You may not have bought the news-paper supplements hailing the Super Reds, nor joined “all real football fans” in signing FHM’s petition demanding that Liverpool be allowed to enter next season’s Champions League. The more misanthropic among you might fer-vently wish to never again hear that song by the group known to one German TV commentator as Gary and the Peacemakers. But there are still plenty of reasons to have enjoyed the outcome of the 2005 Champions League final. One was the sight of Silvio Berlusconi, architect of the New Football, having that peculiar rictus smirk – the very definition of the coarse term “a shit-eating grin” – wiped from his face in six minutes of the second half.
We are nearly at the end of another season and, as ever, for many fans it will feel like 2004-05 has been one big letdown, a year that will hard to distinguish in the memory from ten others. There may have been good moments, but they’re more than balanced by the bad. And there’s nothing wrong with that. A constant diet of unrelenting success, like a constant diet of Big Macs or a succession of evening meals spent in the company of Peter Kenyon, is no good for anyone.
If you look outside for a moment, it’s likely that the streets will be awash with children scrapping with each other in imitation of the fight broadcast from St James’ Park on April 2. Some will be pretending to be Lee Bowyer or Kieron Dyer, others will have been assigned the roles of peacekeeper Gareth Barry and bystander Lee Hendrie. Who knows where it may lead? When will footballers realise that they are role models whose every action, however stupid, will likely be mirrored by impressionable youngsters?
Arsene Wenger made a piece of personal history during the recent 1-1 draw at Southampton, by acknowledging that one of his players, Robin van Persie, was at fault for being sent off: “He knows he should not have done what he did. I could not support him.” Earlier in the match, the home side’s David Prutton had to restrained by Harry Redknapp when seemingly intent on thumping the assistant referee having also got a second yellow card. “I was really upset because we are in a relegation battle and it is not about kicking people up in the air,” said Redknapp.
What’s the hardest three-word sentence to say in English? Come on, Chelsea. But we might as well start practising it. For a while this season, many football supporters will have reviewed with dismay the prospect of the Premiership title, and possibly several other trophies, heading to Stamford Bridge. Victories for a team funded by Roman Abramovich’s, let us say, contentiously acquired wealth would seem to be contrary to the basic principles of sporting competition. A club that two years ago sagged under the weight of debts of close to £100 million incurred by grotesque over-spending under Ken Bates could yet be quadruple winners this season.
In the days when there were only three UK television channels, science programmes often sought to predict what technological innovations might be commonplace by the start of the 21st century. There would be commercial flights to the moon, robots would do domestic chores in suburban homes and technology would be used for decisions in football matches. The first two seem as far off as ever but finally, the third, long a favourite hobby horse of that emperor of pundits, Jimmy Hill, is going to happen.
The press lounge at a Premiership ground one evening a few years ago. Journalists gathered for a midweek game are looking at a TV screen that is replaying goals from the previous weekend. Dwight Yorke scores against a team supported by one of those watching, who walks up to the screen and says loudly, in mock indignation: “Yorke, you black twat!” In the wake of last month’s friendly in Madrid, the journalist in question was one of many who set about suggesting various forms of action that might be taken against Spain for the Bernabéu crowd’s racial abuse of black England players. It is fair to assume, then, that he has long since seen the error of his ways.
“That game, with the baggage that goes with it, is almost becoming an impossible match to referee, and I speak from personal experience.” So said former Premiership referee Jeff Winter after the latest outbreak of hostilities between two implacably opposed foes, an event also known as Man Utd v Arsenal.
Having made £6 million less from last season's Champions League than the previous year, Manchester United chief executive David Gill yearns for UEFA to revert to the second group stage format for the competition
There is a never a shortage of opportunities to despair at how the businessmen who run major clubs do not understand the principles of football. David Gill, chief executive of Manchester United, for example, recently declared that he wants to see the return of the second group stage in the Champions League when the current contract ends in 2006. “I think all the big clubs would have preferred to keep it. There was a higher quality of opposition in the second group phase than the first one.” “Higher quality”, of course, means western European teams containing famous players who appear in Nike ads and would fill all the stadiums for three extra group games with tickets at 30-plus quid a throw.
With football supporters regularly lambasted for their fast-changing opinions on their sides' staff and players, it sometimes turns out that the ficklest fans can actually be found in the boardroom – as Sir Bobby Robson has found out of his chairman, Freddy Shepherd
Anyone who has looked at football internet message boards will know the form by now. Alongside the well informed contributors, there are always a few who offer only irate bluster and bombast, often expressed in capital letters. Unfortunately for Newcastle United supporters, one such person appears to be in charge of their club.