Friday, March 26, 2010

English Football

With just seven games left, the long Premier League season that began last August is entering the ‘run in’ phase. Three teams at the top are battling for the championship. Three teams at the bottom are struggling to avoid relegation. The endless soap opera of gossip, scandal and opinion led and fed by a rabid media and eagerly devoured by rabid fans in every city and hamlet continues at a fever pitch.

I am blissfully free of ties handed down through the generations that chain me, like it or not, to this team or that. I will always remember the plaintive response from my dear English friend Keefy when I asked him why he continued to suffer so horribly as the fortunes of Leeds United sank, and then sank again. “I can’t help it,” he said. “I was born into this situation.”

I just love the game. I do have my preferences and prejudices, but they’re based on what I see happening as the season unfolds, not on family history. At the top, even though I recognize that Manchester United is the Yankees of English football (and I sure as hell don’t like the Yankees) I admire their consistent excellence. With Chelsea, a point behind Man U, I dislike their owner, the Russian Roman Abramovich, but I like their Italian manager and many of the players. And until recent years they were perennial underachievers, so I notice I often root for them. And with Arsenal, a point behind Chelsea, I love the style of football their manager, Arsene Wenger, teaches. Also, they’ve done well this season despite injury problems and the use of many young players. So I enjoy watching Arsenal.

I guess in the end I’ll want one team or another to win the title, but for now as a neutral I’m happy it’s a close race.

At the bottom, Portsmouth is a disaster. Since the season began they’ve had multiple owners, multiple managers and have declared bankruptcy. Even so, when I watched them get creamed by Chelsea the other day I marveled at the loyalty of their fans. The stands were full. It was deafening non-stop drum beating and singing from start to finish. They just love Pompey, no matter what the circumstances. The other two teams that are likely to be relegated are Hull City and Burnley. Since they are small teams from small places without a lot of money I’d like to see them stay in the Premier League, but it doesn’t look good. Often the struggle to avoid relegation is more interesting than the battle at the top, but not so this year.

My personal battle is to excel in the Fantasy Football game I play every week. At this point I’ve done very very well. I’m in the top 1.8% of the teams participating from around the world. To be specific, I’m ranked #41,282 out of the 2,293,538 competitors. That’s not a typo. There are nearly 2.3 million football fools like me in the game.

Well, in a few weeks the season will be over. And then what? It’s on to South Africa for the World Cup that begins in June. The Beautiful Game never ends.


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