It’s back and I love it. The Premier League. From this weekend until next May it will be non-stop excitement as the best teams in England battle it out aiming to be as good as the champions Manchester City.
I’ve always loved top level English football, but I’m obsessed with it now as my favourite club
have for the last 10 years been on the crest of the footballing wave.
It will be all Alice bands and short socks as Jack Grealish swaggers past opponents. Multi-millionaires making it happen while average millionaires are just making up the numbers. Some Premier league players are over-rated and grossly overpaid. It’s the dream ticket to be on any of the teams and all of them will entertain anyone paying per month for the privilege.
It wasn’t like that in the past. It was free and fabulous. Match of the Day and The Big Match. David Coleman and Brian Moore. The BBC and ITV seemed to have the perfect understanding and showed the best highlights at exactly the right time.
Saturday night wasn’t complete without seeing goals from the likes of George Best and Francis Lee, saves from Joe Corrigan and Gordon Banks and touchline rage from those trying to outdo Brian Clough and Don Revie. I could name you hundreds of stars who were on our screens for an hour or so on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.
I would have loved to have been a professional footballer. The fact I was overweight, quite slow and rarely played soccer did nothing to dampen my desire. When my friend Raymond Tumelty was invited across to Bolton Wanderers and trained with the legendary Frank Worthington, I thought he was the luckiest lad in Newry.
Then there was Tom Connell. He went from our school to Wolves and eventually Manchester United. They were rubbing shoulders with the superstars. I think that’s what appealed to me the most. The fame, the recognition and the adulation. I would have loved a dollop of all three.
I saw it all one sunny afternoon in Newry. I was walking past the entrance to the market when I noticed most of the shoppers were walking in the opposite direction on the other side of the street. People on the same side as me were crossing the road and fumbling in pockets and handbags for pens and pieces of paper. They were joining the ever-growing crowd and then I spotted who they had already seen. Big Pat was out for a walk. The best goalkeeper in the world was ambling past the cathedral chatting to his wife. I was 12-years-old. The Spurs legend was within touching distance, but I couldn’t get close enough as the entire town seemed to envelop him. At that very moment I wished I was Pat Jennings. What must it be like to be loved and respected like that?
All the modern-day footballers have the opportunity to live out what to most people is just a childish dream. They will play the game they love in front of adoring fans and if something goes wrong, they can cushion the disappointment by allowing their mind to wander to the Ferrari showroom.
It seems like the perfect world. We know of course that it isn’t. There is pressure that goes with fame and fortune. The history of the game is littered with fallen heroes. Some like Big Pat can still walk through their hometown and be adored while other former stars are now forgotten, ignored or rejected.
There is, however, little excuse for getting it wrong today. So many of them are super rich and that has to be an advantage.
Most aren’t born with the silver spoon, but they have developed the golden boot and if they can’t kick on in the direction of happiness with such an advantage, they don’t deserve the money we pay them.
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