Sport Comment: Old-school thrills abound beyond top flight

John Inverdale
LET’S hazard a guess at some of the things that annoy you about Premier League football. Players feigning injury, players kicking the ball out of play to allow other players who aren’t injured to get treatment, referees insisting on free kicks being taken from exactly the right spot, and without a rolling ball, referees demanding players retreat five yards to take an inconsequential throw-in. All frustrations and irritations that ultimately diminish what is a fantastic product that is currently creating enthralling drama at both ends of the table.

So imagine a fantasy football world without any of the above, and you are at the King Power Stadium last Friday night for a high-octane, high-scoring local derby promotion battle between Leicester City against Derby County. A rain-sodden evening minus feigning and play-acting, with players clattering into each other and then helping each other to their feet, and a referee who allowed the game to flow, overlooking minor infringements for the sake of the spectacle. A joy, although regular fans of Football League clubs will probably say that is what the game is usually like away from the bright lights of the Emirates and Stamford Bridge.

So what happens to the morality of the Championship when it upgrades to the next level? When Leicester, as they surely will, find themselves in the Premier League next season, will their players suddenly morph into divas and divers? And when there, why will they encounter nit-picking officials who want no-one to be in any doubt as to who’s in charge? The money, the pressure, the media suffocation and the abundance of overseas players with an alternative set of values are all factors, but more than that, it becomes a sport coated in a different hue.

So if you are one of those who has become disaffected of late with the spiralling greed that has consumed the Premier League, be consoled by the knowledge that there is a vibrant, more honest, if less wondrous world beyond the top tier. Sometimes you just can’t beat a rainy night in Leicester.