MICHAEL PEARLMAN SAYS: Football is still No.1 with me
11:10am Tuesday 21st August 2012 in Sport
A WEEK into the football season and is it safe to come out now? Can we raise our scarves above our bobble-hat clad heads and sing at the top of our lungs with delight that the beautiful game has returned?
I ask because this year is different. Yes, it follows on from arguably one of the greatest domestic football campaigns in history for drama, quality and sheer excitement, but that’s not enough.
Yes, the word Aguero will forever be linked to Martin Tyler’s spine tingling commentary as Man City swiped the title in the best crescendo to a campaign since Michael Thomas 1989.
Yes, Chelsea provided the entire world with the most amazing European Cup win ever (two things hard for me to write), but that was so last season.
Yes, we saw a succession of high scoring games, a Premier League where the promoted clubs are no longer certainties for relegation and yes, crowds and finances are at an all-time high with English football revered around the world. Yes, yes, yes.
But can we be excited by that fact? Can we sing from the rooftops that football is back? No, no, no.
Because, we are told, football must learn from the Olympics. Football must be more Olympic-like and frankly, how can we go back to horrible, disgusting, overpaid, bloated, over-saturated, John Terry-containing football after the Olympics?
Be more like Jessica Ennis! Why won’t you all be like the rowers at Eton Dorney? Why can’t you be more like that canoe-slalom guy? Where is your velodrome spirit?
Enough with this madness, with this obsession we have with taking something enjoyable and fun and manufacturing it into a massive stick to mercilessly bash something else with. It’s ugly.
The Olympics, which I’ve waxed lyrical about for weeks, were absolutely tremendous.
The organisation and spirit was sensational (even if it was massively over budget) and the performance of the Team GB athletes was sensational.
An athlete’s biggest career objective is to peak at just the right time in a four-year cycle and to see so many of our athletes manage that with the pressure firmly on was awe-inspiring.
In 20, 30 or even 50-years time British sport lovers will still recall with glee our Olympic experience.
But I again ask what does that have to do with football?
In the drivel I’ve read since the Olympics where think pieces have assassinated our national sport by pointing at the Olympics it’s the same old nonsense trotted out time and again. “Obscene wages,” and “nasty atmosphere at the ground” or “players out of touch with the common man.”
All true. Footballers earn a fortune, they relate less and less to supporters in a culture of 24-hour news where EVERYTHING they do is in the public domain and they receive abuse and vitriol from the terraces.
But comparing football and the Olympics simply doesn’t hold water as an argument on any coherent level. It’s like debating what tastes better, a beautiful risotto or a slice of cake.
Olympians live their lives largely outside of the public consciousness. If one of our gold medallist spent the post closing-ceremony party in a drunken coma under a table (and god knows they’d have needed to after the rubbish served up at the ceremony) then we’d be none the wiser.
If a footballer was found drunk under a table at a party, you’d see him on the front pages of the tabloids.
Our Olympians compete at Grand Prix events and European meetings where a few thousand people will watch and a few paragraphs will be written in the papers. That’s their level of interest.
A top-level footballer will prepare for a major tournament every two years by playing 60 games a season and living their lives in the papers and glossy magazines.
Yes, football has some notable characters that we’ve villainised and lack respect for. But for every one of them there are dozens who are every bit as admirable as the Olympic heroes. Naming names is unnecessary, but your club will have several. Football is and will remain a national obsession with bumper crowds from Newport County ’s level and lower right up to the higher echelons of the Premier League and no one need apologise for that.
Indeed, the next time someone who doesn’t like football rolls their eyes at you for your love of the beautiful game and compares it to the Olympics, ask them how many times since London they’ve witnessed an Olympic sport?
How many of us will visit our local velodrome or go out and watch rowing or attend a swimming competition? Not many of us.
Newport has its own Olympic hero in boxer Fred Evans. And do you know what his most exciting meeting was at the Games? Chatting with Ryan Giggs in the physio room, which he described as “a childhood dream come true.” Mo Farah has a season ticket at Arsenal. Footballers, crazy as it seems, inspire Olympians too.
Football will remain the hottest ticket in town and there is nothing wrong with that.
Of course the Beautiful Game can learn lessons from the Olympics but it’ll remain every bit as popular even if it doesn’t.