The managers have had their say. So have the pundits. But what about the fans? It’s time for columnist and Chelsea season ticket holder Giles Smith to look ahead to the new campaign, and prepare for some changes on and off the pitch…
Amazing. Where does the time go? It only seems like five minutes ago that we were all not getting together to witness the end of last season. And now here we all are again, not getting together to witness the start of a brand spanking new one.
I don’t know about you, but I feel I’ve barely drawn breath since the last time I wasn’t getting into my car and not going to a football match. But I guess it’s been a month, in fact. And I suppose you could also argue very strongly that a month is quite long enough to be going without not having any football to go to.
So, obviously, bring it on. Thrilled to have it back. Getting ready to ‘feel the excitement again,’ as the Premier League’s social media feeds are urging me. Especially after this summer’s glittering but also properly thoughtful transfer activity.
Yet, at the same time, it’s hard not to feel a touch mournful at this moment, reflecting on what one would normally be up to on a day like today if an unprecedented global pandemic wasn’t getting in the way.
Day one of a new season: this, of all points on the calendar, tends to drive home what we’re missing, doesn’t it? More even than an FA Cup final when you can’t go, though that, too, scored quite highly in this department.
That first walk to the ground, into the gathering crowd, onto the concourse and through the gates – the anticipation, the season’s blank sheet. Then up into the stand, back to your seat - familiar faces, new players, new haircuts, new shirts. And then the game starts and you get to sit there in the warm sunshine and watch Gianfranco Zola outrageously chipping it into the path of Gus Poyet in 1999.
(There are many of us for whom the opening day of any season will forever be Gianfranco Zola outrageously chipping it into the path of Gus Poyet in 1999. It seems to define the opening-day mood, somehow.)
All lost to us this time, of course. And even more agonisingly so, in the context of the aforementioned glittering but also properly thoughtful transfer activity. And the government’s decision to restrict, from Monday, gatherings in excess of six people is quite the setback for those of us who, as of this weekend, will once again be longingly awaiting the go-ahead for gatherings of around 42,000.
It’s not that I’ve got anything against watching football on television. And I’m certainly grateful for the considerate arrangement whereby all Premier League games, including our opener at Brighton on Monday night, are available on a screen somewhere during these difficult times.
It’s just that I long, for once, to watch a game in the company of my fellow ticket-holders in the Matthew Harding Upper rather than in the company of Steve McManaman, or whichever ex-Liverpool or United player will be doing the co-commentary that day.
And I long to watch a game where the shouting and the singing and the applause and all the other crowd reactions are spontaneously generated by people like me in reaction to the football itself, rather than over-dubbed a fraction of a second late by a keyboard player in a studio.
I long for football to be back, in other words - but properly back. Not back in a bio-secure bubble with expanses of canvas covering the seats (pictured top). Unwrapped and back.
But, of course, it’s our duty to look for the bright sides and cling to them. And in that context, let’s at least acknowledge that the first entirely unnecessary international weekend has already been and gone while none of us was even looking, so that’s one fewer disruption that lies ahead - a Covid-19 benefit.
Plus it’s the first day of the season. Who can’t be feeling the constant surges of optimism at this point – even at an enforced distance? And did I mention our club’s glittering but also properly thoughtful transfer activity? I think I did.
Let’s hope the special nature of the day eventually reaches out to tickle even our friend Jurgen Klopp, already apparently feeling the pressure after a strangely indolent summer on the transfer market at Liverpool. Sounding less excited than some of us to see what power-shifting glories Timo Werner, Hakim Ziyech, Thiago Silva and Kai Havertz, among others, can bring to the Premier League, Jurgen was recently to be heard glumly maintaining that Liverpool were inherently a ‘different kind of club’ to ours, and forced to do things a different way, because they haven’t just spent £200 million on new players.
It is, indeed, a lot of money. Why, to put it in some perspective, it’s 85 per cent of the £236 million that Liverpool spent on players in 2018 – when, of course, they weren’t rebounding from a year out of the market altogether, as our club was, making our circumstances slightly different.
Good old, Jurgen, though. You’ve got to love him, although it’s a little naughty of him to be kicking off with the ‘mind games’ so early – and possibly even a little hurtful so soon after so many of us respectfully lined up to form a guard of honour, metaphorically speaking, when the asterisk was formally bestowed on Liverpool’s 2019-20 Premiership title, not that far back in July.
No hard feelings, though – far from it, not at this convivial time of the season, and in the current national predicament. Only best wishes and generous thoughts to everyone, naturally, as it all begins again, and as we all begin again with it.