The big kick-off for beginners

The Premier League, the planet's most lucrative and popular footie contest, is back, an inescapable part of national life. Here, for non-season ticket holders, partners of the obsessed, and budding anthropologists, David Randall presents our bluffer's guide


The WAGs


The Sun, which knows about these things, reports that dozens of perma-tanned noses are about to be put out of joint by the arrival of a new photogenic tabloid obsession: Michela Quattrociocche, whose gentleman caller is Liverpool's £20m Italian signing Alberto Aquilani.

The actress seems to have the ingredient missing from so many players' consorts – class. But a few months' exposure to the attentions of Britain's celebrity culture should soon put a stop to that. Meanwhile, on the transfer front, the assiduous Danielle Lloyd, former Miss England who has been seen walking out with Teddy Sheringham (retd), Marcus Bent, and Jermain Defoe, is apparently now dating Jamie O'Hara of Spurs. Seems she is filling up her own personal Panini sticker book. Such merry-go-rounds leave the more established WAGs looking rather mumsy, which indeed will be true in the case of Lady Rooney, when she gives birth in October to Wayne's progeny.

The Trends

The authorities are reportedly determined to crack down on shirt-pulling this season. That'll be similar to last season's crackdown, then. The answer? Seriously weaken the seams of the shirts so they disintegrate at the first tug, and their replacement causes unnecessary delays.

The authorities also say they are definitively fed up with teams disputing a decision by surrounding the referee in an intimidating gang. The spoilt and graceless chums from Manchester United are prime offenders. This season, the FA has let it be known that three or more players monstering the ref will be a punishable offence. Possibly.

More than a third of Premier League teams are sponsored by gambling firms – twice as many as last year. They are: Bolton (188Bet); Hull (totesport.com); Sunderland (Boyle Sport); Tottenham (Mansion poker/casino); West Ham (SBOBet); Wigan (188Bet); and Wolves (Sportingbet). Ironic, really, that the only people who can really afford to use the sponsors' products are the players themselves.

Finally, one trend will continue. No English manager has ever won the Premier League.

The Idea

The rules are simple: 20 clubs compete, but only four can possibly win. The rest are playing to avoid being the three biggest losers, who are replaced each August with three winners from a lower level who immediately become likely losers. Ostensibly decided by winning points, the "contest" is, in reality, a matter of who can buy the best players. It is as if Wimbledon was dominated, year after dreary year, by the same few ultra-wealthy tennis players. The lack of any element of surprise in the final outcome probably accounts for the interest in WAGs, bar-room brawls, and other inessentials. Occasionally, a club gets a rich benefactor who gives them a chance to buy enough talent to win. This year, it is Manchester City's turn to have silly money.

The money

The following statistics are best appreciated if you know that the National Minimum Wage pays £229.40 for a 40-hour week. By way of contrast, Brazilian player Robinho will get £160,000 for rather less than a 40-hour week at Manchester City. John Terry of Chelsea was reportedly offered £200,000 a week to transfer to City; other salaries include Emmanuel Adebayor and Carlos Tevez earning £140,000 a week at City. No wonder Terry (below) can afford to run a Range Rover Sport, BMW X5, Bentley Continental GT, and a Ferrari F430; and that the £350,000 gymnasium at the home of Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard is so large it allegedly has its own postcode. The Premier League wage bill has now topped £1bn a year for the first time, one of the reasons why the net debt of the 20 clubs is in excess of £3bn. In Scotland, meanwhile, Division Three club Livingston is so hard up its power was cut off.

The Hunks

Our talent scout, Nina Lakhani, reports from the training grounds

After the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo and Xabi Alonzo to Real Madrid, are Gary Lineker and Alan Hansen the only reasons to tune into Match of the Day this season? Fear not: Liverpool stay top of the best-looking football team league for a second successive season after the signings of Glen Johnson from Portsmouth and Alberto "cheek bones" Aquilani from Roma, while the beautiful "King" Fernando Torres wears the totty crown unchallenged. The departure of Thierry Henry and Robert Pires left the Gunners without the "Ooh-la-la" factor which had kept Arsenal hot for several years, but the young guns are always worth a second look, with Jack Wilshere and Kieran Gibbs both attracting plenty of attention from prospective WAGs.

The shirts

A disregard for tradition and the need to sell a 2009-10 model to the replica shirt-wearing classes have combined to produce some real horrors for the new season. Bolton, for instance, have opted for a garb of two halves. The top is their normal white, albeit logo-splattered, but the bottom looks like a monochrome version of striped pyjamas – or, more appropriately, a design based on bar codes. West Ham have gone for claret and red checks, so that, if relegation looms, fickle fans can use it as a table cloth. And Everton have had the bright idea of inserting a white bib into the front of their blue shirts, thereby making them look like the kind of leisure shirts that find their way on to the 50-per-cent-off rail at seaside discount stores. Their away strip is black, with thin pink stripes. Come back dubbin and toecaps, all is forgiven.

The Tactics

For those of you watching in total ignorance, here is the low-down on football tactics. In the earliest days, outfielders swarmed after the ball, like angry bees in baggy shorts. Then positions came in: goalie, two full-backs, three half-backs, and five forwards. This eventually gave way to greater fluidity, with centre halves and centre forwards dropping back to play behind their respective lines; followed, à la Alf Ramsey's World Cup winning England team, with wingers being withdrawn. Both backwards and inwards. Er, sometimes. After that, frankly, we rather lost track, what with mystifying tactics such as Catenaccio (one defender sweeping up behind all the others), the Christmas Tree – 4-3-2-1 – and Total Football (everyone everywhere almost at once) being learnedly talked about by men who could not, in the rest of their lives, understand so much as the label on a bacon sandwich. For what it's worth, the experts we consulted swore that 4-4-2, and also the diamond midfield formation, will be big this year. Or not.

Premier League: in numbers

63

Red cards shown last season

70 million

Average weekly TV audience worldwide

49

Percentage of players, with 30 starts last season, who were actually English

11

Number of GCSEs passed by Chelsea's Frank Lampard

3

Number of degrees attained by Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger

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