The Return

The new football season has entered quietly through the back door just seven weeks after the Final of European Championship, a tournament consuming at the time but now a distant memory in the shadow of an Olympics that brought a festival of sport to London as enjoyable as any in modern times. Every four years the Summer Olympics inspires in some-way, but sport of the highest quality played to capacity crowds in great venues with a captivated public took this summer’s Games to another level.

Following the success of Team GB is an unenviable task for the home nations’ national sides, and earlier in the week International teams played their annual August friendly games with the usual weaker squads, which as always provided little excitement. England’s pattern of play looked better in Berne in Italy than at any time so far under Roy Hodgson, with Michael Carrick, incredulously ignored in the summer, at the heart of a five-man midfield who actually looked comfortable in possession at times. Despite Hodgson’s semantics about both Carrick and tactics in his press conferences, maybe he has learnt from his mistakes.

In the first weekend of the English Premier League there was a quick glimpse of the entertainment sport as a spectacle brings as newly promoted Southampton briefly came from behind to take the lead at the Manchester City, cheering watching neutrals across the country tired of hearing City’s manager Roberto Mancini bemoaning the depth of his richly assembled squad after every game.

In Spain Athletico Bilbao were quickly three goals down at home to Real Betis, suffering the consequences of success which has led to their players being courted worldwide, before eventually losing 5-3. Also in La Liga, Barcelona also showed they will continue to entertain, despite a change in coach, with Messi showing one thing that could have improved London 2012 participant wise, had Argentina qualified for the men’s football.

Last night Everton also showed another element where professional football remains strong, with a tribal passionate crowd whose support needed no gimmicks to be prompted, and whose energy was genuine in a north-west footballing rivalry that lifted their side to another level. Goodison Park may now be a relatively old ground, situated bang in the middle of a residential area of terraced houses and lacking the facilities to bring in additional corporate and conferencing revenue the club sorely needs, but that enclosed environment, with the crowd practically on top of the pitch, created a hot-house atmosphere for their opponents and spurred on the home side. After a couple of weeks of Performance Directors poring over every detail to find extra ingredients to produce improved quality from their competitors, the paying punter again showed their value as the twelfth man yesterday.

It was a full-house at Everton, though in truth the quality of football was not always great. Despite the return of league football at the weekend the most exciting sport came from Lords, where the top two test teams in the World battled for the number one position into the final session of the last day of the third and final test. In a short-series, where the second test itself was overshadowed by London 2012 in a scheduling contest it was never going to win, England and South Africa produced sporting entertainment at the highest level in the game, with the first 45 minutes after tea unlikely to be matched for consistent excitement than any half of football this season. That there were so many empty seats suggested that Lords had priced the final day too high at £20 on a Monday at the start of play, meaning their overall revenue for the day would have been much higher had they reduced admission prices. It is something football clubs should also take note off, as Sport needs the public.


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Glory Nights: From Wankdorf to Wembley

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