TV View: The never-ending Premier League season. . . comes to an end

With seven dead rubbers, final day enthusiasm was at a premium on BT and Sky

And there ended a Premier League season that had, at times, the feel of one that began in 1983, partly because, for some of us, the bulk of our wet Monday nights since September were spent watching Burnley against AN Other. A reminder, as if one was required, that the pandemic really needed to end swift-ish so that we could all re-acquire a life.

But so peculiar was this season in patches, it wouldn’t have been any great surprise if Sunday’s meeting between Sheffield United and Burnley turned out to be the title decider.

As it proved, that fixture was relegated to BT Sport 3 on Sunday, although the ultimate indignity fell Fulham and Newcastle’s way, their final game of the campaign shown on Sky Sports Mix, the channel where Sky shove things they couldn’t really be arsed showing, but are contactually obliged to.

When only three of the final 10 games had any meaning at all, the agreement that every one of them be shown live across Sky and BT resulted in the likes of poor Jake Humphrey having to use a cattle prod on Rio Ferdinand and Joe Cole on the Molineux touchline so they’d show some enthusiasm for the clash of Wolves and Manchester United’s C team.

Jake, in fairness to him, can usually make, say, Burnley against AN Other on a wet Monday night sound more historically momentous than, say, the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in 1914. But even he was struggling on this one. “A big day for the young lads,” he suggested, Rio and Joe just grunting in response, wondering why they were even there.

Mind you, Jake’s pain paled next to what Gary Neville must have experienced when Sky told him he would be on co-commentary duty at Manchester City’s title-winning party. And as if that wasn’t enough, they only went and replayed what he’d said at Christmas, when City were eighth in the table: “They look like all the juice has been squeezed out of the orange.”

And then they won 15 games in a row and the rest, like the Archduke’s fate in Sarajevo, is history.

Not that Jamie Carragher, stationed at Anfield on Not-So-Super-Sunday, escaped. “It could be the end of the Pep project,” he’d said back then. Now? “Eh.”

But he was happy out come at full-time, Liverpool having sealed their Champions League spot, the day’s big losers Leicester whose defeat by Spurs saw them miss out.

“It used to be the old transistor radios,” said Alan Smith of the Leicester faithful using their phones to monitor developments at Anfield and Villa Park. Little did he know that some of us have apps that tell you about a goal even before it’s been scored - or maybe our telly feed is just sluggish?

And who could ever forget the sheer ecstasy etched on Harry Kane’s face at full-time on the realisation that Spurs had clinched a place in the Europa Conference League, the third division of European competition, by finishing seventh in the table? All his childhood footballing dreams coming true.

Chelsea, despite losing to Aston Villa, got their Champions League spot too, Mason Mount no doubt chuffed to have the fans back, especially in those moments they serenaded him with cries of “you’re just a shit Jack Grealish”.

Back at the City game, Gary was saluting Phil Foden’s role in their “4-3-3-1” system, leaving viewers concluding it was no wonder they’d won the league when they were playing with 12 men. But while City have their detractors, largely because of the source of their loot, one day credit will be given to Riyad Mahrez’s supernatural ability to trap a ball. Forget your Michelangelos and your Monets, Mahrez is the greatest artist of all time.

“It’s not just a guard of honour, it’s a Guardiola of honour,” said Martin Tyler as the Pep person made his way through a line of back-slappers en route to collecting his Premier League medal. By now, Gary was trying to sound like a man who wasn’t sucking a lemon dry.

Season done and dusted. It was, on the whole, mighty. The highlight? Alisson’s header. And his interview after. Occasionally, like the juice from Gary’s orange, the cynicism would be squeezed out of you.

Mary Hannigan

Mary Hannigan

Mary Hannigan is a sports writer with The Irish Times

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