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Friday, 1 February 2013

Avoiding The Unavoidable – The Story So Far... [Part 1 of 2]

Not a two-footed tackle in sight

With dissatisfaction at the plight of the Premier League and its gaudy bells and whistles growing, one man took a stand. And so far, he doesn't regret it. We welcome back James Longhurst, who charts a Premier League-less existence.

I think it was a combination of getting older, fatherhood and the ever growing dignity chasm between football and other sports that led me to take a season off from the Premier League.

Actually, I think it was exclusively the dignity chasm.

Last year, as you don't need me to tell you, was an astonishing year for British sport. Pretty much all British sport, that is, except for football (top flight and international), which continued its seemingly inexorable decline towards high farce (as an aside, if it turns out that the Premier League has been run by Dadaists for the last 10 years then I don't think anyone would be that surprised).

I've been an avid football fan for years; it was the 1990 world cup that really sparked my interest and since then I have devoured football – watching, reading and talking about football have always been among my favourite pastimes. Football was my first sporting love, but not long afterwards that love grew to pretty much all sport: first rugby (union and a bit of league); then cycling, cricket, tennis and even the NFL.

Much to my girlfriend’s dismay there is no off season for my sporting interest. The phrase "but this match/race is really important" when hogging the TV or needing a whole day to watch it could equally apply to a Tour de France stage in July, the Six Nations in February, an NFL game in autumn or a Boxing Day derby match. Worse still, my latest sporting addiction aided by late night feeding my new-born son last year was college American football.
I won't be unique amongst Magic Spongers readers (Spongees?) in this sporting panoply and I also know that I won't have been alone in feeling the Premier league and all that accompanies it just looks tawdry compared to most other sports.

Perhaps what makes me unique though is what I did next. This summer, as the new season was set to kick off, I made a decision to opt out of top flight football and turn my back on the Premier League. No live games, no Sky games, not even checking the results or reading about transfers, manager appointments or any of the surrounding controversy.

Just to clarify, I haven't turned my back on football altogether. I still watch and follow my team AFC Wimbledon and watch the tournaments they enter (more on the League Cup later).

And now, five months into the season, it’s time to report back. My first impression is that I haven't really missed much. If anything, I feel like the experience has made my life slightly better.

The obvious and immediate downsides have been social ones. There has been the odd occasion where I've felt massively out of it when surrounded by colleagues or friends discussing results and transfers and I fully admit that telling someone: "I'm taking a year off the Premiership, I have no idea what you are talking about", feels a touch wanky, to say the least.

I couldn't enter the work fantasy football league and over the Christmas period, I must admit I missed not being able to sit down in front of a random televised league game.

Other than that though, it feels pretty good to not know what's going on in the transfer window; who’s refused to shake whose hand and which manager is currently leading the ‘sack race’.

Avoiding the Premier League altogether is pretty hard; if you are interested in sport and news then its omnipotence can be overwhelming. I've had to skip the first few pages of the sports coverage, turn the channel over before Match of the Day and avoid reading friends’ Facebook updates, while working in a new organisation has made it even harder. But it's definitely not impossible.

I thought I wouldn't last until September when I started. For sure, in fact, I thought I’d be defeated by Christmas, but now it’s January I think the rest of the season should be a breeze. And beyond? Maybe I won't ever come back to following top football ever again.

I've watched a couple of League Cup games featuring Premier League teams. Arsenal v Reading was superb, the first leg of Chelsea v Swansea had me confused as to who most of Chelsea's players were (they signed Demba Ba?!), and the second leg, well that pretty much reinforced my decision. A player kicking a ball boy, no matter how old he was or how much he may have deserved it, is a deep, deep low.

Watching Mark Bright discussing on BBC whether the ball boy's Twitter account demonstrated that his time wasting was "pre-meditated" or not, and that it somehow justified a man kicking a teenager or not felt like we had all disappeared down the rabbit hole for good.

I'll report back at the end of the season to see if my views have changed, but at the moment and to horribly paraphrase Katy Perry: "I've stopped watching the Premier League, and I like it." I just hope that Wimbledon carry on their unbeaten run this year so I'm still watching league football in 2013/14!

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