It isn’t unusual for our chicken-keeping gang to spend a lot of time on Sunday mornings mulling over the football results but today the conversation was more uplifting than is our usual mixture of moans and groans about referees, overpaid players and poor entertainment value. Almost all of us were rooting for Man Utd last night, but the performance of Barcelona was breathtaking and our heroes were simply played of the pitch. As Alex Ferguson was moved to remark “No one has given us a hiding like that”. He was right but there was no shame in it for we were watching that rare thing, unstoppable poetry in motion. Throughout the whole game Barca committed only five fouls and they never resorted to the usual Premiership fare of long balls and attritional play.
Albert often unwittingly supplies my headlines and today is no exception. He said that there is, after all, a beautiful game. We regularly deride the term as we pay a small fortune to watch so called professionals hoofing the ball here there and everywhere. Last night we watched an exhibition that capped anything that even the extensive Sky coverage has ever screened. Occasionally Arsenal and Man Utd have played some clever stuff but this was in another class, it was beautiful.
The longer term effect is open to debate. As I feel right now, I will certainly feel short-changed when I pay to watch Blackburn Rovers. Yesterday has increased by feeling that the ‘stars’ are grossly overpaid and the entertainment value low. And the same will apply throughout the Premiership. Whatever the Barca players are paid they earn it as true artists. But if they can so totally humiliate our top club what does that say for the rest. I still find it hard to come to terms with a wage of £100,000 per week but perhaps a real artist is beyond valuation. But the number of real artists performing in our top league could be counted on the fingers of a ferret-breeder.
However, there is a more positive outcome from that amazing display. Even those who are indifferent to football must have been impressed and some may well decide to watch more games in future. It was also a counterbalance to the continually bad press that football has in this country. The latest appalling revelations about FIFA has shattered any remaining confidence in those that govern the game, and the constant diet of the off-field antics of many of the players hasn’t helped either. Neither has the constant lunacy of egotistical Russian, Indian, and American owners.
Many a cynic has been heard to ask why soccer was ever described as beautiful. Last night we had the answer. The next time any manager says that the only way to succeed away from home is to defend relentlessly, to play the offside trap and to ‘hack ‘em down,’ he should be boiled in tar and made to watch a tape of the experts performing at Wembley.
And all this on a day when the first Test match of the summer was on. No contest. To watch Sri Lanka who haven’t a single bowler of Test standard bowl for hours to two batsmen whose approach was akin to watching paint dry was sheer purgatory. Never thought I’d live to say this but Test cricket such as this is a poor competitor with the beautiful game!
A SPECIAL FOOTBALL QUIZ IN HONOUR OF BARCELONA; 1. Who preceded Frank O’Farrell as Man Utd manager? 2. How did Joan Bazely make history in 1976? 3. Who were the opponents in Peter Shilton’s last game for England? 4. Which premiership side lost nine of its last ten games in 2006 and stayed up? 5. Who offered the england and scotland squads a week on his Caribbean island if they won the World Cup in 1988? 6. Roy Keane played his last Premiership game for Man Utd against which team? 7. Which club’s motto is ‘Nil Satis Nisi Optimum”? 8. John Benson, Bruce Rich and Steve Bruce have all managed which club? 9. To three, for how many games was Sven-Goran Eriksson in charge of England? 10. Ray Wilkins was sent off while playing for England against which country?
DO YOU HAVE A FRIEND WHO ‘KNOWS ABOUT SOCCER’ ? WHY NOT FORWARD THIS TO HIM OR HER AND THEN COMPARE SCORES?