New football season promises renewed lust for life and more off-pitch strife

Choose football. Choose the Premier League. Choose the new season. Choose a middle-aged man using 25-year-old cultural references for the benefit of this breathless preview.

Choose blistering sunshine on the opening day. Choose beautifully manicured pitches. Choose Match of the Day with more than four games. Choose a brand new ball – with “game-changing AerowSculpt technology” and crimson circles that “drive enhanced visual performance”. A referee lifting it from its plinth as Martin Tyler announces “it’s LIVE” for the first time.

Choose the best of football fans. The joy of being back – remembering the match‑day routine. Away days. Kids going to their first game. Remembering great victories in the pub before. Seeing the floodlights in the distance before a 7.45pm kick-off. A different song for every player. Sarcastic cheers when an opposition shot sails miles over. Applauding a defensive header back to the keeper. A last-minute defeat. Remembering great victories in the pub after.

The worst of football fans. Booing the knee yelling “Marxism” and in the next breath asking for a fairer distribution of the money in the game. Prioritising a new right-back over murder and torture in your dreams for a billion-pound takeover. Every non-white player getting racially abused online after a defeat. An exasperated Troy Townsend saying he’s tired. Still. Social media companies releasing a meaningless statement. And repeat. And repeat.

The players. Paul Pogba starting his run-up. Christian Benteke glancing a header wide. Patrick Bamford effortlessly, gracefully laying the ball off. Stuart Dallas sprinting for 90 minutes nonstop. Remembering how good Virgil van Dijk is. Andriy Yarmolenko scoring one brilliant goal – if he’s still at West Ham. Is he still at West Ham?

Tanguy Ndombele spinning round and round until he comes off after 60 minutes. A Granit Xhaka 30-yarder from absolutely nowhere. Inch‑perfect Kevin De Bruyne.

Timo Werner missing an early chance. The offside flag going up. Pogba finishing his run-up. Edinson Cavani’s movement. Andros Townsend cutting inside. Jack Grealish’s calves bursting out of his socks. Discovering in October that Demarai Gray plays for Everton. Not appreciating Marc Albrighton. Jamie Vardy getting quicker. Dan Burn being tall. Tariq Lamptey being small. Ashley Barnes in the Burnley rain.

The managers. Pep furiously admonishing Harry Kane for scoring a hat-trick, Jürgen Klopp laughing at conceding a goal. Thomas Tuchel’s nervous energy putting you on edge in your living room. Nuno Espiríto Santo’s beard greying by the minute. No one quite knowing how good Ole Gunnar Solskjær actually is. Marcelo Bielsa’s translator looking at the ground. Rafa Benítez studiously taking notes as Everton score while Big Dunc lifts up a passerby in delight. A disconsolate Steve Bruce.

The decisions. Former refs complaining about current refs. Everything being Mike Riley’s fault. Except the things that are David Elleray’s fault. Michael Oliver looking glum. Martin Atkinson looking friendly. The hirsute arms of Paul Tierney. Mike Dean Mike Deaning. Where does the arm begin and the shoulder end? Why didn’t he go to the monitor? If that’s a penalty then that’s the game well and truly gone.

The media. Choose mind-numbing, spirit-crushing phone-ins. Micah Richards laughing with infectious joy. Roy Keane’s knowing smirk. The endless humanity of Ian Wright. Way too much buildup to Liverpool v Manchester United. People still calling it the Premiership. Pundits not knowing the laws. Jeff Stelling’s agony as Hartlepool concede in the last minute. Kelly Cates trailing ahead to Monday Night Football and the latest episode of Jamestown on Sky One. “With all due respect to Burnley and Crystal Palace …”, “My sources understand …”, “I’m hearing …”, “What we do know …”

Furious fan TV footage of last-minute defeats. Combined XIs. Just who is the bigger club? Has the Cup lost its magic? The coverage of Cup final day used to begin at eight in the morning! Unnecessary away kits. Very factual player social media posts: “Not the result we wanted. A great chance to turn it around on Tuesday night.” Covering your mouth for conversations. Wild fury at players daring to smile in the three days after a defeat.

There is football beyond the top four. The Championship – toughest league in the world – you actually have less time on the ball. Saturday-Tuesday, Saturday-Tuesday. The grind. Disrespecting the Carabao Cup by playing the kids – even if the kids are adults and you have another game on the same night in Japan. The grief and emptiness of an international break.


The serious. Defibrillators at every grassroots club. Genuinely restricting heading in training. Concussion substitutions. Fifa and Uefa standing up to dictatorships and standing up for minorities. Social media companies giving a shit about racism. Being able to question where the money is coming from without an orchestrated campaign of abuse. Taking the results of the fan-led review seriously. Thinking about away fans when the fixtures are moved for TV. Caring about mental health. Making sure the lower‑league clubs survive.

The predictions. Manchester City absolutely hammering Watford. A Southampton 9-0 defeat. Daniel Levy leaving it too late in the window for Nuno to do any business. An Arsenal crisis. Everton seventh. Unhappy Newcastle fans. Brighton playing lovely stuff up until the final third. Sunderland losing in the play-offs. Jude Bellingham being extraordinary. Kroos, Casemiro and Modric getting Real to the latter stages of the Champions League. PSG not managing it again. Big Sam answering a panicked call in November. From Inter Miami?

Draft Excluders. xG. Ball carries. High press. Low block. False 9s. Heat maps. #Wegoagain.