The Premier League season leaps upon us like a muddy Labrador, full of joy at seeing us again and convinced the feeling is mutual. But we, dressed in our summer best, recoil: to the bewilderment of the soggy doggy.
Yes, yes, I love you too – but not now. Come back when we’re in the mood… but no, the great dog has its paws on our chest and its great red tongue in our face: we’re going to be loved back whether we like it or not. Sure, sure… just give us time.
The football season and the rumbling interlocking sagas of the Premier League will be tolerable as soon as the last Test match of the summer has been played. They will actually be interesting round about the equinox, and by the time the clocks go back we will be as involved as ever.
But right now the arrival of the new season feels just a bit like a long-dreaded tax bill, or the news that an appointment for root-canal treatment has been brought forward. Sure, we accept either or even both as necessary… on any other day.
It began with that great ceremony of doom, the Community Shield: welcoming winter back in the middle of August. No one has yet worked out whether it’s a friendly or a serious competitive fixture, but last weekend saw Arsenal beat Chelsea on penalties.
Then the Premier League season kicks off – on, er, Friday night, with Arsenal v Leicester City. Get used to it: there’ll be ten Friday-night matches in all this season. Bad luck on those who go to the actual stadium, of course, especially if they’ve travelled from Leicester (and, more problematically, intend to travel back again after the game), but those of us who watch the game on telly have taken control. While the undaunted travellers head for St Pancras station, we can pour a nice nightcap and wonder why the football season rushes on us so incontinently. Winter’s lease hath all too long a date, so why the hurry?
But, in time, many of us will be enthralled, almost against our will. Will Arsenal’s perverse two-decade experiment in gentlemanliness yield the big prize again? Can Manchester City’s strategy of creating an entire team of full-backs (including the goalkeeper) possibly work?
It seems sometimes that the greatest thing the Premier League offers is schadenfreude: the opportunity to revel in others’ misfortunes. This is a terrible, destructive waste of emotions: but football’s intense rivalries make it inevitable, warming cold bones in the winter’s chill. And few things cheer the heart of the nation (aside from United supporters, of course) quite as much as the sight of Jose Mourinho in defeat.
The main problem of the new football season is the absurdity of big-time football: the impossible sums of money, the reckless spending of it, salaries that make your nose bleed from sheer envy, the preposterous self-regard of so many of the players, the self-serving nonsense of the managers.
It takes time to get used to such things again: it takes time to take them seriously again. In mid-summer we see the absurdity – and nothing else. It will take a few weeks to regain our willingness to believe. But as inevitably as dentists and taxes, we will find ourselves sucked in by marvellous goals, impossible saves, the ballet of teamwork, the thrust of individual brilliance, unimaginable underdogs, the revelation of new stars and the recurrence of old ones.
I know I shall love this football season… just maybe not this week.
Premier League: Arsenal v Leicester City Friday 7pm (kick-off 7.45pm) Sky Sports Premier League, Sky Sports Main Event, 7.45pm 5 Live
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