On the final day of the season the intangibles matter.
You can watch hundreds of games of your own team and still be unable to say how good they are. Even with advancements in analytics and statistical data about players, there is always some part of football that remains unquantifiable.
On any regular weekend, there is a gap between what is possible and what is probable that only the best footballers can transcend, but there are times a proper confluence of stories and situations can allow just about any driven footballer to make it.
The final day of the 2021-22 season was one of those occasions – a reward for football fans at home and in stadiums after 18 months of muted, COVID-19-affected football.
For two glorious hours on Sunday very little made sense, but it did not matter. Every so often, football provokes moments where the sensible part of your brain decides to take a back seat and let the inner child indulge itself with lights, sound and color.
Where the football fan goes from asking, “What is happening? ”, to gleefully shouting,“ Things field happening! ”
As Manchester City overturned their 2-0 deficit and Leeds United scored a penalty against Brentford, you could only sit there, mouth agape, oscillating between multiple screens, trying to make sense of football at its most delirious.
There were no nil-nils on Sunday, with 39 goals scored across 10 Premier League fixtures. Only two teams – relegated Norwich and sleepwalking-to-sixth-place Manchester United – failed to score. Liverpool were never actually top of the Premier League, but it did not feel like that as City struggled at home against Aston Villa.
Brighton, so often profligate when finishing, ended their league campaign by scoring three goals to finish ninth, a record top-flight finish for the club. Everton conceded five against Arsenal, and yet their fans still found reason to cheer the end of a frantic and increasingly nervy nine months.
This was a season conclusion on par with anything the age of streaming could offer. There were debutants and those departing all combining to create a two-hour sensory overload, exhausting and entertaining in equal measure. For the good of your own health, you do not want to have too many days of football like this, but when those days arrive it is hard not to indulge yourself as footballers hurtle through moments of triumph and disaster.
Days like these are why Amazon have spent roughly £ 400 million to show eight match days of action, or 80 games, over four years in the UK. That is roughly the same amount as Game of Thrones’ entire eight seasons. David Benioff and DB Weiss did not create an ending as entertaining as that of Burnley and Leeds’ finales, let alone what happened to City and Liverpool.
The Premier League is not perfect – the wants of the custodians of the game frequently clash with the needs of those for whom they are supposed to be responsible. The league’s financial strength has had a continued negative impact on teams lower in the English pyramid and also on teams on the continent. The balance between sporting competition and entertainment can often go awry, and for the competition to improve in both it will need changes and proper regulations. And that’s before we even mention the Super League debacle.
Things will hopefully come in time. The 2022-23 season is 10 weeks away and will bring new faces, such as Erik ten Hag and Erling Haaland, and further challenges to come. We will somehow find a way to cram in a World Cup tournament in the middle and an Africa Cup of Nations tournament at its conclusion. Football grows ever larger and all-consuming, so moments like the Premier League’s final day, where we can all stop and breathe, need to be savored.
So let us again savor the final moments of the final day of the 2021-22 season; one that brought more of those strange intangibles than we had seen in perhaps a decade. Since City last won the title in dramatic fashion, funnily enough.
For all of the talk of tactics, strategies and philosophies, football is ultimately a simple game, bringing 22 individuals each with their own wants and desires all moving in different directions trying to make something happen.
There are many more important things in this world than what happens during a football season, but as we say goodbye to 2021-22 it’s nice to say, “That was nice” (unless, of course, you happen to be a Burnley supporter, and if so you have our greatest sympathies).
Football is meant to be fun and, for the neutral, the final two hours of 2021-22 were a delight.
(Top photo: Getty Images)