A Distinctly Un-Super Sunday

Mike Hewitt

The Premier League came out of the weekend without any of the usual nonsense. This cannot be allowed to continue.

A terrifying silence hangs over England. Citizens eye one another warily, nervous and mistrustful. Conversations flutter limply into being, scrabble desperately for purchase in the thick worried air, then choke and die, unloved and unlamented. Something peculiar happened, something uncanny and odd, and now nobody knows what to say any more. People are having to talk about ... other things.

This was supposed to be a time of glorious, beautiful outrage, not meek acceptance. This was supposed to be a week riven with flaming disagreements, not pocked with shrugs and sighs. One of the Superest of all the Super Sundays had happened. Where on earth was the controversy?

Up in the north-west, Manchester United and Liverpool managed the unthinkable, and played an entire game of football without anybody on either side, or Howard Webb and his assistants, or Fred the Red, or Mighty Red, or either set of supporters, doing anything much of note at all. Yes, some of the football was, if not entirely gripping, then at least vaguely interesting. But whither the blood? The thunder? The high-pitched yowling, the blistering and incoherent invective, the snark and counter-snark? Half of Nemanja Vidic might have been offside. That's your lot.

To London, then, for Arsenal vs. Manchester City, and for two red cards. Surely there must have been something worth getting furious about? Well ... not really. It's hard for even the most whimperingly one-eyed to claim that a rugby tackle from behind on the edge of the six-yard box is anything other than a denial of a goalscoring opportunity and an act of gross and hilarious stupidity. When all that's left is the hoary whinge of "but ref, you've ruined the game", then nobody's really even trying.

The second red card, then? It was certainly a less straightforward decision. But because the game was done -- and had been ever since the 21st minute, when Thomas Vermaelen thought to himself 'nah, it's James Milner' -- what controversy there might have been diffused out into the wider conversation. Is there a War on Tackling? Is the game going to the effete, continental dogs? (Poodles, presumably.) "If you start sending people off for challenges like that, then the game is gone. I would never have been able to have had a career," said Robbie Savage, not quite thinking things through. Arsenal fans couldn't really get angry about anything, since they'd been soundly beaten; City fans, likewise, since they'd won comfortably. And so Super Sunday slipped gently from the world, leaving a brigade of opinion-piece writers and a platoon of keyboard warriors suddenly at a loss for something to do of an evening.

Any fallout, then? Some lingering follow-up excitement? Well, one of Sky's inquisitive cameras recorded a linesman telling City's players "They've paid 62 quid over there; go and see them". Nice one, thought some. Uppity bugger, thought others. Things threatened to get momentarily heated when the official in question, a Mr John Brooks, was peremptorily removed by the Professional Games Match Officials Limited from his allocated midweek fixture. Was he being punished for being a decent bloke/chirpsy so-and-so? No, it turns out. He's being protected because journalists have been ringing his mobile and this is policy whenever an official threatens to become the story. Which is disappointingly sensible.

Just as that died, the FA stepped in. Mindful of the need to preserve the nation's footballing discourse, they thought 'everybody loves a vaguely inexplicable volte-face -- let's allow Manchester City's appeal. It'll give Arsenal fans a chance to exchange outraged screenshots, it'll irritate everybody who spent Sunday arguing it was the right call, and it'll make Robbie Savage, Alan Hansen, and everybody else that condemned the decision feel deliciously smug for a bit'. So they did. But too little, too late. It's hard to get truly riled about something so irrelevant to the result, and it's hard to work up even momentary surprise at the FA being inconsistent or incoherent in the application of their own policies. (Joleon Lescott must be furious, mind.)

Thin gruel, for a Premier League grown fat on rich, creamy controversy. It felt, on Sunday night, as though nothing more ground-shaking than two games of football had taken place. The right teams won, the right teams lost, and the world continued on its merry way. Now, next weekend, another Super-Duper Sunday looms. Cross your fingers and toes that something utterly stupid happens. André Villas-Boas, eat a corner flag. Branislav Ivanovic, punch a ball, or a face, or a ball into a face into a goal. Your own goal, maybe, or your own face. Or both.

Something. Anything. Save us from this sudden, disorientating attack of shared sanity. It's not healthy, and it's not right, and it's not what the Premier League is all about. Step up, football people. Your country needs you.

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