Sunday 6 September ~
Let’s face it, none of us follow football because it makes us happy. What happens on and off the field elicits little besides blasphemy, frustrated growls or stoical groans. Week after week, the results are all wrong and the players we hate most sign new contracts adding another 30 grand a week to their unfeasibly chubby pay cheques. At the same time, clubs at all levels are locked in a continual struggle for cash, with 75 per cent of teams run by charlatans, managed by incompetents and supported by increasingly feral fans. That’s why this week, we have to be grateful to Chelsea.
It was the headline Chelsea handed transfer ban until 2011 that did it. Disregard a possible appeal by the club against the ban or a close examination of the merits of the case. Just reading that headline provided one of those rare moments where you could shout out loud, Ha! Amid all football’s depressing and predictable headlines, here was a good news story to warm our hearts. FIFA, for once, seemed to be taking a stance that was not only tough and in line with its own statutes, they were taking that stance against Chelsea FC. The team propped up by dubiously earned millions can not, for the next year and a half, spend those millions. Now maybe they’ll develop some players of their own instead of misappropriating them from clubs like RC Lens.
You could call it a fantasy headline. And just as millions of fans now try to hide from the reality of the modern game by playing in virtual leagues (with equally disappointing results), you were left wondering what kind of otherworldly football headline would make your day. Old Firm merger paves way to global unity; Redknapp, dozen journalists to take nuptials; Norwegian side Löv-Ham Fotball to be title of new Philip Roth novel; Chelsea launch Terry’s tears replica doll collection; Forest-Derby rivalry declared too tiresome ever to be mentioned again; Liverpool fan caught walking alone.
Given all the websites out there regurgitating the same headlines you can read at a thousand other outlets, it would only take one to mutate into a genuine fantasy site, where you could mull a parallel utopian football world. Football has long ceased being a weekend escape and become instead a 24-hour leisure business. Until a capital collapse really does swallow up the Big Five and Wimbledon-style fan ownership becomes the norm, we’re going to have to rely on our own imaginations to take any joy from the game. Aside from that, we’re left with the odd burst of schadenfreude. Because, despite the FIFA ban, Chelsea will still most likely be top of the league next May. Unless you can picture the headline: Now for Europe, declares triumphant Pulis. Ian Plenderleith