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24 May 2022

Joyous fans, strange signs and football to savour – it’s been a remarkable season

I am convinced the perimeter advertising billboards at the Etihad Stadium have doubled in size – my eyes are getting strained.

By Hunter Davies

Well, what a season. I can’t decide if it’s the comparison with all those dreary, eerie months when the grounds were empty and echoing. It seems aeons ago now, like an ancient nightmare. But no, really, it has been remarkable. In a way, the recovery and relief from Covid did help, making the players more energised, the fans more exuberant.

I am still deaf from Spurs’ stuffing of Arsenal – goodness, the volume – while at Everton, Burnley, Leeds they have had games just as wild and joyous. Burnley soon came down to earth, alas.

So what have been the highlights? Gather round.

Man City and Liverpool. Shame they didn’t both reach the Euro final. Or couldn’t have both won the Prem. But they kept us gripped to the last syllable of recorded Prem time and delighted all true football fans. Our star teams of the past, such as Man United and Liverpool, always had a clogger, trying to kick the opposition, but Man City and Liverpool this season have been trying to go forward, play football and please us all.

[See also: Football is full of tech. Isn’t it time for managers to catch up?]

Spurs and Arsenal. Oh God, the agonies they have caused their fans. Such flawed teams, such unreliable performances, so hard to love, so many lumps, yet on occasions they sent their fans into ecstasies.

Haircut of the season. The award goes to Cristiano Ronaldo for doing nothing with his hair. For once he has not been fussing, just letting it lie there.

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Disappointments. There was a feeling that Jack Grealish was a waste of money, but Pep still talked him up – yet did not pick him to start the final game. Harry Maguire has not seemed himself all season. The surprise decline was in the player considered among the best of his generation, Raheem Sterling. He appears in desperate need of a change. Especially now that half-boy, half-monster Erling Haaland is coming to City.

Manager of the year. Just to survive as a Prem manager this season was an achievement. Conte at Spurs came good in the end, but with his track record, and inheriting three world stars, he should never have struggled. So the gong goes to Eddie Howe of Newcastle. He was patronised by the back pages for years, a humble, home-bred, unstarry English manager – nice bloke but no chance of managing a top-six team; you have to be foreign for that. He’s not yet running a top team, but he has been brilliant at Newcastle, turning round a shambolic squad without moaning at referees, screaming and shouting, blaming the board – just quietly getting on with it.

[See also: Ranting, raving, and three-piece suits: a twitcher’s guide to manager-watching]

Player of the season. Not necessarily the best but the most inspiring, considering what he has been through. So quiet, so calm, so unflashy – so well done, Christian Eriksen. It would be a shame if Brentford didn’t keep him for another season, but he would transform Spurs’ midfield.

Clichés of the season. The old ones are back, falling from the lips of commentators as if newly minted. “At this level, mistakes are punished”; “The next goal is vital”; “What a story, scoring on his birthday”; “We must apologise if you heard any inappropriate language there”. Come on, what do you think we are shouting at home? “Football, don’t you love it?” – which Sky commentators must say during any decent match, of which there have been many this season. Let us decide.

Big boards. I am convinced the perimeter advertising billboards at the Etihad Stadium have doubled in size this season. When a player is standing in front of them, taking a throw-in, he disappears. The FA should stop it. My eyes are getting strained.

Confusing signs. Eintracht Frankfurt, while depriving Rangers of a deserved Uefa Cup, had “Indeed – Jobs Finder” on their shirts. Must be their sponsor, but why was it in English? And what does it mean?

I will have all summer to ponder. While watching Liverpool winning in Europe and Ingerland getting ready to win the World Cup…

[See also: From Cristiano Ronaldo to Jamie Vardy, today’s strikers will do anything to endure]

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This article appears in the 25 May 2022 issue of the New Statesman, Out of Control