If you answered ‘It’s a meaningless friendly’, congratulations! You’re all set for a prosperous lifetime as a water-cooler football ‘bantaaaaaah’ warrior.
Of course, the majority of fans, whether neutral or supporting one of the teams involved any given year, never take the purpose or the status of the traditional curtain-raiser too seriously.
As a result, more often than not, we appreciate the old ‘Charity Shield’ for the perfect season-opener it is.
Granted, it’s purpose as the quintessential Premier League appetiser has been somewhat compromised by the glut of international tour friendlies we get each summer between two English top-flight sides.
But let’s be honest – they’re nothing more than commercially-fuelled cash cows. As far as interesting and competitive football goes, they make the Community Shield look like the Champions League final.
The Community Shield is one of several global fixtures that has seen its purpose questioned in recent years. Not just by bitter fans with an agenda geared around downplaying the result, either.
However, unlike the slump in the FA Cup’s prestige – which has been a far more tragic fall from grace – I’ve never understood how the sport could ever consider declaring the match completely worthless.
Ironically, that’s because the game has always lacked value as an achievement, as something for a team to win.
And yet, how can any of us who’ve been ardently attending football games and/or watching as many on television as possible each weekend for most of our lives resist a pre-matchday one schedule of Football League mouthwaterers and two of the previous season’s most successful sides vying to guarantee a momentum boost for the new campaign at the expense of rivals?
At restaurants, our meal is built around the main course. Episodes of ‘Countdown’ are almost always decided by the ‘Conundrum’ in the final 30 seconds of the show. And yet, we always order a first course and afford that the most anticipation. And which Countdown fan doesn’t watch the entire episode?
The first Premier League fixtures may be when games first become ‘important’, but there is no better venue for the new English season to get underway than Wembley. There’s no two worthier teams to first step out under the 2014/15 umbrella than the league champions and the cup winners.
And, above all else, us longtime supporters are, by description, slaves to habit.
We will watch the Community Shield kickabout, whether it’s a thriller or a dud; whether it involves the two most star-studded sides that year or even if a Wigan or Portsmouth force their way in.
While all of the above old-timey romanticism is but one person’s take on what a semi-competitive opening fixture means in the grand scheme of things, there is in fact a practical use to the match when two sides with title ambitions such as Arsenal and City participate.
For instance, put all of the international sponsor-pandering and experimental line-ups from the US tours to one side. Both the Gunners and the Citizens were missing a few stars, but also fielded plenty of first-teamers in a game which always serves as a final dress rehearsal, a week before the league kicks off.
And yet, it did give Arsene Wenger’s men a boost for the new season. In fact, it gave Manuel Pellegrini’s side the same boost – perhaps more so.
When Liverpool, Chelsea and United come up to their first big clash against title race rivals during the season, THAT game will be pretty important. The pressure to win will be strong. Defeat will do a fair amount of damage.
And yet, Arsenal had very little pressure on them at Wembley. That may have contributed to the fluidity of their performance. City, meanwhile, have a lot of areas to address on the evidence of that performance but, because they qualified for the Shield, they just got a freebie.
Liverpool cannot lose to one of the other ‘big five’ sides 3-0 and emerge unscathed. Nor can Chelsea or United. City did. And none of those three clubs will likely have the basis to hit the ground running in the manner Arsenal have. They’ll have to do it the hard way, or overcome a slower start.
In hindsight, perhaps David Moyes wishes City won the 2013 FA Cup and gave them a real test at Wembley, instead of relegated Wigan…
With all of the above in mind, I will continue to wade through a sea of indoctrinated big club supporters attempting to get ‘one-up’ on each other with mind games about which matches matter. I will continue to traverse a jungle of businesses manipulating the very structure of the beautiful game for their own financial gain. And throughout it all, I’ll remain defiant.
My name is Liam Happe and I bloody love the Charity Shield – even with the Community name change.
And now this year’s edition is in the books, do you know what that means? The new season is here, that’s what!
And that’s what it will always mean, hopefully.
Liam Happe | Follow on Twitter @liamhappe
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- Charity Shield