With every team in the Barclays Premier League now having played ten matches, the table is taking a familiar shape. Thanks heavens then that Liverpool, struggling away in sixth place, are doing their best to give me grounds to retain interest.
There are still many reasons to give Premier League football the red card, but even the grumpiest curmudgeon should have enjoyed the first few weeks of this season. Seeing Chelsea lose to Villa and Wigan, Man Utd to Burnley, and Arsenal to Man City, gave hope that this year may actually see some changes in fortune.
Likewise, Tottenham’s early run and Portsmouth’s equivalent horror-start were noticeable and different, if nothing else. There’s hell at Hull, woe at West Ham (without a victory since the opening day), smiles at Stoke and Sunderland, goals galore (316 in the first 106 games), a riot of red cards, and nobody who saw it will forget the drama of United’s 4v3 victory in the Manchester derby – or, for that matter the odd predictability of Liverpool’s comeback at The Reebok to defeat Bolton 3v2.
Following defeat at Fulham yesterday, Liverpool have, however, now lost five league games this season. They are, pundits seem to agree, out of the title race, and by the end of the week may have only the FA Cup to play for. Fans across the country are rubbing their hands in glee at the Reds possible banishment from the so-called Big Four.
The fact that I’m one of those fans annoys me. Premier League football is such an unpleasant – and predictable – business that I’ve been dragged down to this level of negativity. It’s a very sad reflection of a game in a mess that Liverpool’s ‘slump’ is the most interesting thing about the whole division. Their disastrous start, don’t forget, leaves them a whole point behind fourth place.
It didn’t take a pre-season genius – or Alan Hansen – to predict the current top seven, and, with the exception of Everton and possibly Fulham, it was always the case that the remaining eleven would primarily be battling to avoid relegation. One of Stoke or Burnley will no doubt belie their current position by sliding inexorably through the trap-door, and either West Ham or Portsmouth will probably be in with a shout for a Europa Cup place with three games to go. Even in this season of shocks and upsets, the home record of the top three tells a story which has as much plot as a Katie Price novel – Played 16, Won 15, Drawn 1.
Why do I feel so negative about the beautiful game? Aside from it containing limited genuine sporting interest, there’s no respect for referees (Ferguson), the rules (Chelsea, on transfers), or the law (Marlon King), so how can I have any respect for the sport? It’s very difficult to care.
I’ve given the Premier League a fair go this season, but this is farewell. Of course I’ll be back to watch the antics of Gerrard, Rooney, Terry and co in time for the World Cup next year, but for this season I’ll be following the lower leagues – and more noble sports – from now on. I’m done with the nastiness of the Premier League, so I’ll take this opportunity to wish all the players and teams, including Liverpool, all the best for a fair, enjoyable and safe rest of the season. Because that’s how sport should be.