There’s been too much written since the end of the Olympics comparing the (admittedly inspiring) event with the oncoming football season, most of which maintained that football stars are poor role models, football fans are foul-mouthed and more generally that football pales in comparison with the great sporting drama that we witnessed early this month at London 2012.
None of this has managed to dent my appetite for the beginning of the new football season, which starts again in earnest this weekend. For every football fan, each season begins with such hopes and such dreams.
There are many reasons why the comparison between the football season and the Olympics is a poor one. The Olympics, albeit sensational in spirit and atmosphere and achievement on a personal and team level, is a once every four year event that lasts for two weeks.
The training for the athletes is obviously a lot longer than that but the watching public comes out in force only during this period for many of the sports and therefore the experience is an immensely different one to following one’s club to the likes of Wigan, to Middlesbrough or even to Scunthorpe United on a regular basis during a period of nine or so months.
Whereas Olympics fans are generally supporting nations, football supporters are tribal. Often they support their local team but even if they support a club hundreds of miles away from where they live their association is intense and usually for life. There is little to equal the bonding experience of following one’s team away to former industrial towns in the north in midwinter.
English football, especially the Premier League, is a global success story. The last overseas television rights deal brought in £1.4bn to the Premier League and its clubs for a three-year deal, an 80 per cent uplift from the previous year.
English football is watched in more than 700m homes worldwide and in 212 countries. People across the world often know more about the country through their knowledge of Liverpool, say, or Manchester United, than they do about our literature or movies.
Overseas fans love the competitiveness of the league. There are usually four to five clubs capable of winning the most important trophies in England compared to maybe two to three in many other leagues. They also love the vibrant atmosphere in the stadiums, the compact grounds, the occasionally witty sing-songs and the array of domestic and foreign talent on offer.
Domestically, the appetite for football is as strong as ever, with last year’s domestic television rights contract extracting a 70 per cent uplift from broadcasters BSkyB, the satellite company (whose very success owes so much to football) and BT Vision. That deal earnt Premier League chief Richard Scudamore a seat at City A.M.’s upcoming awards as a short-listed candidate for business personality of the year.
Aside from its commercial success, football, while by no means perfect, does try to do its bit for the community. Last year alone, 20,000 Premier League seat tickets were distributed to servicemen and women and their families; and countless football stars helped out in their communities or visited the sick in hospital.
Of course football could do more but sometimes it gets no credit for what it does at all.
It was easy to love the Games. They were magnificent. But for those who love football, there is no better sport in the world.