummer’s night, was dictated by their entry into the Uefa Champions League’s second qualifying round, which is invariably mid-July. The “glorious twelfth” of July was, utterly inevitably, the original date set for the away leg of their tie against Belfast’s Irish League champions Linfield.
And even though the match was moved from such a highly-charged date, it still offered countless reasons to be depressed by modern football. Especially Celtic’s Leigh Griffiths being booked for deeming a corner-kick not worth taking until the risk of being skulled by a flying bottle was at least minimised. Although Griffiths became victim-turned-idiot by tying a Celtic scarf to a goalpost after the match, childish macho territorialism in a football context…and probably worthier of a booking.
Nevertheless, however empty Griffiths’ head was after the match, referee Alejandro Hernandez deeming his aversion to a smashed skull to be time-wasting was childish officiousness in a football context. Compare that common-senseless punctiliousness with the Scottish football authorities’ determination NOT to apply their rules to the “Rangers Tax Case” (you know the one)…and weep.
The English Premier League (EPL) summer has had its depressingly normal quota of stroppy-brat footballers whimpering and pining after transfers. Southampton’s Dutch centre-back Virgil van Dijk has been 2017’s prime example to date. But the transfer window is still middle-aged and the bleatings of Tottenham’s Danny Rose may yet outwhimper van Dijk’s.
Yet while Rose complains that Spurs haven’t spent a transfer penny, Arsenal fans bemoan another supposedly-dismal transfer window, as if by habit, oblivious to their summer’s business actually being quite good, as Alexandre Lacazette proved last Friday.
And Liverpool refused NINETY MILLION quid for good-but-not-THAT-good Philippe Coutinho, knowing a newly-enriched Barcelona (below) can pay more. While Wayne Rooney took a “huge pay cut” TO £150,000-per-week to join Everton. Jose Mourinho reportedly “shed tears” at Rooney’s departure, surely tears of laughter as Romelu Lukaku replaced him at Man Yoo.
And transfer and salary spending again swallows all the extra broadcast rights cash negotiated by EPL CEO Richard Scudamore and, presumably, others. Satirical magazine Private Eye recently noted the identical defence spending of five entire nations (albeit small ones, including nuclear-wannabes Timor Leste) and…Manchester City.
Why is there so little difference between the expenditures? I think we should be told… It is such a shame that such ridiculous spending (even for a ridiculous market) is necessary. If only England could produce a world-class crop of under-20s talent, to avoid the need for…wait…what? Oh.
The mainland European leagues’ summer has been dominated by Neymar Junior’s “not-for-the-money” (of course not) move from Barcelona to Paris Saint Germain. Part of the PSG “project,” which is itself “not for the money.” Or “for the football” either, but “for” human-rights-lite Qatar’s desire for “soft power,” a concept so risible, Scudamore likes it.
That’s two hundred million quid PSG won’t ever get back, however much Neymar tat they sell before he angles after another multi-million pound/euro/dollar/yuan signing-on fee; which will be as far into the future as it takes him to discover the part-folly of the phrase: “I am here to win things” at PSG. “Project,” my arse. (Note to editor: PLEASE punctuate those last three words properly).
So, for neither the first nor last summer transfer window, FFS is a more relevant acronym than FFP.
Yet, for all these “top, top” players’ bloated bank accounts, comedy-duo “Messi and Ronaldo” STILL feel the need to be tax cheats (Ronaldo, allegedly), as if they wouldn’t anyway have more money than they could ever physically spend. It’s as if Ronaldo is consumed by a desire to outdo Messi in EVERY aspect of life. Which itself requires no further comment on modern footballers as humans.
All this pig-ignorance, snout-in-the trough greed and other porcine imagery was outclassed by my Irish sporting summer, despite my Gaelic Football team, Roscommon, crashing humiliatingly out of the All-Ireland Championship on Monday.
Gaelic Football and Hurling have their own “issues” with officiousness and referees issuing yellow cards for all-kinds-of-nothing. “I regard this as ‘bullshit’ but you can’t say ‘bullshit’ on television,” said television pundit Colm O’Rourke on the subject recently…on television.
And the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA), is becoming dangerously in thrall to Sky TV. Sky’s audience figure for a recent big game was 28,000. Some games have had higher match attendances than viewing figures. So, while Sky money bloats GAA coffers, swathes of fans are denied access to increasing numbers of games. However, the games themselves, as sporting spectacles and overall experiences, are often as soul-enriching and inclusive as the EPL is soulless and distant.
Hurling is the world’s greatest field sport. Yes, even more gripping than kabbadi. This year’s Galway/Tipperary All-Ireland semi-final was a wow-by-wow repeat of the 2015 and 2016 semi-finals between the two, proverbial kitchen sinks thrown throughout, with not one toss given about tactics/strategy, Galway producing a fabulous late winner.
TV pundits praising games for “manliness” has been a jarring note. There has also been an inevitability about football’s semi-finalists (imagine the EPL being…cough…so predictable). But Roscommon threatened a semi-final spot, drawing their quarter-final with Mayo, after a surprise-but-stylish provincial final victory over a well-regarded Galway team. And while Mayo steamrollered them in Monday’s replay, Roscommon’s season typified the warmth Gaelic Games can possess and elite soccer lacks.
Roscommon’s victory, IN Galway, sparked a joyous pitch invasion by kids of all ages (I was NOT among them, although if my seat wasn’t 20 rows back…). As wonderful was the stadium announcer’s repeated, increasingly desperate plea for “Roscommon captain Ciarain Murtagh” to “please come to the main stand and collect the trophy,” like a Tesco tannoy call for “Alice to checkout three,” as Roscommon players were happily swamped by the pitch-invaders.
Like the FA Cup, lesser teams define their “success.” For London (yes!), beating an Irish county is their “championship.” And they were peak “plucky” in two narrow home defeats this year. Gripping occasions, even if excitement outstripped quality. Carlow, one-point conquerors of London, took “plucky” to new levels against All-Ireland champions Dublin, before threatening a genuine “giant-killing” of Monaghan.
Meanwhile, Mayo have consistently provided season-long dramas far beyond soap opera (with far better acting, some have said of star-player Aidan O’Shea’s frequent “strategic” losses of balance). They needed extra-time twice, plus the Roscommon replay, to reach the last four, where they will surely add to their legion of misfortune-dogged semi-finals/finals.
The crowds, meanwhile…blimey. 66,000 (the per-head-of-population equivalent of 1.12 MILLION in England) at a quarter-final double-header. And NO need for segregation. After Galway’s miraculous hurling semi-final winner, the cameras cut to an elderly Tipperary fan shaking an elderly Galway fan’s hand. And despite an intense Roscommon/Mayo rivalry, the distasteful booing from some Roscommon fans, for a Mayo player who plays for a Mayo club based in Roscommon (long story), was rare enough to be headline news.
Trouble nearly darkened my section of the ground as the fan behind me SCREAMED “come on Mayo” every eleven seconds. I got irritated when my right ear started to HURT. Yet no-one else passed any heed. The fan was also quite attractive. But I couldn’t be shallow enough to forgive her solely because of this? Why, yes.
Nonetheless, my parting shot, “if you beat us, I hope you win the All-Ireland,” was heartfelt, and likely the sentiment of many Roscommon fans. The trouble surrounding that afternoon’s Sunderland/Celtic soccer FRIENDLY (Celtic fans victims and perpetrators) only emphasised the chasm in class of crowd behaviour.
Re-emerging into soccer’s overpaid preening prima donna prick players was, therefore, grim. And, for the first time EVER, I missed Kingstonian’s entire pre-season. The only PSF I attended was Celtic (including Rogic…naturally) dismantling Shamrock Rovers reserves nine-nil in Tallaght, Dublin’s brutalist architectural equivalent of Croydon. I considered watching a Ks game last Wednesday because it was at the top of my road. But I didn’t… and it didn’t, ‘cos it rained.
And I’ve always liked PSFs, for social reasons as well as to catch early glimpses of close-season signings. Ks have often organised south-coast friendlies, letting fans bask in the seaside sunshine of… every available beer garden. Hastings was this year’s seaside jaunt. I never considered going.
Yet, despite my club-patron season-ticket cheque being literally in the post, I’m still not interested. I happily resumed matchday sub-editing duties at the NLP last Saturday. But that was entirely due to making re-acquaintance with colleagues.
Good-natured Walsall fan Chris, determined to shoehorn Saddlers ex-players references into any match report that’s a few words short of the word count limit. Joel, 149 in the UK squash rankings and keen to emphasise that there are more than 150 squash players in the UK. Buddhist, animal-loving, vegetarian hippy Michelle. And other experienced journalists who dislike Piers Morgan because they’ve MET him. A fine bunch.
I know Kingstonian begin life as fellow Bostik League Leatherhead’s tenants tonight. But against whom? I had to look that up (Burgess Hill Town). I’m not interested yet. And I miss the summer already.
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