The soccer season is about to begin again. It’s the national sport and the re-commencement marks a subtle shift in the mental calendar of a large chunk of the population. It means the start of the old routine again; the beginning of the end of summer.
The early games of August are a phoney war – games played out in bright sunshine and shirt-sleeves. A time for football clubs to trot out new signings and the latest kit designs.
It doesn’t really feel like it gets down and dirty until that first weekend in September – after the schools have gone back and the half-empty office is full again – that great and dreaded Monday morning of the year period.
Every year football fans tell themselves they won’t get as emotionally attached this season as they did last. They may peruse the results on a Saturday afternoon in late August with an air of vague indifference. But they know they are kidding themselves – these same results will be slavered over and devoured in minute detail come January.
Each season is a bit different. This year the ugly ducklings of northern football ManchesterCity are reigning champions. For so long in the shadow of their glamorous neighbours Manchester United, the powder blues secured their first league title since 1968 in dramatic style in injury time back in May. Now, still awash with petro-dollars, they prepare to defend the crown against their hurt and bruised rivals in red.
But for real contrast, the scene north of the UK border cannot be beaten. The once mighty Glasgow Rangers have been relegated three divisions following a complex and acrimonious bankruptcy. The footballing titans must start all over again in the bottom tier of the Scottish league system playing against sides in towns whose whole population is smaller than Ranger’s average home attendance – this is not an exaggeration.
It leaves Rangers’ bitter century-long rivals Glasgow Celtic blinking incredulously at the thought of not playing their ‘old-firm’ enemies in the league again until 2015-16 season at the earliest. It sounds like a dream come true for Celtic supporters, and yet there will be a sense of yearning that Rangers were vanquished not on the field, but in the courts; not by superior players but inferior balance sheets. And they will miss the games – the ‘them or us’ struggles played out four times a year. It won’t be the same.
So the mad, bad, happy, sad farrago of the British football season will be underway this weekend; to remind us again of the best summary of the game ever made. It comes from Manchester United’s veteran manager Alex Ferguson: “Football, Bloody Hell!”