Far be it for this column to blow its own trumpet, but here goes anyway. On 11 August last year, on the opening day of the Premier League season, it began thus: "You don't have to be Nostradamus, or even Eileen Drewery, to predict what is going to happen in the Premier League season, which begins today with no certainties except that Manchester United will win it, Chelsea will finish second, Arsenal will finish third and Liverpool fourth. That I know this before the season kicks off is of course dispiriting beyond belief, and means that as a source of excitement I must already focus on the relegation battle: any three from Derby County, Wigan, Birmingham City, Fulham, Reading and Sunderland."
Even though first and second places have yet to be decided, I wish I'd backed my own prescience with a visit to Mr Ladbroke, as one Liverpool fan, disgruntled by my prediction for his team, suggested I should. He emailed me to say that if I could prophesy the order of the top four with such assurance, then perhaps I should put my mortgage where my mouth was.
Regrettably, I didn't. Instead, that same column has risen again this past week and bitten me on the backside, in an almost literal sense, because of something else I wrote. Continuing the theme of English football at the top level having become wearyingly predictable, I undertook to lead a triumphant conga across Soho Square, naked, in the almost unimaginable event of none of the so-called "Big Four" reaching the FA Cup final. As we now know, none of the Big Four did and, last Sunday, the good people on The Observer Sport Monthly magazine, obviously keen readers of this column, thoughtfully reprinted my promise, together with the telephone number of The Independent's sports desk, so that people could ring in to encourage me to honour my pledge.
Which was a little unkind to my colleagues, who had better things to do than field all the calls, but I am flattered that the boys at OSM are so keen to see me in the altogether. Whatever, this column does not renege on its pledges. On the other hand, there's no such thing as a one-man conga. So, if I can find a few others, as delighted as I am at the prospect of an FA Cup final not featuring United, Chelsea, Arsenal or Liverpool, and as willing as I am to take their kit off in celebration, then I will do my stuff across Soho Square, subject to permission from the local constabulary.
I've already been practising in the bathroom mirror, trying to perfect the technique of covering my tackle with one hand while waving the other, in the manner of naked men doing novelty balloon dances in front of appreciative audiences on the northern variety circuit. Moreover, my friend Chris, a fellow Evertonian, has very supportively promised to take his clothes off and do the conga right behind me (he has long arms, I'm pleased to say), should my pledge reach fruition. He says we can call ourselves the alternative Big Four.
In the meantime, I confess to being ever so slightly miffed that everything I got right in that column, assuming United do the business at the JJB tomorrow, has been overshadowed by what I got wrong. I tried to emphasise its percipience when I was interviewed by BBC radio, alerted by the OSM item, on Thursday.
But the presenter wasn't interested in that; he just wanted to know when I was going to bare my bum in central London. Fair enough, I suppose. As for the broader picture, I was gratified to find my theme of last August being taken up by Kevin Keegan this week. He was dead right; it might seem like a perverse thing to say on the eve of the tightest finish for years, but the Premier League is boringly predictable, and the Champions League is squarely to blame.
Like Keegan, I see no likelihood of any other team breaking up the Big Four cartel any time soon, not with all the riches they get to splash in the transfer market. The best hope for the chasing pack this summer is that Liverpool implode in an internecine struggle between their co-owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett, or Arsenal continue to suffer from the departure of David Dein, who, it seems fair to say, would never have let Arsène Wenger lose players of the calibre of Mathieu Flamini and the seemingly unsettled Alexander Hleb.
That said, "chasing pack" is pitching it a little strongly. Even though Everton pressed Liverpool most of the way for fourth place, the Merseyside rivals will finish the season at least eight points apart.
So, what will be the one-two-three-four a year from now? Nobody can make any kind of informed prediction until the summer transfer dealings are over, and even then I might think twice. I've learnt the art of circumspection, the hard way.Reuse content