We began the lockdown with politicians tilting piously at a familiar scapegoat. “The first thing that Premier League footballers can do,” prioritised health secretary Matt Hancock, “is make a contribution, take a pay cut and play their part.”
Regrettably, for the government, that wasn’t the last thing Premier League footballers did. By the time we got to June, footballers had raised vast sums for NHS workers, and the cabinet were gritting their teeth to thank Marcus Rashford, 22, for handing their arse to them on the matter of free school dinners over the summer holidays for Britain’s poorest children. “I think it is the right thing to do,” said a straight-faced Boris Johnson, whose own government had long resisted doing it, “and I congratulate Marcus Rashford on his campaign.” Education secretary and full spectrum disasterclass Gavin Williamson opined of Rashford: “He represents the best of Britain and is a role model for all of those children who look up to him for inspiration.” Shame he can’t be a role model for Gavin. Still, the minute I hear the news about Williamson or Hancock taking a pay cut, so will you.
So as the Premier League season gets under way, we’ve probably got at least three weeks grace before actual secretaries of state start using sportsmen as a deflector shield again.
In the meantime, though, we have now spent a veeeeeery considerable time hearing about how the pandemic has put football into perspective. And you know, I get it. I got it in March. We have been through quite a lot, as the politicians who have helped put us through quite a lot of it keep telling us.
But five long months on, what far too few people are talking about is the sheer JOY of a completely lost perspective. Honestly, what’s so bad about not having any perspective? There really is a deliciously carefree pleasure to reacting to things in a manner quite out of proportion to their importance.
When my middle child was born, he required surgery a few days into his life, and then a long stay and fairly painstaking recovery in hospital. At the start, naturally, I made deals with deities I didn’t even believe in, and had great flashing revelations that of course nothing that I had ever thought mattered actually mattered at all. My goodness – the sheer insignificance of the things I had previously obsessed about! The incredible triviality of stuff I had devoted so much as five seconds to thinking about!
However, after a few weeks, there does come a point where you think: Wow, I can’t WAIT to get really exercised by something that doesn’t matter. I can’t wait to simply LAVISH way too much of my concern on some frippery. I LONG to obsess over some obvious irrelevance like my life depended on it. I yearn to be mildly put out by being seated next to the loos in a restaurant, or appalled at a TV show, or outraged by any other nonsense. I can’t wait to be monumentally pissed off about a borderline questionable red card.
So yes, only terrible stuff puts other stuff into perspective. But fixating on and fuming about matters that really aren’t important, big picture-wise – well, that’s the great luxury. It is to be enjoyed, not rationalised away. And at the start of this Premier League season: I want luxury. I want escape. I certainly don’t want to be reminded, ever, that it doesn’t matter because much more horrible things do. What a very dreary puritanism that would be, on top of everything else.
Celebrities will frequently tell you of the solemn importance of living as civilians do – squeezing the toothpaste on their own toothbrush, for instance, or taking the bus to keep them grounded. As always I defer to Mariah Carey, who shrieked with laughter when an interviewer asked her if she’d rather travel by public transport. “I hate the bus!” she trilled. “I’ve already been on the bus – I don’t need to go back on the bus!”
I hate keeping things in perspective. I’ve spent months doing that. I don’t need to do that anymore
Likewise, with this pandemic. I hate keeping things in perspective. I’ve spent months doing that. I don’t need to do that any more. I hate taking each day as it comes. What I need is to completely lose perspective, and find myself bellowing “these squad deficiencies are the END OF THE WORLD! It may only be September but we are literally two injuries off being relegated unless we buy a keeper and a world-class striker NOW!!”
Of course, one has recently had a Proustian taste of the old normal with this business of Harry Maguire’s night out in Mykonos. I am very grateful to Maguire, who has allowed me to resume a particular but long-dormant form of football-related chat with friends. I am in heaven at the small pleasure of messaging friends with inquiries such as: “Do you think they will ever find the Albanian gangsters who injected his sister in the arm?”; or “I think they should do a true crime podcast where they track them down because otherwise it’s like there will never be justice?”
A recent YouGov survey with Sky Bet found fans’ biggest hopes for 2020-21 were full stadiums, and just for the season to get played in full. This is incredibly adorable and winsome – like going to parents’ evening and seeing that when the teacher has asked everyone what they’re most looking forward to at Christmas, one of the children in your child’s class has written “spending time with my family”. (Your child has written something like “Xbox” or “hopefully getting a dog even though my mother says we can’t”. )
But I think that secretly – perhaps subconsciously – football fans are looking forward to much less wholesome pleasures. I know I am. So from now until the end of May, please don’t remind me about the grand scheme of things. I’ve seen the grand scheme of things – tens of thousands of people die, a generation of schoolchildren are forgotten, the economy goes down the shitter – and I’ve got to be honest: I prefer the non-grand scheme. I now want 24-hour Premier League drama, telenovela-style off-pitch plotlines, and a million wall-to-wall overblown debates till June. I’ve had quite enough of the things that matter, thank you very much.