Andi Thomas & Alex Netherton
This is a Premier League diary. Imagine our disappointment, then, when we realised last Friday that the Greatest League In This History Of Space And Time was taking a breather for the weekend, to be replaced by something called “The Effay Cup”.
No, we’d never heard of it either.
It turns out it’s some kind of knock-out competition, a bit like the late stages of the Champions League, except that games are only played over one leg and it doesn’t come with the artificially inflated, anti-competitive, money-spinning group stage. And where the Champions League has the wit to winnow out all the small, irrelevant and Welsh teams in the pre-qualifying stages, the Effay Cup, for reasons best known to itself, actually requires proper football clubs to go through the motions of pretending to be on some kind of par with teams from such competitive wastelands as “the Conference”, “League Two” or “the Championship”. It’s a thoroughly undignified business, made all the worse by the occasional humiliation handed out to the big boys by their economic and social inferiors. Here, then, are how the Premier League teams got on…
Brighton & Hove Albion 2-0 Newcastle
We suppose this was technically an upset, yet it’s hard to think of one so un-upsetting. Newcastle are so bad at the moment that they began as second favourites, and Brighton played well but weren’t ever required to be brilliant. Even the dismissal of Shola Ameobi for two non-bookable offences felt more like a curiosity than anything particularly significant. Keep an eye on Alan Pardew’s hair, though, which is getting increasingly ruffled as his team labour. A couple of months of relegation-scrapping and the silver foxishness will have been replaced by an altogether less-inspiring look, the estate-agent-sleeping-in-car.
West Ham United 2-2 Robin Van Persie
It turns out that one of the most important traditions of the Effay Cup is to put Manchester United on television. Yet, with a few minutes to go, West Ham were leading by two meaty ginger headers to one dinked finish, and it looked horribly as though the fading cup might have to take another blow to her dignity. So thank Santa for Robin van Persie being ridiculously good, eh? (The replay will be live on ITV, Wednesday after next.)
Bolton 2-2 Sunderland, Crystal Palace 0-0 Stoke City, Fulham 1-1 Blackpool, Manchester City 3-0 Watford, Tottenham Hotspur 3-0 Coventry, Crawley 1-3 Reading, Wigan 1-1 Bournemouth, QPR 1-1 West Brom, Aston Villa 2-1 Ipswich
Er … well. This is a bit awkward. None of these were on television, you see. Is Bournemouth even a place? It sounds like a disease. Let’s assume these were all either really dull, or really exciting but not in a memorable or important kind of way, and move on.
Southampton 1-5 Chelsea
“Hi Demba. Welcome to the team. Ignore John, that’s just banter. Now, look. The most important thing is: don’t worry if it takes you a while to settle down. Moving teams, moving house, adjusting to the way we play: all these things will take time. You just have to work hard and eventually, hopefully, you’ll start to get the hang of things. If things get really bad, the owner may even decide to replace the manager to see if he can wake you up! This just goes to show how much everybody here cares and wants you to succeed.”
“Cheers Fernando, that’s really sweet of you. But I scored twice today, so no worries, eh?”
Swansea 2-2 Arsenal
Without wanting to lapse into cliché, this was very much a game in which the first of the two equal periods of time was noticeably different to the second. The first half was futile and useless, and drove home to everybody exactly how limp an experience it can be to be alive. The second, which brought four goals and saw the lead seesawing first one way and then the other, drove home to everybody exactly how much fun it can be to watch two football teams that make pretty shapes with their passing but can’t defend.
Mansfield 1-2 Liverpool
In which Liverpool took an early lead but failed to roll this over into the aristocratic slapping that was all set to follow. In which Mansfield dominated the second half, scoring one, having a couple of penalty shouts waved away, and generally doing their bit to help those that were still struggling with their hangovers. And in which the game was decided by a nefarious act of outrageous villainy from Luis Suárez, who first handled the ball in the build-up to the winner, then took out his paycheck and rubbed in the face of each and every opponent, then kicked a puppy, then kicked a second puppy into the first puppy, then set fire to an orphanage, then urinated on a picture of Princess Diana, then psychically invaded the minds of the officials and forced them to give the goal against their will.
Never mind that, if you’re looking for reasons to dislike the man, there are plenty better. Never mind that you could count the players who would own up to such chicanery on the fingers of one fish. Thanks to the Effay Cup, we know that even the Bible agrees that Suárez is in the employ of the Adversary. We refer you to Proverbs 13:23: “A poor man’s field may produce abundant food, but injustice sweeps it away.” God’s onto you, Luis. Be afraid.