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English football enjoying new golden era despite global recession
Published : 25 Apr 2009 20:19:16
In typically flamboyant fashion, Clough wanted to make a statement: the working week might be soul-destroying for those on the Dole, but Derby fans would be treated to something special when Saturday comes. Todd, a ball-playing defender, was certainly special. It is not an affront to logic to contend that the desire for entertainment, for escapism, beats strongest in times of uncertainty. Related ArticlesGerrard out of Hull clashChampions League chumsPremier League team newsHundreds attend Laurel and Hardy statue unveilingStuds TerkelDuring the Thirties Depression, Hollywood staged a Golden Age, cinema-goers flocking to marvel at Clark Gable and Judy Garland. In the post-War period, attackers like Tom Finney felt what he calls a "responsibility to entertain'', producing "a golden era'' with Stanley Matthews, Wilf Mannion, Stan Mortensen, Nat Lofthouse and Jackie Milburn, among others. The nation again negotiates straitened times, again finding diversion in what can legitimately be hailed as another "golden era'' of football. Many weeds can be found in England's Shangri-La, from stalemates and brutal tackles to long balls and dissent, but much of the Premier League hype can be justified. Operating at a high tempo, incredibly fit sportsmen, many technically adept, race all over magnificent pitches (NB Wembley). The drama is unremitting, the cast-list lengthy. There's Theo Walcott, Andrei Arshavin, Robin van Persie and Cesc Fabregas. And that's just Arsenal. Elsewhere, Fernando Torres, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Ryan Giggs, Wayne Rooney, Ashley Young, Steven Pienaar and Stephen Ireland add to the spectacle. Everton's Jack Rodwell gives hope for the future. Some perspective is required. It needs stressing that the on-field party started before the recession. Euro 2008 set a new adventurous tone, graceful Spain succeeding sterile Greece as European champions. Unlike with Finney's generation, it is also hard to ascribe to modern footballers an altruistic wish to become beacons of light in the global gloom. As he glides out of the tunnel at Old Trafford, Cristiano Ronaldo is hardly saying to himself: "I must ease the burden of these poor people shivering in the long, cold shadow cast by the Credit Crunch.'' Having AIG on his shirt hardly helps. The hunger for entertainment emanates more from the public; escalating irritation with footballers' wages has now been joined by the financial plight afflicting many supporters. Impatience intensifies, infecting stadium atmospheres, certainly at Old Trafford and England internationals at Wembley where supporters often wait for an on-field spark to ignite them. When players respond, such as during Liverpool's epic 4-4s with Chelsea in Europe and Arsenal in the Premier League, the noise levels really take off. A particular dynamic fuels the fiesta. Having to chase United, Rafa Benitez abandoned his caution and unleashed Liverpool. Javier Mascherano charges forward more, leaving the defence unprotected at times. The show is so rich in thrills partly because of average defending. This is the season of a goalkeeping record, Edwin van der Sar's, and some dodgy keeping from respected pros like Pepe Reina and Petr Cech. Some games have been atrocious. Chelsea 0 Everton 0 followed the joys of Liverpool 4 Arsenal 4. West Bromwich Albion play attractive football yet are going down while Stoke, far less easy on the eye, stay up. But it remains a hugely competitive division. "It's a credit to the league that you never get an easy game,'' said Sir Alex Ferguson. Yet his club boast such strength they would like to field a B team in the Championship. Some chairmen like Bolton Wanderers' Phil Gartside seek a two-tier Premier League including the Old Firm from Scotland. No chance. The police will kibosh that, citing the drunken behaviour of Rangers fans in Manchester the night of last year's Uefa Cup final and the memory of Celtic supporters being ambushed on visits south. The Premier League is the Hollywood of world sport, requiring little additional glamour, a point illustrated by the presence of three representatives in the Champions League semi-finals. "In terms of profile and TV money, all of the best players are now playing here, which makes England a very strong candidate every year to do well in the European cups,'' added Ferguson. But, Ferguson argues, nothing is forever. "It's just cycles,'' he said. "Nine years ago, there were three Spanish teams in the semis.'' Barcelona will temper English swagger if their glittering stars pass Chelsea off the Nou Camp pitch on Tuesday. Lionel Messi has replaced Ronaldo as Planet Football's No 1 entertainer. Liverpool and Manchester City covet Valencia's David Villa. Everyone wants Barcelona's Xavi and Andres Iniesta. Sterling's collapse and the hike in income tax makes the Premier League less attractive. We should enjoy the golden age while it lasts. And another thing... Whisper it if Liverpool fans are around but there will be Rooneys all over Anfield on Sunday. Graham Rooney, Wayne's brother, will be in defence, cousin Thomas upfront and uncle Richie in the dug-out as their Croxteth team, Oyster Martyrs, take on Scots Grey in the FA Carlsberg Sunday Cup final. 'I hope they can bring some silverware back to Crocky,' said Wayne, who hopes to attend.