01 August 2013

The return of the beautiful game


by Lewis Carr | Contributor

Summer in Britain usually means two things; the sports network will be taken over by cricket and even more worryingly there is next to no football.

Now more than ever, football is like a drug to even the most casual fan. For a ten month period there will be a top level match taking place that the armchair viewer can take in, thanks to the wonderful creation of satellite television. It doesn’t really matter where the game is taking place or if the commentary is in a language which you don’t understand. The passion, tension and drama will still be enough to draw you in… therein lies the curse.

For all this summer we were slightly entertained by the Confederations Cup in Brazil, something about that competition just did not feel right. Other than the final itself, for most of the competition it felt like most of the competitors really didn’t want to be there. Even the finalists Spain admitted this, so whilst we might have had pundits trying to evaluate the merit of the Confederations Cup it is really nothing than a glorified friendly trophy.

So two months. Two long, excruciating months of trips to the shops, painting rooms and gardening as the mind grows numb as it is starved of what it craves. Even the pub becomes a lifeless dwelling at times. Banter can only go so far as long periods of silence fill the void that would usually be crammed with chatter relating to the latest match, or questions like “did you see that goal?”.

Even the mild relief of pre-season brings additional problems to the fan. Speculation becomes the norm as fans of football seemingly morph into the always gossiping fishwives that tend to reside in the tea rooms of our nation.

“Who are we going to sign? We cannot afford to lose him? How will they fit in?”. So many questions and too much time to ponder them often turn the brain to mush. Therefore why should we really moan about Scottish clubs being forced to enter Europe so early?

Arrogance is an aspect our country’s players need to regain in their play, whereas we as supporters, analysts (however you want to put it), have no reason to be so arrogant.

Barring the odd run in Europe from the Old Firm our teams as a collective haven’t done anything to warrant a greater coefficient from UEFA. So a message to all supporters; shut up and embrace these qualifiers.

See them as an opportunity. They are the starting point on Scottish football's road to redemption which will lead the national team to major finals and our club sides to the latter stages in European competition. Or to be more realistic these qualifiers have provided us with a quick return to the blood and thunder of competitive action.

The Hibernian debacle aside, these ties have proved worthwhile as fans have lapped up the early opportunity to roar on their sides to victory, with Celtic easily seeing off Cliftonville and St Johnstone providing a shock in knocking out Rosenborg.

Approaching August and things are really beginning to get interesting. Due to this season being a World Cup year our domestic leagues are kicking off even earlier than before, with the newly revamped SPFL starting from this weekend and the Barclays Premier League coming in the next couple of weeks.

If you factor in the European ties this has led to a tension that is growing with every passing hour. It is quite hard to remember a summer which has provided so many questions in the lead up to the new season. The managerial merry go round that we usually associate with the middle of the season when struggling managers are fired at a startling rate has already taken place with so many of the planets leading sides having new men in charge.

This of course has heightened the anxiety of the supporter as new managers also tend to mean one thing; new signings. Plenty of punters will develop a nervous twitch every time 'breaking news' flashes up on Sky Sports News as the pandemonium usually reserved for transfer deadline day looks likely to be stretched out the month of August, as teams crumble under the strain of the World Cup season.

So being a football fan in Scotland has actually been quite enjoyable this summer. The early return of European football, the wild speculation of the transfer market and from this weekend the meat and drink of the domestic game, it shall be bliss.

Oh and don’t forget the numerous trips to the bookies, and the flowing banter of the pub whilst nursing a post-match pint… here’s hoping the sun makes a welcome return as well.

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