by Jack Heaney
From the lavish opening ceremony, to Usain Bolt’s ludicrously powerful defence of his medal, to Mo Farah’s stunningly swift double gold medal haul the cynicism that plagued the idea of a London Olympics for the seven years between its announcement and arrival dissolved oh so quickly. Never have words been eaten by the unfaithful – and I admit I was one of them – so happily and so hungrily. The London Olympics were exciting; dignified; elegant; a moral superior, some would say, to football’s ugly scowl and greedy eyes. Fast-paced and near-perfect, the comparisons between two weeks of ‘proper’ sport as some like to describe it – as opposed to the morally decadent circus of football – have been rife.
For every Mo Farah, football seems to have a Carlos Tevez. For every Paula Radcliffe who so desperately wanted to be involved yet succumbed to injury shortly after the Olympics began, football has a smirking Emmanuel Adebayor who would rather collect wages on the bench of a club who have no need for him rather than join an exciting and new-blooded Tottenham side. Football is flawed and so it should be frowned upon; the Olympics smooth as Danni Minogue’s forehead and close to perfection and so it should be clapped and cheered. So the notion goes, anyway. For as the Community Shield, like last’s years one, set an immediate tone for the rest of the Premier League season, I couldn’t help but smile.
Imperfection is apparent in football; bitter arguments play out in front of all to see and arrogant managers like Jose Mourinho embarrassingly poke the eyes of their rivals. Imperfect football; immoral football, as some seem to label it, was back. I, like most other sports fans, loved the glory of the Olympics yet I also love the imperfections of football. It’s like an enemy I couldn’t live without.
Believe me, I find football’s deep coffers and sections of loutish fans annoying as much as the next fan. But perhaps I find the morally righteous, tedious criticism of the sport even more so. Perhaps even on some days, I embrace football’s imperfections. They represent a twisted entertainment I feel not-so-ashamed at being addicted to. They represent controversy. Debate and heat. An extra helping of spice on what is an already tasty looking salsa dip. Perhaps cynicism is at an all-time high, yet do we forget how football made us feel on the final day of last term? It would be folly to forget the positives of this sport.
Many journalists and fans fail to see that, while football is murky, other sports can be just as brooding. For every Ryan Giggs, there is a Tiger Woods. For every football scandal in Italy, a memory of the 1919 Black Sox team who were banned for life. Ben Johnson; Tonya Harding; Dora Ratjen. My point is that while football does appear to be consistently scandalous, it is not exclusive in its moral abjection. Yet many seem to claim it is. The absurd scandal surrounding Craig Bellamy and co.’s refusal to sing God Save The Queen was juxtaposed to a much smaller level of outrage when the brilliant Sir Chris Hoy did not clutch two tennis racket sized hands to his heart and crack wine glasses with his singing on the podium. Why? Is this how cynical we have become? Sure, there is a time and place to criticise football; but not in such a myopic way. The debate reaches tedium. Every fan has a right to complain, but to let the idiots completely turn you off the game seems to defeat the very premise of existing as a football lover.
Football, imperfect or not, is on its way back. Although perhaps it never really left us with a wonderful Euro 2012 tournament, and an Olympics tournament which wasn’t as terrible as many thought it would be. It’s the most wonderful time of the year – the season looms large – and as proven last year, rarely are results set in stone. There are no pre-determined etches. They are chiselled in front of our ubiquitous eyes. Villas-Boas will have to overcome an army of Harry Redknapp-lovers, Roberto Di Matteo’s Chelsea should provide an extra dimension to the league as their squad gels. The animosity between Big Sam and the West Ham fans has not truly died away, one feels, and Newcastle can consolidate their unbelievable improvement under Alan Pardew.
If we look further down the Tier, the Championship and lower scaffolding will remain as competitive as ever while the sad, pernicious, utterly unnecessary demise of Blackburn football club may very well have only just begun.
Eden Hazard and Oscar, along with Kagawa and Arsenal’s smattering of foreign imports, will provide interest and perhaps even relief when considering the youthful likes of Mesut Ozil, Benzema and Alexis Sanchez have all found Spain a more desirable place than England in the last few years. The Manchester massives have a second title to scrap over. Gary Neville might even have another orgasm on air. The air is turning all football-y – no matter its flaws, the beauty of such fervent fascination surrounding four posts and a ball continues. We will laugh; shout; cheer; spontaneously combust and perhaps even shed a tear or two. So soon it will return; and, just as all those years before, we will slip back into the mould of loving and hating simulataneously.
Here we go then. For good or for bad, for right or for wrong, this wind-up merchant will captivate, please, anger and desensitize us once again. Brace yourself, please. Football is on its way back and, if my senses do not fail me, I think I can taste the inevitable storm already. I’ll see you in its eye.