The Premier League: a fetid pit of greed serving up underheated fare to jaded consumers? Or a breath of fresh air ushering in yet another glitzy rollercoaster ride? Is football awful? Or is it, in fact, great? You may be feeling a little confused if you’ve read the papers much this month.
A slightly jarring note of optimism proved an unexpected theme at the start of the season. “Expectations for a new season have never been higher. I can’t remember a summer like it,” burbled Bobby Robson in the Mail on Sunday (August 5). The Sun was even more bullish. Under the headline Yess! Premiership starts, it welcomed the season with barely controlled wa‑hoo‑ing: “FOOTIE fans are at the height of withdrawal agony – it’s been TEN WEEKS since the beautiful game shut down for the summer… But the good news is that an end to the suffering is just around the corner – the Premiership kicks off on AUGUST 11.”
In the Daily Mail (August 4) Alex Ferguson was being congratulated on “the seemingly endless array of attacking possibilities at his disposal”, while also being warned, thrillingly, that “Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham have all invested heavily to try to upstage United”. In the same paper Ian Ladyman had already salivated over the summer’s wild spending and hinted that “those hoping for a championship race built on foundations of excitement and ambition may not be disappointed”. Even the usually rather more cautious Kevin McCarra of the Guardian found himself caught up in it all (“this is set to be the most competitive Premiership for a long time”).
Much of the presumed excitement centred on talk of a gatecrasher in what Paul Merson once called “that mythical fourth place”. Tottenham, it seemed, were proving an unexpected beacon of hope. “Tottenham have strengthened again and can finish in the top four,” opined an excitable Jonathan Pearce in the Sunday Mirror (August 5), looking forward to “a season which could be the most glorious yet”.
So what’s it all about? Why is football suddenly being resold to us in such a gushing fashion? Certainly, part of this is simple relief on the part of sports journalists and editors at the end of a non‑tournament summer, when the steady drip-drip of Wimbledon, cricket and the odd grand prix suddenly makes all those extra sports pages feel rather unnecessary and expensive. More than this, there was a sense that the opprobrium heaped on football of late – what with the Carlos Tévez affair, the lingering whiff of corruption and a gathering sense that the whole thing has become rather predictable on the field – had perhaps gone too far. Nobody, least of all those in the employ of News International, wants to kill the golden goose. And the Premier League has been nothing if not golden. This applies to everyone in the industry: players, broadcasters, even newspapers.
So if the Daily Mirror really wants to urge us not to “be too quick to assume the three teams which came up from the Championship will be sucked back down there at the end of the season” (August 6) over a piece that goes on to argue, rather desperately, that Birmingham “might still throw a spanner in the works” while Derby can thrive on the goals of Robert Earnshaw, who “has proved he can score goals in the Premiership”, it’s best taken in the right spirit. Yes, yes. Don’t worry. We’re not going to stop watching, or reading, just yet.
From WSC 248 October 2007