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An exciting finish to a soccer season – who woulda thunk it!?

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Manchester United and Manchester City played each other Monday night, with the winner almost certainly laying claim to the title.

Have I not said before that I’d prefer to know nothing rather than realising what I’m missing out on?!

The recent posts on ‘Soccer – boring as hell or M.U.P.I.T.S?! (Most Underrated Pastime in the Southern hemisphere) – parts 1 and 2 drew a wide range of interest and good natured banter on these pages.

One of the criticisms of the world game that came out is that in leagues in England and Spain etc, there are no exciting finals to build towards and anticipate.

No finals? No worries.

Well, Monday night’s game may not have been labelled an official final, but, as so often happens at the tail end of the Premier League season, it can all come down to a match or two that decides it all. Monday night may prove to be just that.

Of course there’s not the pressure, intensity and expectation that comes with a playoff or finals series, and certainly not the fishbowl atmosphere present in a single championship game or Grand Final.

We don’t need it!

The other thing soccer fans will tell you is that they don’t need to have a finals series. They already have one. Most leagues have a concurrent knockout tournament (think, FA Cup) running during their season. Aussies and Americans might intrinsically believe that this dilutes the importance of the regular season championship if ‘there’s something else you can win,’ but this is a cultural difference. Soccer leagues have always had the cup. Their fans’ couldn’t care less that you think there should be only one title up for grabs. It’s never been the way in soccer… sorry, ‘football’.

For those teams out of the regular season race, especially for those without the big budgets of Man U, Chelsea, Arsenal, City, Liverpool etc, the excitement of being in the last few in ‘the Cup’ is a hand-wrapped gift.

Yet even in all of these circumstances, there are still late-season games that can decide a title hope. In fact, ironically, the last soccer game that I saw was Man United vs Chelsea in one of the final games of the last season. Played at Old Trafford, the winner would go on to take the title.

Chelsea’s Drogba, taking a dive. Not this game, Didier…

I was fortunate on many fronts –

  • Even though the game was played at stupid o’clock in the middle of the night, I still set the alarm and got up. There was no waiting in a vain attempt to get through my work day with a successful media ban – considering the amazing circumstances that permeated the game combined with the complete lack of luck for those trying to shut their eyes and ears to all things sporting; see any of the one, two or three popular posts on the precariousness of media bans for sports lovers if you need any further proof – this was a golden decision.
  • I got up on time and was watching right on kickoff, and
  • I happened to be paying attention, when, 40 seconds into the game, Man U scored, sending an already on edge Old Trafford into euphoric meltdown, as well as household Evans…!

Man U and Chelsea. It didn’t take long…

Even without the official title of a or the ‘final’, everyone who followed that game knew that the game came down to this – Man U or Chelsea. And for most seasons, there are these exact circumstances where a game or 3 will decide it all.

In other sports, it can play out either way. Early or midseason when you come up against a finals rival, teams want to both send a message that they will be a force to be reckoned with come finals time plus take points away from said challenger.

But, there’s no doubt that late in a season when finals spots are cemented, often teams who may play each other in the finals don’t want to show all their cards is a less meaningful regular season game. As a result the fans are witness to a far more light-hearted affair.

Every. Match. Counts.

Very few scenarios exist within the English Premier League where a game is of little or no importance. If teams know they can’t win the title, they still want to be near the Top 4 to be assured a spot in the phenomenal Champions League tournament. Those in the 5-8 bracket are also trying to earn their way into the Europa Cup, a less lucrative but substantially important position to acquire.

And almost best of all there is the vehement, last man standing affair that is the ultimate battle to avoid relegation. For the bottom 3 teams who must move down to ‘League 1’, and more importantly, for their fans, this is a heartbreaking scenario. The sheer intensity of players and supporters in this environment is second to none.

Why play 3 of your best players when your chance at the playoffs is long gone? So say the Golden State Warriors in the NBA…

In comparison, the blatant tanking, resting of players, putting stars in for minor operations and coaching manoeuvring to ensure that teams aren’t best positioned to attain victory is shameful. This has happened for many, many years in two of the main sports that I love and follow – the NBA and the AFL. There’s always robust talk about what can be done to combat this, but the unique and unreplicable situation of relegating teams to a lower level of competition is what makes soccer so special.

So, while the haters may have their say, there are moments like Monday night’s game where the most popular sport in the world again finds itself firmly in the spotlight in terms of excitement and big game atmosphere, final or no final.

Good thing this is almost done!

In closing, even in the absence of the internet in the last month of this year without sport, I had 3 separate people within 12 hours let me know (a) that Man U were readying themselves for the most important match of the season against Man City, and that (b) we lost.

As I said at the beginning, when you go without your own personal vice, whatever it may be, it is far better to do it cold turkey than to dabble a little bit and, in the process, discover what it is that you are missing. In that respect, I’ve been pretty much unsuccessful these last 344 days.

I probably stayed online too much, allowing news headlines to filter in, though I wasn’t delving deeply into the stories, and I wasn’t bullish enough with demanding radio silence from my friends. That and I at times straight out asked for results and news!

Hey, you won’t find any comment in these pages alluding to my perfection in this.  🙂

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About petek8

Pete Evans has just finished going 12 months without watching any sport. The journey stemmed from a sense that the balance was out-of-whack with my time and my priorities. Everything seemed to revolve around creating enough time and space to fit in the last game, games, recap shows or space to surf the net for the latest numbers and analysis. The cycle never ends - one season leads into another, seasons overlap if you follow various sports and the media's insatiable appetite for a new 'story' means that even the greatest of achievements aren't heralded for more than 3 days. So I stepped away from the machine for awhile and intentionally engaging with the journey by writing about it.

3 responses »

  1. I personally love the complexity of there being multiple competitions reaching a climax at similar stages right now in the soccer world. Let’s take the Premier League as an example. Last night Newcastle and Chelsea battled for the final Champions League qualifying position (4th place). Tottenham, also vying for 4th place, played Bolton who needed to win to avoid relegation. This weekend Man City plays Newcastle with both clubs having everything to play for. Oh and on Saturday there’s another minor game at Wembley Stadium for the FA Cup Final between Chelsea and Liverpool. Can Liverpool salvage a very ordinary Premier League season by winning the most coveted cup in English football? It’s relentless. Chelsea can now on make Champions League qualification next year if they win the CL final against Bayern Munich in Munich. There are so many scenarios and subplots – that’s not even factoring in the playoff games in the Championship (2nd Division) where the winner of a single game gets promoted to the Premier League… Who needs a finals series? Don’t worry E. After 24 May, I’m pretty sure United is playing Shanghai in an exhibition game… stay strong.

    Reply
    • I almost included in my piece even after I had posted it when you said that no one wants to play the teams fighting against relegation right now because they’d be destroyed. In what other sport in the world would you not want to play those at the bottom of the table?! I am seriously pumped that Newcastle – positioned 4th – are the hot favourites to take a point or 3 from the table leaders. Man United thanks them!

      Reply
  2. Love the concept of multiples leagues where teams can be promoted and demoted. However I hark back to Craigs comments around the fact that the top slots are almost always occupied by a handful of wealthy teams. This however is no fault of the game but of the administration who have, as most leagues do, put profit ahead of the sport.

    Andrew Demetriou may have grown the AFL to a grander level but to what gain? The game is not enjoyed any less than it was 25 years ago, only now it costs a small fortune to attend, especially with kids.

    Where profit is king the long term result may not always be a good one. I’d be curious to know if diving was rife prior to the financial stakes in soccer becoming so high?

    Reply

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