Introducing: The Dead Rubber Consolation Cup, 2016
Professional football in the twenty-first century has a widely understood narrative about winning and losing, and one of the central tenets of this particular narrative is that nothing could conceivably matter more than winning or losing a football match. It’s a story-line that the broadcasters love. What better a way could there be to make people not cancel a pay TV subscription following yet another comfortably-above-inflation price increase than to tell them, over a period of months and months, that the product that they’re paying for is even more important than it was a couple of years ago, when you last put through a similar price increase. An increasing number of supporters seem to enjoy the melodrama of it all as well and seem happy to stomach these increases, too, so presumably it’s successful.
Mediocrity, however, retains its place at the table. It has been chipped away at over the years with increased promotion and relegation places, play-offs and more European places, but the concept of that late season match with nothing to play for beyond the vague possibility of pride and to stave off the danger of a collapse into the death throes of a relegation plunge. A time when seats are to be vacated of a Saturday afternoon in favour of some light gardening, a voluntary tour of a DIY centre, or a walk along the promenade with an ice cream and the possibility of following this up with a bag of freshly deep-fried doughnuts. For those amongst us who can’t stay away, the empty seats offer up a little more leg room, a chance to stretch out a little, perhaps get a crossword done in peace. They’re football matches cast as a trip to the park.
This morning, then, we launch The 200% Dead Rubber Consolation Cup, a mini-tournament for those clubs with nothing left to play for bar the fact that they kind of have to play all thirty-eight matches. I considered being mathematical about this, making it only clubs who couldn’t mathematically win the league, get into the Champions League, be in danger of relegation or be relegated, but that didn’t feel right. The dullest clubs may well be in it the longest, and will therefore have the best chance of winning something, come the end of this season, but anyone can join once they have nothing left to play for themselves.
So, to mark the beginning of the 2016 Dead Rubber Consolation Cup, yesterday morning I chose the eight clubs that will be its inaugural entrants: Stoke City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Everton, Swansea City, Watford, West Bromwich Albion and Bournemouth. It feels to me that none of these clubs are significantly likely to be relegated, win the Premier League trophy or finish in a European position – through cups don’t count – though that status could, of course change. I may, for example, exclude qualifying for next year’s Champions League for Liverpool. Or perhaps not. I’ll leave the comments open so that we can argue over whether a club should be included in the competition at any time. But once you’re in, you’re in and your team’s matches might start counting.
I’ll post the competition league table every Sunday lunchtime until the end of the season, with points scored. In the 2016 Dead Rubber Consolation Cup, teams taking part will be awarded one point for drawing, lose a point for losing, and get no points for winning. Wouldn’t want anyone getting over-excited or full of pessimism for the start of the new season now, would we? That’s not what the end of season dead rubber match is about it. These are matches of mists and mellow fruiftulness, where there’s nothing to get disproportionately angry or happy about. And at the end of the season, there will be a trophy, or a drawing of a trophy, or an imaginary trophy, possibly in the shape of a bald man’s head with a dildo strapped to it, for the team with the most points. Or maybe the middle number of points. I’m open to suggestion.
So, to this Saturday’s fixtures. In order to qualify as a match in the 2016 Dead Rubber Consolation Cup, both teams have to have no realistic (and I understand that this term is subjective) no chance of winning the Premier League, qualifying for the Champions League, qualifying for the Europa League, or being relegated. There’s no limit to the number of teams that can end up in it, though it’s unlikely that all twenty clubs will. Yesterday, only the matches between Watford & Everton, and between Chelsea & Swansea City, counted. As Watford and Everton drew, they get one point each and are tied at the top. Chelsea lose a point for losing. Swansea City stay on zero for losing. I propose adding Aston Villa to the list – they are now all-bar-mathematically relegated, surely. Crystal Palace are probably close to eligibility for membership, and Southampton may be as well, for completely arbitrary reasons. All I know for sure is that there’s no rush to make a decision. The current league table looks like this:
Aston Villa will be added for their next Premier League match, and Liverpool play Stoke City this afternoon at Anfield. Both could teeter out of contention, but I strongly suggest that I make the rules up as I go along. It’ll make my life a lot easier and, if I’m honest, I have no intention to taking this too seriously (although the extent to which I’ve been thinking about this over the last day or so might even suggest to the contrary of this). And we can argue about it in the comments. Ultimately, though, if we’re taking it too seriously, we’re probably doing it wrong.
Because that’s the glory of the Dead Rubber Consolation cup. It’s here to celebrate the average, to strike a blow against those who would have you believe that ALL THE FOOTBALL MATTERS ALL THE TIME. It does to them. They make a living off it. But for the rest of us, well… we put in our time, we invest our emotions and we throw our good money after bad. We deserve a break. We deserve to treat what we’ve already paid for as we wish, and should that be as a mildly diverting background – and occasional replacement for – a particularly eventful round of Candy Crush Saga, then so be it. The glory of victory is for losers. It’s time to reclaim the middle ground of mediocrity. It’s time for the 2016 Dead Rubber Consolation Cup.
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