I’m a sports fanatic and COVID-19 has offered some amazing unexpected benefits in the form of live sports. For fans of football/soccer, we have had nearly daily offerings of live matches to watch since May last year, often more than one match a day.
Golf at the weekend is part of my routine, though, recently, I haven’t played much due to spinal stenosis in my back–narrowing of the spaces within the spine, which can put pressure on the nerves that travel through the spine. Swinging golf clubs doesn’t really help, so I walk and just do a few swings for practice, while my friends play a round. This past weekend, I played 9 holes, and then called it a day.
I usually get a couple of days of pain after doing that as inflammation etc subsides. I do stretches daily, and my most common position in recent months has been prone on my back, which is both restful and comfortable. So far, the agony has not been too bad since last Saturday 🙂
But, the golfing is an excuse to be outdoors and enjoy what Jamaica offers, naturally, for the eyes to feast on, and the weather is usually great. In recent weeks, we have had cooler days, especially around dawn (19C/66F). After a morning at the course, it’s hard to feel down about things. Most weeks, I also chill watching Premier League matches at the clubhouse while my friends finish playing; that’s a win-win.
This past weekend offered some special offerings for the watching fan.
FA Cup magic was into the 3rd round. This English cup competition, dating from the late-19th century, is what excites almost any club associated with the Football Association. The competition is open to any club down to Level 10 of the English football league system which meets the eligibility criteria. (I played FA Cup qualifying matches a few times in my heyday; my club never made it to the 1st round proper, though.)
All clubs in the top four levels (the Premier League and the three divisions of the Football League) are automatically eligible. Teams spend weeks from early in the season to qualify, and teams from the top two tiers enter in the 3rd round. So, for smaller clubs, it is their chance to get a date with the ‘big boys’. Teams often give up their home advantage to play at hallowed grounds such as Anfield (Liverpool) or Old Trafford (Manchester United). In normal times, while it’s great that these matches are televised, so offering a moment of glory that be seen by all, fans relish the chance to travel to see their heroes try to take down the giants of the sport. Giant killing has some memorable scalps through history. For small clubs, it can also be a shop window for some players who are looked at in full match settings. Much of the gap between the leagues is less about skills than about opportunities. We’ve seen that more often as players from lower leagues break into the Premier League (Jamie Vardy is the most notable in recent years), and can rise to become national level professional players.
This weekend had a few chances for history and upsets. Liverpool played Aston Villa, both Premier League teams, on Friday evening, but COVID-19 had knocked out Villa’s first team and they fielded mainly their under-18 and under-23 teams (average age 18). It was Liverpool’s match to lose, and go down in smoke and historical infamy. Though Liverpool scored after four minutes and a romp seemed likely, Villa tied the game at half time; Liverpool came through for a 4-1 win, away. But, what a memorable moment for 17 year-old Louie Barry who scored a great goal against the Premier League champions:
Imagine the thrill of exchanging shirts at the end of that match! 🙂
The match had a back story about Liverpool avenging defeats after Villa had astonishingly dumped Liverpool 7-2 earlier in the league season, and last year, Liverpool had been forced to field their juniors against Villa in a Carabao Cup match which they lost 5-0, while the first team was competing in the World Club Championship.
Over the rest of the weekend, some tasty clashes were lined up; two were truly notable.
Crawley (League 2) hosted Leeds United (Premier), and showed the ‘Bielsaball’ boys were summarily despatched 3-0, with some classy goals:
The last match of the weekend was between Newport County (League 2; actually a Welsh team) and Brighton (Premier). It was classic cup joy. The minnows hung in there, but looked dead as Brighton scored in the 90th minute (end of regulation time). But, Brighton’s goalkeeper, Jason Steele, made a howler by missing a cross and the ball ricocheted off a defender for an equalizer in the 90+4th minute! The teams then went into two 15-minute extra time periods with no more goals and on to a penalty shoot out. Well, Steele was steely and saved four penalties. His teammates didn’t get the memo so missed three kicks and the match was actually there for Newport to steal, but, not this time. Brighton’s winning penalty was scored by Adam Webster, whose deflection had scored the tying goal. Brighton won the shootout 4-3. Karma!! 🙂
Finally, Marine FC (Northern Premier League; 8th tier) hosted Chelsea (Premier) and the script was followed, with a 5-0 thumping for the big boys:
But, Marine FC have a wonderful history, dating from the late-19th century, dwelling in the shadows of the Merseyside giants, Liverpool and Everton. On the day, a former Liverpool player, Jamie Carragher, sponsored the match.
Alfie Devine (16) scored a debut goal; youngest debutant and youngest goalscorer for Spurs–more history.
Non-league players have other lives and they stop for football and will resume after the cup dates:
The real stories in football are often not the goings on of the top clubs but the many stories of survival and hope that are written in the lower leagues, often involving clubs that were once top. Newport came back from bankruptcy and needing to leave the Football League: in the 1980s, they suffered financial difficulties with a double relegation costing them their Football League place in 1988 and the club went out of business in February 1989. They had to begin rebuilding from the lowest tiers of the league structure (the Hellenic League, in which I’d played). Marine will get substantial financial gains from their cup match.
NFL playoff drama was not far behind. Tom Brady showed that age is another number and he added to his playoff wins, and gave his team the Tampa Bay Buccaneers a first playoff win since 2002.
The Pittsburgh Steelers hosted Cleveland Browns, with history all in favour of the hosts. Well, history is for rewriting. Gifted a touch down from the first botched play, Cleveland scored with their first touch and the Steelers were down 0-7 after 15 seconds!!! The Browns ran to a 28-0 lead going into half-time as errors kept offering them points. They won 48-37 for their first playoff win since 1995. First win in Pittsburg since 2003. All of that after Cleveland went into the game without many kep players and their head coach due to COVID-19 restrictions. Steelers quarterback, Ben Rothlesberger, threw for over 500 yards (2nd player ever) in the loss, threw 4 touch downs but also 4 interceptions. Pittsburgh started the season 11-0 and ended 5-6. There’s the story.
The Browns had been dissed by Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster: “The Browns is the Browns“. Of course, Karma was listening 🙂
So, bring on the worst. I’ve mental energy renewed to deal with it. 🙂