Tuesday 20th August 2013
Well, it’s here. There’s no going back now. Not for another nine months at least. The first day of top-flight football arrived last weekend. For some it’s the beginning of a nightmare as Sky Sports builds up every match as if it’s a real life sequel to War and Peace. For others, it’s dreamland. I like the football, but I have to say I’m not keen on all the dramatic music and fast shots of players that no one can see properly. Just give me the old ‘here we go, here we go…’ theme tune and I’ll be happy (by the way if anyone knows what that song is called, let me know. I’ve found it virtually impossible to find the artist and title online. They even fail to mention it on the Ford Super Sunday Wikipedia page. It’s probably just some sample music from the channel’s archives).
Their new gimmick for this season is to have an audience watching Jamie Redknapp present himself to main presenter Ed Chamberlin as he leans back, stretching his legs out wide wearing the tightest trousers he could find (sure they’re not Louise’s, Jamie?). I’m sure there are other gimmicks that I have not been informed about yet. I didn’t watch the chatter or examples of new gadgets in between their live matches as I tuned into the Bundesliga on ESPN and made a chicken and salad subway. Meanwhile, I’m still waiting for the replay where you can actually see the ball going into the back of the net. Now, of course, we have a new channel BT Sport trying as hard to state its case that they’re better than Sky Sports as I am in convincing myself that Michael Owen is not speaking with an Australian accent. Time will tell whether they don’t get on my tits. They did on Saturday.
Many of the images that come into my head upon thinking of the first weekend stem from episodes of The Premiership Years where we see managers in their bright and clean white shirts; putting a hand above their eyes to keep the sun out of their gaze; as it shines onto the fans’ new shirts and the balloons that bloom like thousands of flowers (yes, I write poetry, too). And all that blossoming comes with renewed hope that ‘maybe this season, we will get in Europe,’ or ‘maybe this season, we will challenge for the title,’ or ‘maybe this season, we will be comfortable and not have a relegation scrap to contend with,’ or ‘maybe this season, we will have a heroic battle fighting for 10th place as opposed to 14th.’ Or in other cases such as Portsmouth and Coventry City in recent years, it’s a bonus if the club survives to merely fulfil their fixtures – win or lose – let alone achieve promotion etc… Much of the weekend’s weather, however, was pretty dull, so it didn’t conjure up those images at all.
Over the years in the Premier League era, the first day is rarely, if ever, a signifier of what’s to come. Manchester United are notoriously slow starters, but have challenged for the title every season since 1991-92. They began the first Premiership campaign in 1992-93 with defeat at Sheffield United, but where did those two clubs finish at the end of the season? (in order of mention) 1st and 14th respectively. It didn’t matter that United followed that game with a 3-0 loss at home to Everton and a 1-1 draw with Ipswich Town. Their next opening day defeat in 1995, 3-1 to Aston Villa – which led to the infamous ‘‘you never win anything with kids’’ quote – certainly wasn’t indicative of what was to come – the Double! Yes, they won the next opening day 3-0 away to Wimbledon then went on to win the league, but we knew before that they’d be up there, although I doubt we banked on them losing four in a row in October/November of that 1996-97 season – 5-0 to Newcastle United; 6-3 to Southampton; 1-0 to Fenerbahçe; and 2-1 to Chelsea.
Their 4-1 trouncing of Swansea City last Saturday could mean it’s business as usual for the champions, but will it last? It’s new territory for David Moyes. But although they haven’t made any ‘major’ signings so far, Danny Welbeck, whose all-round play was never in doubt, has already doubled his goal tally for last season. If this continues he could be something like a ‘new signing’. Their neighbours, Manchester City did what is expected of them in the coming months, winning 4-0 at home to Newcastle United. Chelsea did what they had to do; although after going 2-0 up against Hull City (Do I add Tigers? This is football, not American football!), they were expected to steamroll over them in terms of goals. Even though Hull had a late surge, Jose Mourinho’s side still managed 22 shots on goal albeit only five on target. There’ll be more games like this for the Blues, and they’ll put more of the chances away, but that was expected to be the case before this game. As it is, last season’s top three are already taking up three of the top four positions.
The relegation scrap is much less predictable. It could really be from anyone who came below Liverpool last season – so that’s from West Bromwich Albion who finished 8th downwards. Swansea are rightly applauded for their style of football, but despite coming 9th – a great position for the club – they were only 10 points clear of relegated Wigan Athletic. And 17th placed Sunderland were only a draw and two wins away from them in the points department. The Swans thumped Queens Park Rangers 5-0 on the opening day of that season, so it exemplified the sort of campaign that the Hoops would have, but the season before, Bolton Wanderers beat them 4-0, and were relegated instead of the west London side. So it swings in roundabouts. Wolverhampton Wanderers won two and drew one of their first three matches of that 2011-12 campaign, but went down as one of the worst sides to ever grace the Premiership. Here we are 15 months on, and they’re playing Crawley Town this Friday in League One.
What can we gauge from Fulham’s 1-0 win over Sunderland, or Southampton’s over West Brom by the same score line? Not a lot to be honest. Lower down in recent years we have seen Norwich City lose 7-1 to Colchester United in League One then quickly recover to storm to two automatic promotions. And last August saw Crystal Palace lose their first three games in the Championship having finished in the bottom half of the table in the previous four seasons before reaching the top-flight. So who knows (rhetorical, folks). Chelsea’s dominance of Hull for the majority of the game was a signifier of what is to come at Stamford Bridge and beyond this season, but even if they lost to the newly-promoted club, it wouldn’t have meant that they would be in a relegation dog fight at the expense of their opponents. We all know who’s going to be in serious contention for the championship this season. Or do we?
The last time a side who were not considered to be serious title contenders, but were, was probably Newcastle in 1996. They were promoted to the big time in 1993, then finished 3rd and 6th the following two campaigns, and though they were likely to be in the mix, not many people predicted they would be in with a shout for the title right up until the final day. Since then, we’ve had a very clear idea of who will be there and thereabouts. In recent years, if Arsenal had a blip, then Liverpool may take the mantle; if Liverpool stuttered then Chelsea would do likewise. Arsenal and Liverpool’s places have since been taken over by Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur respectively. Very respectively in fact. I’ve never seen or heard Spurs turn round to Liverpool and go ‘‘ner, ner, NER, ner, ner!’’ with their thumb on their nose mocking the Reds. We don’t get a club from nowhere challenging for the prize like, say, Norwich in 1993. Some ‘outsiders’ break into the top six like Newcastle did in 2011-12 and City before them, but I cannot see another ‘Norwich’ somewhere, can you? Ipswich came fifth in 2001 a year after being promoted, but they were not in contention for the title. With the well-publicised managerial upheavals and sagas engulfing last season’s top seven teams, could this be the season for it to happen?
Basically, from what we saw on the opening weekend, the title will be contested by the usual suspects, while the relegation spots are a lottery between 13 clubs. But we knew that anyway didn’t we – whatever the results? So if you did want to find out what we learned from last weekend by reading this then you’ve wasted your time. I hope you enjoyed it nonetheless.
What do you think the first weekend of the season tells us about the rest of it? Feel free to leave me any comments on here and/or on Twitter, Facebook or YouTube: