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17 February 2021

The Prem has achieved the impossible. It turns out there is such a thing as too much football

Four live games on Saturday, four again on Sunday. And did I watch them all? Of course I did. 

By Hunter Davies

I never thought I’d think, “Oh no, not more football.” I have gone through my whole life not getting enough – no jokes please – and it was not true anyway. But now we have overkill. Too much, too many, too often.

Four live games on Saturday, four again on Sunday. And did I watch them all? Of course I did. I am daft and craven. Yet they all meld together, each is the same. The blanket emptiness of the stadium is repeated everywhere. The canned irrelevant, inappropriate crowd sound effects that are dubbed on to the commentary make every game even more lifeless and anonymous.

Crystal Palace-Burnley? Must I? Oh Mum, have I got to? Give me a break. OK then. I know it’s either that or cleaning my room.

But I don’t care who wins, Burnley or Palace. I used to think that was a plus. Watching a game when you desperately want one side to win is so exhausting. I just want an exciting game, with goals. But now excitement has been drained away as there are too many lifeless games. I think the players are as knackered as we are.

[See also: How, after Frank Lampard’s sacking, English managers can get back to the top of the Premiership]

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Like all fans, you have a birth team, which you inherit, or a fashionable team you acquire at an impressionable age, which is how Man Utd came to have fans who don’t know where Manchester is. Or there are random reasons, like you once stayed in that town, or your grandma lived there.

Burnley, well that’s northern innit, so I must want them to win. Ralph Coates once played for Burnley and he was a nice bloke. Come on Burnley. Hold on, Terry Venables was at Palace, what a card, and Malcolm Allison – changing their nickname to the Eagles and the shirts to Barca colours. I did enjoy El Tel. So OK then, come on Palace. But it was a struggle, forcing myself to care.

I was vaguely looking forward to Brighton-Villa as I vaguely follow Brighton, after one of my daughters went to university there. But then, Jack Grealish is still my love heart. So I will cheer on Villa. It was 0-0. Why did I bother?

[See also: Penning an ode to Scott Parker, a manager from another age, and other distractions]

I was, of course, awfully excited all day by the prospect of Man City-Spurs, fearing Spurs would bugger it up again and I would be sooooo depressed. Which, of course, was spot on.

I can’t remember anything about the other five games I watched. They all become one.

So why do it, making myself either bored or miserable? Why don’t I watch the amazing, incredible, sexy, wonderful, blah blah, on Netflix, which my girlfriend loves so much. I have tried – given Bridgerton or Call My Bum or whatever it’s called ten minutes of my precious time, then gave up. I cared even less about what happened to the Duke of Breeches than about Burnley’s back four.

The strange thing is, I find football mentally engaging and intellectually satisfying. I can’t cope with TV dramas. I can’t follow the plot and have no interest in what happens to the characters. It’s just wallpaper, with the odd leg-over. I can get all that at home.

With football, I know all the players, care about them, want them to do well. But I don’t know the ending, and wonder what the second half will bring. I am noting the haircuts, the managers and their funny or furious faces, the bossy refs, or the commentator saying, “He should have shot himself…”

With no crowds, there are ever more posters and adverts filling up the empty seats. I read them all, looking for clues.

At West Brom there is a huge sign saying, “The Lord is my Shepherd.” I wondered if this referred to some Baggies hero I have forgotten, the way that at Liverpool they still refer to Robbie Fowler as God and at Chelsea they call Drogba “King”. Or was it Lampard?

Then, at Wolves, I noticed a large poster saying, “Out of darkness cometh light.” I decided it must be religious, not the fans praying for a goal in the second half. So, in the Midlands, are there now local churches getting reduced rates for adverts at local grounds?

That kept me mentally stimulated for ages. You don’t get that sort of interesting thought when watching a serving wench in a long frock being ravaged up against a tree… 

[See also: Why I’m struggling to forgive Mourinho’s dire football]

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This article appears in the 17 Feb 2021 issue of the New Statesman, War against truth