Saturday, March 2, 2024

Football’s a funny old game. Or is it?

Graham Fisher in Editorial 8 May 2008


It was Jimmy Greaves who first used the phrase that football is ‘a funny old game’. It has been used by so many people, so many times in so many different situations that it is now difficult to understand what Greavsie actually meant.

I guess the best interpretation of the phrase is that football can never surprise you. You should always expect the unexpected and not be shocked by what happens.

So looking back at over the last season in Europe what has happened that would make the moustachioed legend utter that immortal phrase?

In England we have Portsmouth and Cardiff City in the FA Cup Final. None of the top six in the Premier League even made it to the semi-finals. As the last few years have seen the FA Cup won by one of the ‘big four’, the competition this year has indeed qualified to be called ‘a funny old game’.

The Premier League has finished pretty much in the order that most fans and pundits could have predicted before a ball was kicked. With the big four finishing as the top four and the three promoted clubs involved in the relegation scrap there has been nothing funny about this season’s competition. It has been good, but there have been no surprises.

In La Liga, the title has gone to Real Madrid for a record thirty-first time. This is the ninth time in the past twelve years that the title has gone to Real Madrid or Barcelona. Nothing ‘funny’ about the game in Spain then.

In Serie A, Inter look as though they will stumble over the line to win their third title in a row. That will be their sixteenth title. Add that to Milan’s seventeen and Juventus’ twenty seven and there is rarely anything ‘funny’ about the game in Italy. Obviously, it might be ‘funny’ in a different way, but in the way that Greavsie meant the phrase.

In the Bundesliga, Bayern Munich have been crowned as Champions. That’ll be the eleventh time in the last twenty seasons for them. Difficult to see the ‘funny old game’ phrase applying in Germany.

In France, probably Lyon for the seventh season in a row, in Holland, PSV for the seventh time in ten years, in Portugal, Porto for the fifth time in six years. I could go on as there are similar stories across the whole of Europe. There won’t be too many shock names in next season’s Champions League.

So I have to ask, is football a ‘funny old game’ any more?

Is it just possible that Newcastle United manager Kevin Keegan was right the other day when he said that the Premier League was a boring competition? Great to watch, but boring because the end result is so predictable.

Is it possible that Kevin Keegan’s comments could be expanded to cover the whole of European football? Are all the European Leagues just too predictable?

Is the Champions League too predictable? Anyone want to bet against the four English teams, one or two from Italy and the two top Spanish sides being there or thereabouts when we get to last sixteen and quarter-finals?

I have asked lots of questions and I don’t have the answers. The statistics certainly seem to support what Keegan said. We all go through a long season involving fifty or sixty games and we nearly always end up with the same, predictable outcomes.

I love watching all football and although I’m not a Chelsea or Manchester United fan I am really looking forward to the final games and finding out who is going to win. The sad thing for everyone else is that United won it last year, Chelsea won it the year before and I’ll have a pound with anyone, right now, that one of them will win it again next year.

So do we think it is boring? I don’t think I do, because the quality and entertainment provided by these top teams more than makes up for the predictable outcome.

I just wonder if it would be more exciting if Manchester United were fighting it out with Aston Villa for the title, or Real Madrid were neck and neck with Getafe, or Inter were trying to hold off Torino. I think that probably would make the whole thing more exciting and it would give the current television pundits a chance to come up with their own catch phrase to banish Greavsie’s ‘funny old game’ phrase to the great dustbin of football clichés in the sky.


Graham Fisher



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