Watching the sun set over the Atlantic on the outskirts of Cape Town with one eye on live coverage of Arsenal losing at Middlesbrough was enough for me to remember what I like about English football. It is fast, furious and passionate; the fans are, quite simply, incredible; the world finds it interesting, so you can talk about it to anyone anywhere. And, when watching it in a country far far away, even the Riverside looks strangely like home.
The very best thing about the English game abroad, however, is that people are only interested in the football, not in hours of mindless nonsense to go with it – gossip, speculation, rumour, and trees and trees of words when a simple chronological report would usually more than suffice.
Back in the UK I was motivated enough for the first time this year to arrange to spend an afternoon in the pub watching the best of English football. 1.30pm, Liverpool v Man Utd. 4pm, Arsenal v Chelsea. Crucial games at a key stage of the season. Despite not being rugby or tennis, this was described without hyperbole as Grand Slam Sunday. At least it was a Sunday, however. If it adds to the excitement, one day Sky Sports will make Tuesday the new Sunday.
I arranged to meet the friend who remains probably the most interested in football, and certainly the most fixated by television. The 1.30pm game (0v1), however, was scuppered when he had to attend an afternoon drinks thing, and the first thirty minutes of the 4pm (1v0) was missed due to a lack of pubs near Selfridges showing the football (no doubt something to do with the exorbitant subscription cost). And then, at half time, he went shopping, leaving me to watch a second half that was mildly more interesting that the first, but about which, within a fortnight, I will not only have forgotten the score, and who won, but possibly even which teams were playing.
I’ve already forgotten who won the FA and League Cups this year, and the league in 2006. I would put this down to the fact that sport matters more in ones’ teenage years and that alcohol affects short-term memory if it wasn’t for the fact that I seem to remember more about cricket, rugby, tennis, golf and even snooker than ever before. Perhaps of most concern, even if I could name the last three FA Cup winners, I wouldn’t really care.
The big four cannot be blamed for everything. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that we had a big six (which did not include Chelsea), and one day it will become a famous five or a tirading triumvirate. My problem is just that there is so little to like about English football at the moment.
Roll on the next foreign holiday. Following which I will not be fooled by a Sensational Super Soccer Saturday, Titillating Title-Deciding Tuesday or even Very Good Friday, regardless of what day it is.