And so another football season wheezes to a dull, predictable but profitable conclusion, this time prolonged by the “spectacle” of two “English” clubs in the “Champions” League, an oxymoron if ever I heard one. And of course, all during the week the media in the UK (much to to the chagrin of the Scots and Welsh I’d have thought) have been hyping this event into a foaming hysteria. But why?
The two wealthiest clubs in England are playing a game in Moscow and it doesn’t really matter who wins. Indeed, the whole of the Premier League is a mixture of low-grade farce and trough-snuffling. Let’s not kid ourselves, at present only three teams are capable of winning the Premier League. Liverpool might be in the so-called Big Four but they were a pretty distant also-ran in the title race. And now that Arsenal are losing top-flight players, the likelihood is that, in reality, the race is going to be between Man Utd plc and Chelsea plc to come out on top again next season. so this is what the whole of top-flight English football boils down to after nine months: will Man U or Chelsea win this time? All of the ersatz excitement conjured by the media to keep this year “exciting” couldn’t paper over the cracks of an increasingly dull and predictable season. The only saving grace was the FA Cup. Small consolation given that it resulted in a smug looking Harry Redknapp.
Long gone are the days when a Forest or Ipswich could come up from the second tier and actually win the title. No, now the goal is hold on and to finish fourth bottom and avoid the ignominy of a fate like Derby’s; by the end of the season I felt nothing but pity for a side which quite clearly was simply utterly, and embarrassingly for everyone, out of its depth. Admittedly, the fact that their only win of the entire season came against Newcastle was wryly amusing, but only for about three seconds before the reality of the whole rotten structure kicked in. There are now effectively three leagues within the Premier League now: the top four, pretty much a closed shop to stay in the Champions League feeding trough and make the gap between themselves and the others yet wider; the middle section, jostling for prize money come season’s end and maybe a good cup run or UEFA place to hope for and then there’s the bottom, usually where the newly promoted can expect to be from about the third week of the season, possibly to be joined by the one team who, every year, starts well and then free-falls like a malfunctioning parachutist towards the bottom (this year it was Reading’s turn). Almost without exception, the side coming through the Championship play-offs is condemned to a season of cruel whipping-boys thrashings by the bigger boys before dropping back down again (Derby, Watford), possibly to do a Bolton and yo-yo before eventually getting a toehold at the top table. All too predictable.
A quick look at he English game is a fairly grim experience. The PL has become increasingly an exercise in unironically breathless marketing (witness the fantastic Mitchell and Webb piss-take of all of those Sky football trailers). The so-called trickle-down model that keeps lower league clubs is almost as discredited in this context as that of the one used in Reaganomics/Thatcherism, courtesy of the abhorrent and fallacious Laffer Curve. As a result more lower league clubs are in graver financial trouble than ever before. And if they go under, lots of what made English football so great will die with them. Why should we care? Well, because it’s part of our culture, whether we like that or not; a marker of working-class culture at that. But we seem almost ashamed to admit any of that. And of course, as a nation, we seem somewhat inured now to the loss of great wedges of what make this country unique (an interesting point ot think on but not one for here and now…).
And did I watch the game? No, I just couldn’t be bothered with the whole dull, tawdry sideshow anymore.