Mercenary players, faceless owners, exorbitant ticket prices - but still I can't wait for kick-off

There is nothing like the start of a Premier League season to get the blood pumping

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Most mornings recently, my daughter and I have
exchanged emails which act as a simple countdown: seven, six, five days to go
etc. I am certain the same process is being enacted up and down the country.
That's because, despite the fact that top level football is now the province of
faceless foreign billionaires and mercenary players with no connection to the
badge they kiss, there is nothing quite like the start of a new Premier League
season
to inspire such widespread anticipation.

It may represent the first sign of summer passing into winter, but for many of us, who have had to survive on a diet of will-he-won't-he transfer stories and meaningless friendly matches in distant lands, that is a small price to pay for a weekly injection of our drug of choice. It was in a state of gathering excitement that I phoned a friend of mine, who has worked in football all his life, to assess prospects for the coming season.

He began by telling me how much he'd enjoyed the Ashes cricket series, but when I steered him towards a discussion about more serious business, I was taken aback. "Every season," he said, "I get more and more disenchanted by football, by the unaccountable owners who never have to face their public, by the players who are simply doing it for the money and have no responsibility to the supporters who pay their wages, and by the fans themselves who couldn't care less where their club's riches come from as long as it brings them success. As far as I'm concerned," he added, "the game is up."

Blimey. As the follower of a club to which all his criticisms could apply, it was somewhat chastening to listen to a football man renounce his life-long connection. However, he ignores the central issue. Supporting a football club is not an intellectual exercise where we can weigh up, say, the precise way in which individual owners have made their money and then make a considered choice of who to follow. It is an emotional attachment, and is most commonly handed down from one generation to another. How is logic and reason supposed to enter our romantic eco-system?

We are used to our love affairs being transitory ones. We know that a player with whom we have an intense connection, and who returns our devotion with proclamations of loyalty, will one day wear another club's shirt if the price is right. We know we are fickle with our affections, but we have to be. Players come, players go, but we stay. Owners may do a bunk, but we are here for the long haul. We don't, as a rule, follow the money. And joy is not tempered by political considerations or questions of financial legitimacy. If you support, let's say, Manchester City, was your ecstatic pleasure of that last-second goal which won the Premier League in any way diminished because it was on the back of a massive injection of petro-dollars? Of course not.

No matter how top class football has been corrupted by the money and hype that attends it, and the questionable characters who surround it, it remains the beautiful game. Now, how many hours to go?

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