Welcome to the new season. Well spotted. It began four weeks ago. You could argue that there's been no new season. If you blinked and missed a few hours sans footer from about half past midnight one night in July, it would appear to have been going constantly and seamlessly since this time last year. Or, if you prefer, since 1863, when the FA first opened up shop.
Before that, well, I wasn't here. But it must have been pretty grim in 1862, tuning in at five o'clock for James Alexander Gordon and the football results, only to hear bloody bugger all except stuff about Bismarck becoming leader of Prussia, Garibaldi trying to seize Rome and cotton famine in Lancashire. I got those dates from my Pears Cyclopaedia (1978), which I have next to my Rothmans (1985), both on my desk here in Lakeland for emergencies, such as sudden attacks of total, utter boredom.
I haven't been able to face the new season. Until now. Euro 2000 pissed me off, so deflated and depressed me that I thought: that's it, I'll go back to stamp collecting, you know where you are with stamps; Penny Blacks and Tuppenny Blues, they don't let you down - not like Penny Beckham and Tippy Shearer.
I did watch the pre-season games played by some of our so-called leading clubs, such as Man U, Arsenal, Liverpool, and had to look away in disgust. It was impossible to believe that they were playing the same game, pursuing the same sport as Real Madrid and Barcelona.
Then George Graham sold Ginola. More depression. All that money on a new season ticket and he's got rid of the only person in the squad worth paying to watch. Rebrov, well, only seen him on the telly so far, and the Gordon Drury is out as regards to that one, at this moment in time.
Carlisle United began the season as they ended it, cowering at the bottom with Shrewsbury. What is the point, I thought, giving all these hours, all this mental and emotional energy, to people who don't deserve it, who don't even know how I cross my fingers every Saturday at three, willing them to win, twiddling the knobs, trying to pick up the latest on their own goals, send-offs, dodgy penalties, diabolical refereeing.
But hey, as I write, CUFC is zooming up the league, blasting their way almost to the halfway mark in Division Three, only 80 clubs now ahead of them: my heroes, come on you Blues, praise the Lord and Eddie Stobart. I got quite excited for Chelsea's sake when they signed Hasselbaink and beat Man Utd in the Charity Shield, thinking that should fettle Man U's chances this season. After which, nothing. Did he sign or did I imagine it?
I have liked the look of Ashley Cole of Arsenal, playing for England's Under 21s. And also Michael Carrick of West Ham. Two likely lads to watch, so that cheered me up. And to amuse me up, I was pleased by the arrival of Titus Bramley when he came on for the Under 21s. I was so delighted that I shouted out to my dear wife: hey, new kid here, come quick, got a really brilliant name, bet you can't guess where he's from. Don't say it, I was being geographist. Why should it matter where he's from, etc. I know. I know. Just slipped out. What's his first name? shouted back my wife from her desk. I forgot I'd tied her there. When I told her it was Titus, she said he's either very, very upper class or from Notting Hill. Ipswich, actually, pet.
And so to the international games - time to resume hostilities, futilities, utilities. By then, I was feeling a bit more chipper, more able to cope with a new season's old disappointments. Scotland scraped a jammy win against Latvia, but their supporters were in fine voice. I spotted the first rendition of a new chant that we'll hear for the next two years, destined to replace "Wem-bur-lee, Wem-bur-lee". "Que sera", etc, then it finishes with "We're going to Toe-kee-oh". The Irish Republic were brilliant against Holland, and should have won. So that was very cheering. When the Irish do well, or the Scots, they are one of us, so our little chests puff out.
But the most cheering was England against France, the world chumps. Such an interesting game - because England didn't play like England. They were like one of those small to piddling foreign countries we play every season and from whom so little is expected because they are so far away, so foreign, not in the major league of soccer nations, like what we are - ha ha, in our dreams. I'm thinking of Georgia or Latvia or Iran, countries that surprise us by being, well, surprisingly good: able to pass the ball quite well, considering they don't speak English; show good technique, considering they don't have any GCSE's; create some good moves, yet not one of them drives a Ferrari. For 30 minutes, we patronisingly think, hey, we've underestimated these Johnny foreigners from the Faroe Islands . . . hold on, where's my programme . . . from Baffin Island. They're not as useless as we thought; they don't just thump the ball upfield, they could give us a game.
That was England. That was how they appeared. And that was how France treated us. Surprisingly good, you could sense them thinking, for a third-world, rubbish, crap, useless, far-flung foreign country that has won rien. Honestly, I was well pleased. I was not ashamed of the midfield, and I hardly closed my eyes when the defence had the ball, apart from Keown. One can't expect total miracles overnight.
There was no penetration up front until Owen came on, despite all the neat and pretty passing stuff. I fear it's bye bye Andy Cole, for ever. But hey, I'm feeling much better. Ready at last to face life, the universe and a new season . . .