Monday, July 16, 2007


Speaking sportingly, I hate this season of the year and at the same time I love it. I hate it because the newspapers are full of rambling garbage about non-sports like golf (for old men) or F1 (for loonies). Wimbledon is perhaps an exception, especially given the extraordinary match that unfolded at the end of the men's singles. Cricket only merits a mention when it involves real teams (like Australia), rather than non-teams (like the WIndies). Otherwise, we're in a sporting desert.

Still, you cannot have twelve months of continuous football - I'm talking about real football here, the sport in which you kick the ball with your foot and not, Mr David Beckham, about soccer! No, twelve twelve months continual football would have no drama in it, no rhythm, no peaks and no troughs. The reason you have to love the closed season, however, is the same as the reason we love anything subject to the law of delayed-pleasure: anticipation is a cultural mood in itself.

And one thing I find fascinating is how commanding footballing genii - if that's the plural - like Stevie Gerard or Christiano Ronaldo, take time coming back to match fitness. We live in a technological age where the other side of the world is a mouse-click away, but the human race, for better or for worse, remains a fallible vessel of variability. Getting match-fit is not like flicking the 'on' button; it's more like the old wireless set which needed time for the element to warm up. It's like the slow recovery of a dampened down fire. It's the glow of spreading warmth in the chair by the fire after a cold day in the snow.

It wasn't like this in Roy of the Rovers. Nor in politics. Put a lackey in charge of a new ministry and he's already at full match fitness and upsetting people across the world before you've had time to say 'Lick my boots'. But in sport - which even the ancients were interested in - there's some semblance of reality, competition, achievement, failure, drama, retreat, victory. Hmm. Love it.

The closed season in Manchester has been even more interesting than usual. Sven Goran Erickson - lock up your wives and daughters - has come to Manchester City as manager. Man U have bought in a couple of Portguese stars and the pivotal Owen Hargreaves for central midfield. Ricky Hatton, world champion boxer and Man City fan, caused a stir by asking Wayne Rooney of Man U to carry his belt into the ring before the recent pasting of some Yank in Las Vegas. Well, winners know other winners, I must assume!

So, here I am, not quite in pre-season training yet but facing that prospect pretty soon. Another ten days and my 'break' will come to a quiet end, and I'll have to start winding up the old man for a charge at the new season. As Bill Shankley once said, 'Football's not a matter of life and death; it's far more important than that.' Still, life must go on! Roll on 2007-2008!