I would gush about how “my boys” had a fantastic game and complain repeatedly whenever they had a bad game or fell short of expectations, and my friend who couldn’t care less about all the fuss about football in general and the premier league specifically would subtly ask me how they were my boys or if they were even aware of my existence, but I would brush her comments off as the ignorant views of the uninitiated – that is the effect football has on me and millions of other Nigerians and indeed football enthusiasts all around the world! It is so refreshing to be able to get away from all the controversies and uncertainties that have trailed events since the run up to the elections and after then, the endless debates and arguments among rival political parties and their voltrons, the recurring headache induced by relentless Boko Haram, the National Assembly brouhaha, the endless drama on social media and several other issues that spring up every day in this troubled world of ours. Football, the avenue for escapism is here!
The 24th season of the English Premier League finally kicked off last Saturday to the delight of its fans all over the world who have had to endure a long wait for their favourite sport for the past eleven weeks. The league which is arguably the most exciting in the world due to its fast paced nature, unpredictability and of course the highly controversial English press who are famous for hyping average English players and blowing matters out of proportion enjoys a cult-like following in most parts of the world. In November, 2014, the English league was adjudged the best league in the world following an in-depth study of global football spanning Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia and the Americas by Sports Mail where a wide range of criteria such as the league’s income and wages, ticket prices and attendance, talent, managers, trophies, competitive balance and contribution to the national game were considered. Little wonder why it is so popular.
The first round of matches didn’t disappoint with an impressive return of 30 goals to set the stage for a sensational campaign ahead, as well many talking and controversial points. As a Manchester United fan, I am happy that my team got off to a winning start (regardless of how it came), and without conceding any goal, which is not the same that can be said for other potential title contenders like Chelsea and Arsenal who certainly would have wished for a better result as they stumbled against the lesser rated teams they took on. It must be said however that these are very early days yet, which is perhaps the reason why the table as it currently stands is looking weird with a team like Leicester City occupying the second position on the table while Arsenal sits in 19th place! This unpredictability and increasingly closer gap between the “big four” and the other teams is one of the factors that sets the premier league apart from others!
Unlike the Spanish, German and French Leagues which have had one or two teams dominating the league for several years, the English league has had three different winners of the league in the last five years, with not less than six teams vying for the top spot each season and a couple of the races for the league crown going down to the wire. Such is the thrill and excitement that the premier league offers which distinguishes it from every other league in the world. Apart from the tempo of play in the English league which makes other leagues appear boring in comparison, the physicality, extremely passionate fans, fierce level of competition at both the top and bottom of the table to qualify for the champions league and escape relegation respectively, as well as the wide television coverage of matches all around the world. Not forgetting the Mourinho/Wenger rivalry definitely stands it out from other leagues.
Many pundits have tipped Chelsea FC to retain their trophy, while others have predicted that either one of Arsenal, Manchester City or Manchester United have a good chance of winning it this time around. Predictions have also been made about which of the newly promoted teams is likely to retain their place in the elite league. But, it remains to be seen how things will eventually pan out.
Wives and girlfriends have resigned themselves to the fact that the beautiful game is the “other woman” they constantly lose the battle to when it comes to competing for their man’s attention (for obvious reasons I have never had such issues). The viewing centers, clubs, pubs and bars are in big business once again! The average Nigerian can take his mind off the stress of work and a salary that can barely take him to the bus stop, the bad economy and numerous challenges that he faces each day by simply settling down to a good game of football! The “children of anger” and “wailing wailers” on Twitter can get the much needed respite from a daily life of pouring vituperations and invectives on one another and hopefully move on to the light-hearted banter that football elicits.
The beautiful game is here again! Cheers to a fantastic 37 weeks ahead!