Sunday 7 April 2019

The Football-Speak juggernaut blazes a trail once more, to be fair

Last Sunday, during Cardiff City versus Chelsea on Five Live, the honour fell to Conor McNamara to officially unveil the Business End of the Season.

Or at least, it was Norm (the nickname McNamara's golf buddy, Steve 'Claridge' Claridge gave him after a particularly heavy evening in the club bar at The John Smith Stadium) who unveiled it for me. Perhaps the ribbon had already been cut by other media stars without my knowledge, but on a personal level, I couldn't think of anyone more appropriate to deliver the last of the stock, stonewall phrases that are crucially imbedded into the British football season journey.

Norm's timing was spot on, in the right place at the right time to associate the final seven games in the Premier League with briefcases and boardrooms and contracts waiting to be finalised. The man's awareness hasn't dimmed with the passing years of anecdotal mishaps on the 14th hole and each round in the clubhouse shirked by Claridge. He may have trouble remembering Claridge's reason behind Norm as a nickname (as does Claridge, by the way), but the important stuff remains intact. Norm meanwhile, will carry on presuming that this example of Claridge's famous teasing relates to the name of the bar-stool resident of the American sitcom, Cheers! - after all, everyone knows McNamara likes a drink, even if not everyone knows his name.

The road to the Business End of the Season is a gruelling one, and Norm has in effect lit the domestic football torch with the final pronouncement (and in case anyone missed it, he said it again the next night during Arsenal versus Newcastle United). Eight months earlier, the critical label process began its journey, as usual, even before the Premier League had got underway. That August, Norm's colleagues in the media, be they commentators, voiceovers, presenters, journalists, pundits, would have been reminded of their duties to label the Community Shield as "the traditional curtain-raiser to the Premier League season". As long as one of them got it in there somewhere, everyone else could stand down and relax.

Once that traditional introduction to the Wembley friendly between the league champions and FA Cup winners is safely locked in, The Media Assembled are then armed with the tools that will ensure we are carefully guided through the rest of the campaign.

The first landmark phrase of the season comes around mid-September, five or so games in. Usually by then, at least one team will have made a strong start, undefeated and possibly a taker of maximum points, which allows broadcasters to say that this team has "made a statement". Not statements like, "you're all going to lose your jobs at the end of the month" that actually scare people, but statements made up of a short-term ability to score more goals than their possibly weak opponents. The worth of the Statement involving Manchester United in 2017-18 was confirmed by a journalist from The Telegraph, or maybe The Times, perhaps The Daily Star, who claimed that "Mourinho has got them all wanting to pay for him".

The next media statement in the domestic catalogue normally appears in November, when everyone in the industry is expected to tell the public that Manchester City might go a whole season unbeaten.

Around mid-February, all television and print artists pepper their programmes and editions with intel that Manchester City are "on the hunt for the quadruple" (just not with an unbeaten record) and explain that this is what will be in all the headlines.    

And so to early April, the Business End, when the finish line is in sight, just over a month away before we all find out what happens in the end, whether we hear the constant accompaniment or not. But let's not unfasten our seatbelts yet fellow aircraft passengers, because there's still A Lot of Football To Be Played Between Now and Then, and there's bound to be Plenty of Twists and Turns along the way, probably Right To The Wire.

That's modern football for you, a number of shadow phrases playing between the established lines.                  

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