Sunday, July 28, 2013

...and we're back

The British press have been referring to the recent period of hot weather - which you or I might otherwise call "summer" - as the longest heatwave last one.

Some might say, cynically, that a few days of oppressive heat and prematurely melting ice creams does not a summer make, but here in Paris - where it has been simply "hot" - there has been a noticeably extended period of sleepless, sweaty nights, the odd stray mosquito strafing like a disorientated Luftwaffe pilot over Kent in 1940, and a tendency for crankiness first thing in the office.

But that's it. The French roads haven't melted. There are no  hosepipe bans in force. In Britain, the "Level 3 Heat Health Alerts" has now been upgraded to a "Level 3 Flood Alerts" as storms move in (with The Sun actually putting the emphasis on France being their origin, as if it is the fault of the French).

It is worth noting, however, that whatever the impending calamity in Britain - be it excess sunshine, rainfall, plagues of locusts or frogs - the threat level is always "3". Never lower, never higher. No need for any kind of Nigel Tufnell excess here then.

However, all this is to say that the extended heatwave that has locked Britain into seven weeks of perspiration and knotted handkerchief wearing has also coincided with what has seemed like an eternal closed period between football seasons.

With this summer lacking by serious tournament, the period since the Barclays Premier League kicked its last on May 19, and Bayern Munich decided the Champions League a few days later, seems like an eternity.

Of course, for us success-starved Brits, we've had Andy Murray, Chris Froome and the England cricketers to cheer over, but - and, sorry, those of you who care deeply about tennis, cycling or cricket - but life as we know it will only get back to normal once the football season proper gets under way.

There have been glimpses, sweet, sweet glimpses, like a flash of Victorian ankle: the transfer sagas of Bale, Rooney and Fabregas have kept the Fleet Street rumour mill turning, and there have been the requisite number of shirt-selling foreign tours by the elite to hint at what is to come under the teams of Moyes, Pellegrino, Mourinho, Wenger and co. But really, it ain't enough.

That said, WWDBD? had taken a leave of abstinence from football commentary for these last few weeks. There have been days of temptation. Days when giving in almost became too easy. This has reminded me, somewhat worryingly when thinking about it, of one the funniest Seinfeld episodes  - The Contest.

Like all 179 other episodes in the show's nine-year run, The Contest revolved around a single topic. But, where the others made fun out of the very ordinary - buying a car, dealing with dry cleaners, soup or male genital shrinkage - this episdode tested the boundaries of prime-time televisual taste by concerning itself with "self-gratification".

If you've seen it, you'll recall that Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer challenge themselves to see who could abstain the longest from onanistic pleasure, to be "master of my own domain" (along with many other euphemisms used to avoid actual use of the 'M' word). Kramer - being Kramer - caved first (and quickly), crashing into Jerry's kitchen and slapping down his wager declaring "Well I'm out!"

And thus I've managed to get almost to the end of July before committing fingers to keyboard on The Beautiful Game ™. But today I'm caving. "I'm out!". Because it's back. Football is back. Almost properly.

Actually, it's been back a while - first qualifying round matches for the Champions League were played as far back as July 2 between Armenia's Shirak and San Marino's culinary-sounding Tre Penne (Shirak won the two legs 3-1 on aggregate) and FC Lusitanos of Andorra getting hammered 3-7 on aggregate by EB/Streymur, who play in the Faroe Islands Premier League. Yes, you read that correctly.

Since then we've had, inevitably, the second qualifying round, which brought some seniority to proceedings with European footbal evergreens such as Steaua BucureČ™t, Celtic and Maccabi Tel Aviv entering the fray.

This Tuesday night - hence all the excitement, we reach the third qualifying round for the 2013-14 Champions League, adding a load more European titans with the word "Dinamo" in their names, along with previous members of the awkward squad for English teams like the shoutily-accronymned APOEL of Cyprus and Zenit Saint Petersburg, along with the excessively caffeinated Red Bull Salzburg,  French talent pool Lyon and PSV Eindhoven.

Even though I have yet to apply toe to sun-kissed sand yet, the idea of the Champions League already reaching such a crucial stage has my appetite whetted. Believe it or not, there's more to come this week:  the UEFA Europa League also enters its third qualifying round on Thursday (good luck Swansea!) and then on Friday night, the gambling addiction-inducing Sky Bet Championship - once known innocently as the Football League, launches the British domestic season. On August 2. Sheffield United and Notts County will have a lot to live up to. Welcome back football. We really have missed you.

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