By Andi Thomas and Alex Netherton
Guys! Guys! Exciting news! Just below the Premier League is another league! You know relegation? This is where those teams go! Wolves are here! Well, they were; they’ve gone somewhere else now. It’s called ‘The Championship’, which is a bit weird, but then one of us calls his penis ‘Lord Toffingham’, so who are we to judge?
It turns out that this is also where promoted teams like ‘Reading’ (pronounced just like reading) come from, and this weekend was the conclusion of the annual race to get relegated from the Premier League next time around. And for those jaded souls that spend most of the season following the top-flight, like us, and you, this was like discovering that the entire season’s been played at the wrong speed, and that the lugubrious death march of a sport we’ve been enduring is supposed to be a jaunty little toe-tapper.
Watford are losing! No, hang on, they’ve got one back. But wait, Hull are winning! No, Hull are drawing, sorry, I got confused. Watford have got a mascot in goal! Somebody else’s mascot! Is that allowed? As it stands! Where even is Peterborough? Are those my trousers? Why are the Cardiff Reds wearing blue? Is Steve Bruce crying? Is Steve Bruce melting? Is Steve Bruce so distraught with tension that he’s smearing his own excrement on the walls of the dugout? No, no, that’s just Nutella. Why has he got Nutella? The Hull fans have invaded the pitch! The game isn’t over! As it stands! They’ve kidnapped the referee! No, he’s back, and he’s given both sides a penalty! Where are my trousers? What on earth is Huddersfield? Have Nottingham City pipped Leicester Forest? No! Yes! Leeds, eh? As it stands! How old is Kevin Phillips? Can I borrow your trousers? As it stands! As it stands! As it stands! Steve Bruce can’t see the wood for the trees, he’s just criticized the referee on the day he got promoted! What a tit-end!
You sort of hope that none of the celebrating Hull players found time over the weekend to actually sit and watch the league they’ve managed to clamber into. They might well have found themselves wondering what the point of it all was; why they’ve spent all season trying to escape a delirious mess for the sake of a tiresome farce. Apart from Reading (still pronounced reading)—a team who only got promoted by accident and have already been relegated—Saturday was thin, thin gruel. And by the time the soupiest of Super Sundays was limping to an inelegant close, the nation was faced with the very real prospect that the Premier League might not be the most exciting league in the country, let alone the universe.
Fortunately for the sake of us
diarists all, David Luiz did a Bad Thing. Thanks, David! Thanks!
If you’d fallen asleep by that point, a brief recap. David Luiz and Rafael da Silva are tussling by the corner flag. Some Manchester United fans, lacking any purpose or dignity, have been swapping screenshots that purport to show something of an elbow from the hairier of the two Brazilians, which wouldn’t be out of character but isn’t really important. Rafael has a kick, Luiz falls on the floor, the sexier of the two Brazilians is shown a small, stiff, red rectangle, and he leaves. None of which is particularly interesting.
But! While Luiz was lying on the floor, he smiled. He grinned. He may even—oh, calumny!—have chuckled. The dirty foreign bastard.
Let’s be clear, it’s not that he was pretending to be hurt. People don’t care about that, because if they did, then there wouldn’t be a single game that didn’t end with most of the participants getting it in the neck from all plus sundry. Having got it in the neck, naturally they’d fall on the floor writhing around, grasping a part of their body close to but markedly different from that which had been hit, but hey: that’s football. One of us once attended a baseball game, and the sight of a batter smashing a fastball into his own foot was greeted by a hoot of derision from one of his own fans. “Get up! This isn’t a soccer game!” It later turned out that the foot was fractured in three places.
Football players pretend to be injured in the same way that fish live in water and bricks fall through the air. Whether they should or not is another argument, except it isn’t, because they shouldn’t. But Luiz’s crime, like all the truly media-friendly crimes, isn’t so much in the doing as in the manner of doing. By grinning rather than observing the forms—the agonised twitch, the careful wince, the gingerish rise supported by the physio, the marked-but-rapidly vanishing limp—he’s exposed that the problem isn’t with the cheating. They’re all cheats, all the time, and nobody cares. The problem is the failure to cheat with the appropriate seriousness. The problem is here that you simply are not allowed to break the fourth wall. We should not be reminded in such a Brechtian manner that what we’re watching really is a play.
There’s the sport—you know, the football with the goals—and then there’s also the circus. Most people care about the sport, and really care about the circus, they just don’t like to be reminded of it. We are all sullied by getting so involved in it, we don’t want to realize these players really do just see it as a game. The free-spirited, monied, regularly-sexed, happy-go-lucky scamps. Where has it all gone wrong for them? If that is moral failure, consider us tempted.
Roll that notion around your head for a bit. The Premier League, where even the stupid and the snide must be taken ultra-seriously, all the time. Check the small print, Hull. Consult some lawyers. Surely you don’t have to do this to yourselves.