I’m sure every football supporter goes through the same ritual each year. As the referee peep peep peeeeeeps on his whistle for the final time on a (usually) balmy May day and the season draws to a close, you’re left enveloped by an intoxicating and pungent sense of nothingness. That’s it. No more consequential club football for a whole couple of months.
Whether this juddering, seemingly unexpected halt to proceedings (so unexpected that you had merely nine months to prepare for it) comes with the one-two punch of relegation, the ecstasy of promotion, a Championship clinched or just the plain old mid-table mediocrity that the vast majority of supporters have to settle for each season – the end of a campaign can often leave your average supporter feeling bereft.
Every other summer we get the distraction of an international tournament to eat up some of the free time. This year though, the hours, days and months between last season and the new have been particularly gruelling.
It seems forever ago since Arsenal won the FA Cup and Barcelona won the Champions League, the last meaningful events of last term. Recent sans European Championship or World Cup years have begun to take on an increasingly familiar, unsatisfactory pattern: big-name player begins agitating for move, lucrative pre-season tours are announced amid a fanfare of unsustainable hype, big name player becomes target of online hate mob, relatively inconsequential transfer of not quite big name player is confirmed, dissected and done to death for a few weeks in the absence of anything of genuine significance, big name player finally gets move, pre-season tours start, the merits of Singapore Combined XI are called into question and so on.
Social media hasn’t helped. This is an environment which thrives on bluster and contrivance and when there is nothing about which to bluster, desperation often yields predictable results. MANCHESTER UNITED HAVE GOT A NEW KIT! Screams headline after headline as you thumb idly through a football-related Twitter feed that lost its lustre at the precise second 1 June rolled around.
Yet instead of turning the device off and buying an ice cream in the park, the football supporter, so starved of news, clicks on said link from every football-related account they are following to see that new kit, over and over again. “It’s a slightly different design to last year!” Oh, the giddy excitement.
Pre-season games are an overblown nonsense these days too. Witness the feverish reporting some establishments, who really ought to know better, were lured in to when Arsenal won the fabled Emirates Cup/Barclays Asia Trophy double. You could have been forgiven for believing Chelsea would be forced to call Yodel to collect the Premier League trophy and ship it to the Emirates double quick on the basis of little more than a Chuba Akpom hat trick.
Similarly, the tours to far flung venues made by most of the Premier League’s elite clubs this summer have garnered way too much coverage. We the supporter are to blame for this, at least it part. The nature of our addiction means we crave information and/or action, no matter how insignificant or irrelevant it may be.
Many turn to other sports to get their fix when competitive football is on hiatus. I am one of those who every year tries desperately to take more than a passing interest in Wimbledon, for example. The Ashes is the current rebound relationship of many a football fan. Yes, this series has been relatively exciting (as exciting as a game which takes five days to complete, often without a winner and has a break for tea can be at least) but many is the football supporter who’d swap retaining the urn for a glimpse of their team’s big new signing in action in a friendly against a Dover Athletic XI.
Thankfully though, we are just about through the worst of it. Soon we can forget feigning interest in other sports; we can stop wondering what managers “learned” from their defeats to Sydney FC or whether player A will benefit from all those “useful minutes” spent running around pitch, blowing out of their backsides as they desperately try to rid their bodies of a summer’s worth of toxins lovingly curated in Dubai/Vegas/Ibiza by chasing the shadows of an MLS team already three months into their season.
Real football is upon us once again. The traditional overuse of the traditional phrase “the traditional curtain raiser to the new season” can be put back in its box for another year. Now is the time to unpack those league leaders, to plan that Tuesday in November at Gresty Road, to inflate yourself with an entirely baseless sense of optimism that this will be your team’s year. Football is back, sweet, meaningful football. Thank the lord.
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