Bring back the Premier League...and fast!

I got 10 out of 10 in the World Cup quiz posted on the Chelsea website. It’s no consolation for me though, for what has been a crushing end to the tournament’s qualification campaign.

Last month, the United States were eliminated when they lost to Trinidad & Tobago, even though the Caribbean nation were bottom of the CONCACAF hexagonal section. Despite the defeat, America would still have made at least a playoff unless both Panama and Honduras upset the region’s top two countries Mexico and Costa Rica. Both giant killers managed it, Panama benefiting from a dubious referring call that still grates on me today.

An equally questionable decision went against Northern Ireland in the European play-offs. Switzerland were awarded a penalty in the first game in Belfast when the Romanian official adjudged that Blackburn midfielder Corry Evans deliberately handled the ball in the box. Lets just say I saw it a little different to the referee and wasn’t best impressed. Not only was his back turned and his arm not in an ‘unnatural’ position, the ball didn’t even strike his arm but hit him on the shoulder! In three hours of football over the two legs, the spot-kick was the deciding goal. It ensured the Ulstermen were out of the World Cup before it had even started.

The 2005 Champions League semi-final against Liverpool was decided by a debatable single goal at Anfield, a shot by Luis Garcia that was deemed to have crossed the goal-line. It was the first time I can remember hearing the term ‘ghost goal’, while José Mourinho memorably calling the strike ‘a goal that came from the moon.’

But as unjust as the decision seemed that night - and indeed still does more than a decade later - it didn’t have the same finality about it. Since then we have reached the knockout stage of that competition four times, the quarter-final once, enjoyed a trio of semi-final appearances, made it to the final and, of course, wonderfully, magically, the Blues have lifted the trophy. Call it arrogance or entitlement if you like, but every year I expect Chelsea to qualify for the biggest club tournament on earth. Progress to anything less than the last 16 is looked on as a disappointment in my eyes.

In contrast, Northern Ireland’s absence from the World Cup is going to stretch until at least 36 years, and probably longer than that. It was 1986 the last time we qualified and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s decades until we do it again. Hopefully they manage it just once before I die.

So welcome back to the Premier League and good riddance to the international break. I desperately need football to cheer me up. With West Brom having three Northern Irish players in their ranks in Gareth McAuley, Jonny Evans and Chris Brunt, I so desperately want to see Chelsea resign them to another defeat this weekend.