City-Chelsea Shield opener a stark juxtaposition to London Games' end
Man City, Chelsea will play in the Community Shield, England's traditional opener
Things that make the Olympics great highlight what's off with the Premier League
One British columnist: 'Our Olympic heroes have humiliated arrogant footballers'
The Premier League doesn't really do navel-gazing. It would probably charge for the rights to its belly-button fluff if it got even close to such a contemplative pose, but its impending return just as the Olympic Games draw to a close has certainly prompted many of those who watch it to pause for thought.
There is always some level of fatigue come the end of another season, but never do you see the kind of stinging polemic The Sun printed this week. "Our Olympic heroes have humiliated arrogant footballers," said Hunter Davies. "We, the lumpen, pathetic fans should all decide that football will no longer be our national sport." It is not every summer that you will see reader response so much in agreement, debating primarily the precise nature and cause of the horridness of soccer players rather than its standing as fact.
The Olympics habitually brings about a cynicism amnesty: a once-every-four-years fortnight of feel-good tales of improbable journeys, incredible sacrifice and in-the-bones sportsmanship. No forced handshakes before kick-off here. During one women's boxing semifinal, the commentators on British television were outraged by the scoring, which cost a Brazilian fighter her shot at gold -- "a travesty!" -- but as the bell rang for the final time she embraced her opponent, shook hands with the Russian coaches, and turned to smile at the crowd, bobbing graciously in thanks for their support.
Stories about botched security have given way to stories about a volunteer workforce worthy of the Blitz. Half of Britain is giddy on good will. Davies' column captured a sort of dread that the Olympic bubble will soon be burst by a prick from the Premier League. There could hardly be a worse time for Chelsea and Manchester City, two of the teams that best epitomize its worst excesses, to contest the Community Shield to raise the curtain on another season.
At least it will be played at Villa Park, in the west Midlands, and not allowed to encroach on London -- into the new Wembley, which hosted perhaps its best home international yet when Great Britain's women played Brazil in the Olympic group stages. It would not do for soccer players who consider seven-figure wages an insult to be mixing with athletes who often have to beg -- on Facebook, on scraps of paper at the opening ceremony -- for enough sponsorship simply to carry on. Instead of players snarling down lenses and spitting (literally and metaphorically) at one another, we have a procession of endearingly humble athletes, happy to stop and talk about their feelings, to share their knowledge and understanding, without any hint that they consider it an irritation to have to speak to the media. Instead of sex tapes we've had homemade videos of athletes dancing around being unashamedly silly. Making the most of their moment in the spotlight, undoubtedly, but for their own and their fans' amusement as much as anything else.
There have been responses to Davies' article. Writers (and readers) are keen to defend soccer's honor, for want of a better word. And, of course, there are counterpoints to be made -- soccer and its players have to go out there week in, week out, asked to entertain by some and merely to secure three points by others, and they are handsomely paid because so many people will subscribe to the right television channels. Yet that ignores several things, not least the fact that athletes are not sitting around watching re-runs of 3rd Rock from the Sun between Olympic Games, and also that no one is suggesting that everything would be all right if athletes got all the money and the attention that the Premier League does.
It is not about one sport versus others -- I am convinced of the brilliance of soccer, which has been more than adequately demonstrated by this summer's Euros and the women's Olympic tournament. It's about the Premier League as a "product" -- their words, not mine. While Olympic athletes uniformly bristled at any bending of the rules, the Premier League is largely numb to spasms of conscience. It devours news pages front and back, yet is a soap opera as much as a sport. Last season is already easier remembered for the Luis Suarez and John Terry cases than by anything that involved a ball. Here we go Fonz, I'm heading for the ramp!
In traditional farming when a field has been leached of its goodness it is left fallow for a year; a short-term loss for long-term gain. Those in charge of the Premier League have demonstrated that they can think radically when it suits them (A 39th game played overseas? Well, that sounds like a grand idea, blah blah, global brands, yadda yadda) but less so when they do not stand to gain (Use the extra TV money to bring down ticket prices? The thing is, old bean...), so imagine how faces would crumple if presented with the idea of damping things down a bit for a year to re-establish some kind of equilibrium. A fallow year: no cups, no Champions League, no club allowed to change its first, second, third, European or bank holiday kits. Just a back-to-basics 38-game season kicking off at 3 p.m. local time every Saturday, with one live game a month.
The worst that could happen (if you're only counting the things that actually matter) is that supporters would be desperate for the full big-top experience the year after, jittery after a few months of jonesing for a Monday night trip to Sunderland.
Back in the real world, of course, we know a less-is-more approach will not prevail. Premier League clubs have already spent more than $320 million in the current transfer window and there are still three weeks left. By the time the window closes most of us will probably have been swept up by the early season adrenaline tide and be trawling the internet for tidbits long after our bedtimes.
But the glow of this Olympic Games has not been a flattering light for the Premier League; faces turned to it like the sun, some have given fear and loathing a voice. Radical change will not be the result, but a bit of humility and a sense of scale would go a long way.
Crosby hat trick leads Penguins over Senators in Game 2
Grizzlies and Spurs: Battle of the 'Big 3's'