Due to playing and coaching commitments over the last 24 years, I’ve been starved of live Premier League football, only grabbing rare opportunities to catch a game here and there whenever the chance arose.
Television and the internet might provide us with every game, every goal, every piece of divine skill from every angle but it’s no substitute for the real thing, just as a microwave dinner for one isn’t the same as one of your mother’s Sunday roasts.
It fills a void but doesn’t leave you as satisfied as sitting in the stand taking the whole game in.
Watching hundreds, running into thousands, of games live, you can say I’ve been spoiled over the years, but most of them have been seen from the edge of a penalty box or from the dugout.
Viewpoints that most would be envious of. In truth though, if you’re wanting to see the game as a whole, they’re probably two of the worst angles to watch from.
Most new stadiums have those lovely bucket seats that look like you’re sat aboard a spaceship, set up a little a higher up into the stand so you actually get a decent view. Leicester City’s King Power Stadium was one of my favourites because of this.
Sometimes you’re unfortunate enough to be sat in a sunken dugout like the ones they had at Nottingham Forest’s City Ground which makes it seem as if you’re watching the game via one of those low level mirrors they have in shoe shops, where you can only see your feet as your parade the length of it, arguing with yourself whether you like them enough to buy them or not.
Great if you’re an avid boot spotter, looking out for who’s wearing what brand and model, but otherwise you might as well be sat in the car park, listening to the reaction of the crowd for feedback.
I could never sit in those sunken dugouts anyway. I’d rather go out and warm-up down the touchline a receive abuse from the opposition fans, and on a occasion my own, for 90 minutes than sit in what was basically a bunker for the substitutes to keep them hidden away and depress themselves further by having something else to moan about other than the manager for leaving them out of the starting line-up.
I’ve enjoyed watching games in a coaching capacity to scout teams and individual players these past seasons but even then your focus is narrowed only to the parts of the game you’re interested in, making notes, be it mentally or scribbling them down in the pages of a little black book. You can’t enjoy the game fully.
That’s why this past month has been so great. Whilst I continue my coaching education, I’ve decided to take a brief break from day-to-dat coaching and it’s given me the chance in my capacity as a writer and pundit to take in games for work and my own pleasure.
So when I take my place amongst the press, I’m seeing the game in 4D; after my time in the terraces as a fan, on the pitch as a player, on the bench as coach, and now high up at the back of the where the tapping of laptop keyboards almost matches the clapping of hands below.
Of course I’d rather be stood in Jordan Pickford’s boots but it really is a totally different perspective.
I can still cheer as loud as I want for a Jermain Defoe goal or scream an expletive when an innocuous ball comes in the box and one striker beats three defenders to it but from where I am. More so the second than the first right now.
What it has also given me is access to the post-match press conferences, a real novelty experiencing them from over the top, on the other side of the trenches.
Watching them on TV is the same as the games; like looking through a keyhole into a room.
As with television, you only see what the keyhole allows you to, but there is so much more that you’re missing.
Seeing the managers deliver their post-mortems can be fascinating when they aren’t wearing a poker face.
Their eyes and their body language belying the words that spill from their mouths. You get a truer sense of how the result has affected them and an insight of what the future holds for them. Little signals, a particular turn of phrase, their tone, their demeanour.
Naturally, Arsene Wenger breezed in and out with the air of a manager whose team had just toyed with their opposition like a young boy pulling the legs off a Dragonfly. And they had.
David Moyes tried to hide his disappointment by diverting our attention to Arsenal’s exceptional quality rather than his own team’s deficiencies. It didn’t work, although the common opinion to everyone I spoke to is these players are a better group than their recent performances suggest.
Asked whether he’s still the man to turn things around and get the best out of them, it was quite telling his answer wasn’t very straight. Or convincing for that matter.
It looks like we should all put a miracle on our Christmas lists.
It feels like we’re going to need another one.