The return of football means the return of Gillette Soccer Saturday, which was back to its fervent best this weekend. The Gillette panel are the door-knocking Mormons of the Barclays Premier League; men in suits furiously insisting on the revelatory quality of their product without quite giving you a taste of it.
So after a long summer away from the great validating force of the Premier League, the passion of the evangelists was stronger than ever. They had spent months in the shadows (although Charlie Nicholas looked like he had spent a bit of time in the sun), silent while the Olympic Games attracted all the attention and adulation usually reserved for their favourite competition.
The frustration of hearing the Premier League traduced, especially in comparison to the allegedly classier and more dignified Olympics, is understandable (especially as the Olympics was not exactly shy about reminding people which multinationals had paid for it).
But here, back in the second Saturday of the season, the believers were back in charge. Like Moses's fury in discovering that the Israelites had taken to worshipping a golden calf while he was up Mount Sinai, Phil Thompson, Paul Merson and co were uncompromising in their case for the Premier League, looking back on the remarkable first weekend, predicting a better season than ever before, hoisting the greatest league in the world back on to its pedestal.
In a discussion of the merits of Rob Green, Thompson did not seem convinced that Internazionale's Julio Cesar would be a significant improvement. "He's a decent goalkeeper," said Thompson of the man who won the Champions League in 2010. No English goalkeeper has won the European Cup since Jimmy Rimmer and Nigel Spink for Aston Villa 20 years ago.
A few minutes later there was a discussion of a bad offside decision in Chelsea's defeat of Reading last week. Andy Halliday had wrongly allowed a Fernando Torres goal to stand. Thompson argued for performance-related suspension. "I hope the linesman gets taken to task and is not working this weekend," he stormed. Whether or not Sky Sports have such unforgiving standards towards mistakes by their own employees was not confirmed either way.
Eventually the football began and each of the panellists was engaged in the usual competitive enthusiasm. The desire to offer the loudest praise, the most fervent proclamations, grabbed them. First it was Matt Le Tissier announcing Steven Pienaar's, admittedly good, early strike for Everton at Villa Park. Then it was Nicholas for Robin van Persie's equaliser at Old Trafford. Then Paul Merson's glee at Simeon Jackson's header for Norwich City.
This was witnessing. A select few, with the gift of channelling what was inaccessible to others, trying to out-do each other with the passion of their revelations. For some people, the holy spirit, for others, the Premier League.Reuse content