"I COULDN'T CARE LESS!!!"
Good news everyone! We don’t have to go and watch rugby! Football’s ok again!
That was fun, wasn’t it? After two nights madder than a box of frogs, it was confirmed to us all that actually, when you take out any semblance of relevance, egos, analysis, defending, care and fitness, football might not actually be the dreadful shitbag it was declared to be on these fair pages not four days ago. Well done, us.
It’s no secret at all that the league cup has long been a satellite competition to the ‘real business’, maligned to such an extent that it suddenly appeared to have reached the fourth round stage and no one could remember a thing about it. Until, that was, 37 goals in eight games rumbled along and the pressure valves building under everyone’s tolerance levels were joyfully released in an explosion of ‘Thank God for THAT’.
While we wouldn’t bet on the fact that the gloom has lifted for long, it was nice to be able to revel in some schoolboy scorelines, and shock results and the like. It is quite ironic that the latest national celebration of football’s greatness is centred around the fact that everything about it, certainly over the last few years, has been so far removed from front line football (league, FA Cup, Europe) that its reputation is of a theatre for the inexperienced and out of form. And who wants to watch that?
Apparently, everyone. And so perhaps it’s time to examine exactly how the league cup has arrived at this point, as the unlikely saviour of football. Can ‘it doesn’t matter’ really justify such a level of freedom and reckless abandon as has been reported? Among PROFESSIONALS? Is everything sunshine and rainbows now? Are subscriptions to MUTV and Chelsea TV going to go through the roof so everyone can see the Reserves battling out nine-goal thrillers ever Thursday lunchtime? IS THE PREMIER LEAGUE GOING TO BECOME A KNOCKOUT?
A lot of the previous confusion around the League Cup has presumably arisen because it is named after both a league AND a cup, which presumably is why Olivier Giroud chucked his shirt away after 90 minutes against Reading. It’s not a league game Olivier! Get your shirt back! It’s a cup match!
All part of the innocent fun, see.
The fun of it. That’s probably what made the difference. These games had something for everyone to enjoy, unless you are a defending aficionado. Reading got to have fun going 4-0 up against Arsenal. Chelsea got to have fun eventually overturning United. Andre Villas-Boas presumably had fun explaining to Hugo Lloris why he’s not starting in the Premier League this weekend. Swansea had fun at Anfield. And everyone had fun at the look on Alex Ferguson’s face when instead of 90 minutes of a pointless distraction he realised he’d have another half hour of screaming at Nani.
The league cup, you see, is very much like being dragged to an onion fete by your parents as a teenager. And as you sulk around the stands, each much the same as the last, wishing you were back in your bedroom watching a late Channel 5 ‘thriller’, surrounded by tissues, you see some poor fat bloke being pelted with rotting onions.. He’s not enjoying himself, but everyone else is having a right old time of it. And so unexpected is it to find a fat bloke having his head smashed with onions, you even start enjoying it yourself, paying 50p so that you too can wang an onion at this stranger’s big, red, clammy face, which is now beginning to resemble a shiny red apple. Yes, that’s what the league cup is like.
It’s a different kind of fun, see. It’s not the fun of spending a fortune on Sergio Aguero, say, or of baiting the opposition fans when you beat them, or whatever passes for ‘fun’ in the Premier League these days. Bragging, mainly, I think.
It’s not the fun that we’re meant to derive from winning. It’s not the pleasure akin to that we get from watching Spain or Barcelona. It’s a peculiarly British brand of fun, the old self-deprecating humour kind. It’s fun in the way that ‘it’s the taking part that counts’ is fun. It’s not fun for the players, necessarily, who are playing for contracts or places or reputations or because they just have to because it’s their job. But it IS fun for the fan, for once, who because of the aforementioned removal of fitness, defending and appropriate care of the ball find themselves scarcely able to believe their luck. Which is how it should be. It’s funny. It’s unusual. It’s unpredictable. The coverage afterwards has to focus on the football, because for once, it isn’t imbued with senseless significance.
‘This isn’t football!’, they might exclaim. Well no, it isn’t. But long may it continue.