Karl Marx famously once declared that religion is the opium of the people, a statement so profound he probably stroked his beard awhile after saying it.
Really though, who still goes to church in this day and age besides Doris and Alf from down your road, trundling there considerably under the speed limit in a thirty year old Rover that is polished weekly?
Football, we are routinely informed, is the new religion – which probably explains our desperate praying at last-minute corners – and if this is so then the fixture list that was released this week is an altogether more dangerous drug than mere poppy pulp. It is optimism of the people and in pure uncut form. Right now – whether you support Chester or Chelsea – we’re all high as a bleedin’ kite.
No matter how woeful your team performed last season and how close they took you to the precipice of sheer madness admit it, you checked to see who your boys are playing on the final day. To see where the promotion party might take place, envisioning a sea of flags and grins and delirium in the process. You also analysed the opening five fixtures and regardless of what it contained, reached the following conclusion – We could get off to a flyer here.
Dates for local derbies meanwhile were accompanied by a vague prophecy of celebration and gloating while any home games against last term’s mid-table fare were dismissed as guaranteed three pointers.
What is this lunacy? Only a few weeks ago most of us were curled into foetal messes of despondency, questioning whether we’d renew our season tickets because the pain simply wasn’t worth it. Now, with the imminent signing of that striker from the league below who needs ten chances to score and the releasing of a fixture schedule suddenly the future is searingly bright and wonderful. Psychiatrists probably have a term for it. Clean slate syndrome?
Whatever it is, ride the delicious euphoria for all its worth because you know – deep down in that tenth of your brain that is presently sane – you know very soon these brittle delusions will be smashed mercilessly to smithereens.
The comedown begins with seeing the line-up for your team’s opening pre-season friendly. That midfielder with sideways vision, who would struggle to trap a bag of cement, wasn’t offloaded on a free as you assumed. He’s still here. The long-running left-back saga meanwhile that resulted in a right-footed centre-back being shifted across there for the baulk of 2014/15 – that remains. After the striker from the league below couldn’t agree terms and went elsewhere your goal-shy scapegoat who needs twenty chances to finally drill one home is doing stretching exercises in the centre-circle. It is late July and already he looks world-weary and tired. Defeated by his own ineptitude.
At least some hope lies in the new gaffer, chewing gum purposely in the dug-out. He’ll soon turn things around and sprinkle an elixir over the deadwood simply by virtue of not being the other guy. A secondary surge of optimism briefly hits. The sun is out, football is back, and you’re in Cleethorpes for a testimonial for a non-league mainstay. Things could be worse.
Your team get stuffed 4-0, an upset of such note that despite the meaningless nature it makes the national papers. You shuffle out to a small pocket of your fans calling for the new manager’s head and you know in your heart he’ll be gone by Christmas.
With fresh scars on your soul you reluctantly shell out a small fortune to renew your seasoncard only to endure four insipid losses and a hard-fought draw in those tricky first five games. Tactically your team is all over the shop, they’re rooted to the foot of the table and worse yet that dreaded derby looms on the horizon. You can already taste the bitter pill and hear the relentless scoffing from your work-mates.
Between now and then lies a couple of extremely testing homes against last season’s mid-table fare. Maybe five at the back might eke out a stalemate? The sense of foreboding is almost suffocating.
All of that awaits. You know it. I know it. We all know it. But for now the fixture list is pristine and glistening, promising the improbable and fantastical. We inhale the new car smell and spy a long open highway to glory.
It’s a mainline hit of pure optimism. A natural summer high. Enjoy it while it lasts.