Before the game as I moved amongst the players warming-up, both sides, I tried to decide who might win. The smartly striped United effortlessly whacked the ball in the goal from all angles with style. They looked the part. One player had “almost played professionally, for a big club, but turned it down”. The manager matter of factly tried to help me with my prediction: “5-0 to us” he said “higher in the League – we should win comfortably “. They were 4-0 down in 20 minutes. Players who had only 21 minutes before been knocking the ball about and in the net effortlessly, whilst smoothing back their hair, tossing for kick-off, rubbing their hands at the prospective feast, were now heads down, wearily or lazily walking back to the centre-spot.
I assessed the evidence of their decline: some had been lounging-reclining in deck chairs, the sun almost out in almost spring. One had gone fishing in the river beyond the wing position. Another sat on the park bench talking to passers-by …and cosying up to a pretty woman. Two, not sure why two, in recovering a ball from a back-garden bordering the park had accepted cups of tea. And scones. Tarts possibly. This was in Bakewell. No one was playing well or seemingly trying. One was staring at the sun to see if it would burn his eyes out. Another smoking a whole packet of cigarettes in one go.
As for the home team, the underdogs on the day…huge pride. One player when substituted moaned that the manager was unhappy with him. I bore witness that at least he had been trying. Despondent he grabbed his parka coat and stormed off to the far side of the park to sit sulking outside the the old pavilion, muttering that he would never play again.
United staged a bit of a comeback. But the the home team Town scored some more.
The Bakewell Manners match on the adjacent pitch ended minutes earlier with the ball stuck high up in a tree.
I sat in the National Football Centre with a team from the USA who had completed training. On the giant plasma was Manchester United v Liverpool, live. England’s two most successful teams ever. The American team like others had come here to get a bit of Englishness about them…revel in the pastures of the altar to the country which gave the World the modern game of football. And here before them on a big grid of screens was THE top match, almost like being there. Not all of the players rushed in from the dining-room with their deserts. Some when seated, the match playing away, played with their phones. Here was a team sent to learn and be enthused and they could partially be bothered. Admittedly they attended a live match Aston Villa v Chelsea the Saturday evening which had struck them to the core – and now this during deserts after training, on Sunday, was mere tv.
I understood then, at this moment, what the Premier League has at stake: pole position. Scudamore and those at the Premier League often criticised for power-hungry pursuits have a mission to grab our attention. And make us pay for it to keep the show rolling. If there was a succession of top matches shown from the top Leagues: Major League Soccer, Serie A, Brasileirao, Ligue1, LigaMX, Eredevisie, La Liga, Bundesliga and our English Premier League… god yes I would want OUR English league match to be the one most feted, celebrated, watched, enjoyed, talked about afterwards. I would be a bit heartbroken if it wasn’t.
This 2000′s fashion of locking one’s love to a bridge rail, or anything really, is just catching on in unromantic England. In Bakwell and maybe other places. Padlocks are appearing. I could well see them appearing at football grounds…’So and so’ or simply just ‘So’ on his or her own pledging undying love to _________FC and throwing away the love-lock key – into the water, over the abyss – because the love is endless.