Technical Yawns and False Dawns: What the opening weekend of the Premiership season tells us

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CRESTSWell, it’s here. There’s no going back now. Not for another nine months at least. The first day of top-flight football arrived last weekend. For some it’s the beginning of a nightmare as Sky Sports builds up every match as if it’s a real life sequel to War and Peace. For others, it’s dreamland. I like the football, but I have to say I’m not keen on all the dramatic music and fast shots of players that no one can see properly. Just give me the old ‘here we go, here we go…’ theme tune and I’ll be happy (by the way if anyone knows what that song is called, let me know. I’ve found it virtually impossible to find the artist and title online. They even fail to mention it on the Ford Super Sunday Wikipedia page. It’s probably just some sample music from the channel’s archives). Their new gimmick for this season is to have an audience watching Jamie Redknapp present himself to main presenter Ed Chamberlain as he leans back, stretching his legs out wide wearing the tightest trousers he could find (sure they’re not Louise’s, Jamie?). I’m sure there are other gimmicks that I have not been informed about yet. I didn’t watch the chatter or examples of new gadgets in between their live matches as I tuned into the Bundesliga on ESPN and made a chicken and salad subway. Meanwhile, I’m still waiting for the replay where you can actually see the ball going into the back of the net. Now, of course, we have a new channel BT Sport trying as hard to state its case that they’re better than Sky Sports as I am in convincing myself that Michael Owen is not speaking with an Australian accent. Time will tell whether they don’t get on my tits. They did on Saturday.   Many of the images that come into my head upon thinking of the opening weekend of a season stem from episodes of The Premiership Years where we see managers in their bright and clean white shirts; putting a hand above their eyes to keep the sun out of their gaze; as it shines onto the fans’ new shirts and the balloons that bloom like thousands of flowers (yes, I write poetry, too). And all that blossoming comes with renewed hope that ‘maybe this season, we will get in Europe,’ or ‘maybe this season, we will challenge for the title,’ or ‘maybe this season, we will be comfortable and not have a relegation scrap to contend with,’ or ‘maybe this season, we will have a heroic battle fighting for 10th place as opposed to 14th.’ Or in other cases such as Portsmouth and Coventry City in recent years, it’s a bonus if the club survives to merely fulfill their fixtures – win or lose – let alone achieve promotion etc… Much of the weekend’s weather, however, was pretty dull, so it didn’t conjure up those images at all. Over the years in the Premier League era, the first day is rarely, if ever, a sign of what’s to come. Manchester United are notoriously slow starters, but have challenged for the title every season since 1991-92. They began the first Premiership campaign in 1992-93 with defeat at Sheffield United, but where did those two clubs finish at the end of the season? (in order of mention) 1st and 14th respectively. It didn’t matter that United followed that game with a 3-0 loss at home to Everton and a 1-1 draw with Ipswich Town. Their next opening day defeat in 1995, 3-1 to Aston Villa – which led to the infamous ‘‘you never win anything with kids’’ quote – certainly wasn’t indicative of what was to come – the Double! Yes, they won the next opening day 3-0 away to Wimbledon then went on to win the league, but we knew before that they’d be up there, although I doubt we banked on them losing four in a row in October/November of that 1996-97 season – 5-0 to Newcastle United; 6-3 to Southampton; 1-0 to Fenerbahçe; and 2-1 to Chelsea. Their 4-1 trouncing of SwanseaCity last Saturday could mean it’s business as usual for the champions, but will it last? It’s new territory for David Moyes. But although they haven’t made any ‘major’ signings so far, Danny Welbeck, whose all-round play was never in doubt, has already doubled his goal tally for last season. If this continues he could be something like a ‘new signing’. Their neighbours, Manchester City did what is expected of them in the coming months, winning 4-0 at home to Newcastle United. Chelsea did what they had to do; although after going 2-0 up against Hull City (Do I add Tigers? This is football, not American football!), they were expected to steamroll over them in terms of goals. Even though Hull had a late surge, Jose Mourinho’s side still managed 22 shots on goal albeit only five on target. There’ll be more games like this for the Blues, and they’ll put more of the chances away, but that was expected to be the case before this game. As it is, last season’s top three are already taking up three of the top four positions.

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