DES KELLY: Soap that gets us all in a lather (and no, it's not Corrie)
Thank the Lord it's back. The Premier League returns today in all its glorious madness, having announced itself to the world in the now customary fashion. As those final hours ticked away ahead of the big kick-off, a well known footballer wrapped his Porsche around a lamp-post at 3am and was promptly arrested on drink-drive charges. Well done, David Bentley, you started the new season as you ended the last, as an expensive car crash, which is what happens when individuals are permitted to drive a vehicle with a top speed higher than their IQ. To be fair to Tottenham's £15million flop, hitting a post was an improvement. Usually, he just hits the bench. But what would we do without stupidity like this? What other sport guarantees such an insane soap opera, week in and week out? No wonder ITV shunted Coronation Street out of that Wednesday prime-time slot for live football. These days we not only get a match, but a virtual world of drama and entertainment, too. Nothing fascinates, excites and infuriates us so completely, often at the same time. And even if you hate the scandals, the greed, the outbreaks of thuggery and the flash cars left in disabled parking bays, I'll bet you love moaning and arguing about it all. But regardless of what happens away from the pitch, there is nodenying the irresistible pull of a game that delivers more moments ofunadulterated joy and despair than any other. Yes, it is 'just' sport, but it's also a wonderful, awful, magnificent obsession. And it's back. Like me, I'll bet your fantasy teams are picked; yourTV subscriptions are paid up (or your pub bar stool booked), and homeand away trips are already being planned. A long summer of trying to pretend tennis, golf and cricket are just as compelling is finally over. Life is returning to its normal rhythms. A nation of unshaven mensitting in their underwear, characters who forget the wife's birthday,but can name the 1963 FA Cup-winning side, will settle into their sofa,call in vain for a beer and prepare to scratch their way right throughto the end of next summer's World Cup finals. It's going to be a long, hard season. But for one morning, anything is possible. Arrested: David Bentley For a few precious hours the the dreams of every Premier League fan,however unrealistic, will flicker with new hope as a world of infinitepossibilities stretches out ahead. This season certainly feels different. There are more questionshanging in the air, more permutations and more doubts surrounding ahost of clubs than there has been in any campaign I can recall overrecent years. Will Manchester City buy their way into the top four this season? After luring Emmanuel Adebayor from north London and recruiting RoqueSanta Cruz and Carlos Tevez, they have an undeniably potent attack andfourth is well within reach. That is most likely to be at theexpense of a weakened Arsenal. The Gunners are sure to be pleasing onthe eye and Andrey Arshavin's influence will grow, but ultimately theylook too lightweight for battles both at home and in Europe. Above them, Manchester United have to overcome the loss of Cristiano Ronaldo and Tevez. For that to succeed there must be a drastic transformation in the form of Michael Owen and Dimitar Berbatov, although I'm not optimistic about having a 'Can't Run, Won't Run' frontline. So for the first time, Wayne Rooney will be carrying the club's challenge on his shoulders, which will be an enormous test of his temperament. He will thrive in a central role, but United need more to defend their title. Liverpool are the club many are tipping to finally usurp Sir Alex Ferguson, yet the departure of Xabi Alonso will hit them hard and the squad lacks true depth, beyond the presence of the sublime Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard. In contrast, Chelsea's team look settled, composed and powerful, despite more managerial musical chairs at Stamford Bridge. If Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba stay fit, and United do not find a world-class striker, I expect the Londoners to emerge as champions. Aston Villa, Everton and Spurs will complete the top eight, with West Ham and Fulham close behind. After that, anyone in the remaining half could be relegated, but Portsmouth are in a complete mess; Burnley will find the leap up from the Championship toughest of all, and Hull City will continue last season' s horrible, demoralising tailspin. Are these the answers? You. Me. And the viewers in 211 countries across the planet cannot wait to find out. I'm not remotely outraged or offended if women want to beat one another up in the boxing ring. But equally, I hardly think the fact they are now allowed to smash one another in the face at the Olympics has righted one of sport's great injustices. Listening to Tessa Jowell you'd think all Emmeline Pankhurst's dreams had been realised. When women's boxing was ushered in for the 2012 Games the Olympics Minister said: 'It's a historic decision. This has opened up the last of the Olympic closed shops, blah blah, etc.' That's right, your work is done Tessa. Men can now shout: 'Knock her out, Sharon! Kill her!' and all in the name of feminism. At least there won't be a shortage of female contenders judging by the scenes in city centres across Britain at closing time. Although to have a realistic 2012 medal chance Team GB may have to swap the swig of water between rounds for a pineapple Bacardi Breezer. But this decision has nothing to do with sport and everything to do with political posturing. There is absolutely no demand whatsoever to see women's boxing. Giventhe choice, more members of the public would rather watch men's synchronisedswimming, if only for the laughs. There are just 642 registered female British boxers right now and even if the best of them were fighting in your local town hall you wouldn't care. And this does nothing to deal with the near total lack of female participation in sport atall levels. Every survey shows girls are shunning sport like never before, particularly since athletics was dropped from the school curriculum. Even the Government's own statistics show an alarming 90 per cent of today's children will be classed as overweight by 2050 if current trends continue. If Jowell and co were serious about addressing this crisis they would have pushed genuinely inclusive women's events like netball to be in the Olympic programme. Instead, women now get the chance not to box. Luckily, I hear female boxers have been restricted to three weight divisions. ●The 'This mirror makes me look fat' category. ● The 'This is never a size bloody 10' division. ●And the heavyweights, or the 'Kerry Katona Class' as it is also known. (This must be the first time in newspapers the words 'class' and 'Kerry Katona' have been used in the same sentence.) Having already delivered one excruciating verdict, the Olympic committee are now trying to pass two more decisions that I hope hurt more than kidney stones. They plan to add golf and rugby sevens to the already overblown Games itinerary by 2016. Quite simply, golf has no place at the Olympics. Advocates point out it is a very popular participation sport, but then so is fishing and I don't see anglers being ushered to the podium. The rule for the Olympics should always be: ' Is winning gold the pinnacle of the sport?' If not, it shouldn't be at the party. No golfer will ever care more about winning an Olympic gong than the Open Championship. It's the same with tennis and football; two more sports that have no place there. As for rugby sevens, it's just an artificially truncated version of a proper game. What next, Olympic five-a-side football? Or how about pitch-and-putt instead of golf, just to be consistent? Sevens chiefs insist a huge number of countries take part, but here's a list of every World Cup finalist since the inception of the competition: England, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, Wales, Fiji and Argentina. Add France, Ireland and Tonga to the list and you've basically named the entire 'rugby world'. The truth is rugby sevens is only being introduced to enable organisers to fill stadiums left empty until the athletics starts in the second week. Golf is only being courted because it attracts juicy, big-name commercial sponsors. The Olympics is meant to be about gold, silver and bronze. But these days they prefer cash, thanks very much. No sooner had the odd fool branded Australia's Test team as pathetically weak than England collapsed faster than John Prescott's deckchair. Now it is England's mettle that is being questioned. Luckily Mark Ramprakash is ready. According to the likeable Alec Stewart: 'Taking part in Strictly Come Dancing helped Ramps a lot. Anyone who is prepared to dance in front of 14 million people shows mental strength.' Yes, nothing is going to strike fear into Aussie hearts like the introduction of a sequined dancer who can Cha-Cha to the crease. Maybe we should go the whole hog and ask Wayne Sleep to lead the bowling? QUESTION: What is the most beautiful stadium in the world? I've just come back from a road trip up the Pacific coast of North America and I'm sure I've seen it. The stunning San Francisco Giants' arena sits on the shore of the bay and is so perfect, with a great location and views, superb facilities and transportation, I can even forgive its horrible corporate monicker - AT&T Park. Nothing can beat it, unless you know better?
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