I’m suffering from serious withdrawal. It isn’t something that a visit to the roadside dealer or checking into rehab will fix. You see, I’m a football fan in India, hooked on to the most intoxicating drug of all — my weekly dose of “football”. And no, I’m not referring to some new designer joint doing the rounds of late, I’m referring to the actual sport. Twenty two blokes running like hounds behind a piece of inflated rubber, that pretty much sums up the world’s most keenly followed game. Yeah, that football. I miss it like crazy.
Last English Premier League season ended in May, ever since my weekends have just been dreary and lackadaisical. There’s only so much reading one can do, what with Google and the Internet affecting my attention span. I tried watching the IPL but who was I kidding? I detest every form of cricket now unless it’s a test match. I tried following the tennis action at Roland Garros and Wimbledon but it failed to capture my attention for long — how I wish every game was Sharapova vs. Ivanovic! And F1, it just doesn’t have enough pit babes to keep me on the track. Game of Thrones has been a revelation of sorts but I digress.
Nothing else will cut it for me, I miss English football like crazy — I can’t say it enough. Okay, I think I can reminisce a bit: What a great season it was! Manchester United lifted their record 19th league crown to “knock Liverpool off their fucking perch,” fulfilling the prophetic words of manager Alex Ferguson when he took over at United back in 1986. But they managed to so with the lowest point tally for a winning club in recent memory. At one point of time, it seemed no one wanted to win the title, it was that open a race for the championship. Topsy turvy, full of drama, excitement, heartbreak and joy. Arsenal and Chelsea were in it at the start but floundered and lost their footing midway through the gruelling campaign and never really recovered — like an embarrassed runway model suffering a wardrobe malfunction, never to be seen again in a hurry. But along with Tottenham and Manchester City, they pursued the Red Devils close to the finish line. So much so that it took United a 1-1 draw at Blackburn Rovers to seal the deal on the penultimate weekend, such was life at the top of the table. Definitely one of the best title races in a number of years.
But the relegation battle was as intense, if not more. Going into the final month of the season, it looked like any of the bottom eight teams could face the agonizing drop back into second division. I can never forget the unbelievable scenes of jubilant madness at Wolves and Wigan Athletic as they survived relegation, and the stunned faces of Birmingham and Blackpool fans as their team failed to make the cut — oh how cruel! Darwin’s survival of the fittest witnessed at the most unlikeliest places, and all this high tension drama right on the final day of the season was a script that just couldn’t have been written. It was memorable.
The past season had its moment of distraction, too. Rooney’s off-field one-two with Juicy Jeni, angry swearing into a live camera, and shocking desire to leave Manchester United before doing a dramatic U-turn provided extra entertainment than Shebby Singh’s squeaky voice during the pre-match build-up show on ESPN. Fernando Torres’ bank-breaking 50 million dollar transfer from Liverpool to Chelsea and his subsequent loss of form — re: goalscoring mojo — was equally intriguing. But probably the best moment came when Arsene Wenger refused to shake Kenny Dalglish’s hand after a brutal 1-1 draw at home, only to be told to “fuck off.” That was just priceless, better than any retort in those ageing Ekta Kapoor soaps. How can you not miss such drama?
Right now, it’s still vacation time for most of the club’s players and management, enjoying a much-deserved break from the crazy game. It won’t be long before the madness begins, though — preseason training has already started for some clubs. But currently it’s time for stadium repairs, buying leftover season tickets, and more importantly player transfers. Amidst contract renewals, clubs are busy serenading future stars, facing endless negotiations with player agents, and inking complicated deals. The press is having a field day reporting every rumour and speculation, which means football (news) isn’t completely off the air. But that’s small consolation and a poor substitute to live action. August just couldn’t come any sooner.
As I write this, the season opener is just a month away. The bitter rivals of Manchester (City and United) will lock heads for the one-off Community Shield trophy as FA Cup and Premier League winners, respectively. Mouthwatering prospect. That will open the proverbial floodgates for nine months of non-stop football action. Seventeen teams from the previous season and three newly promoted clubs (QPR is back!) will get the 2011/12 season underway on a fine Saturday afternoon.
And the universe will make sense again. Funny, isn’t it?
Originally published: July 16, 2011