Football: the only game you can win without playing...

This week, I also discovered that football is a game you can win without even playing. Which also makes it an automatic licence to party like there’s no tomorrow… even if there’s no actual ‘victory’ to celebrate, either

OK, let me get this straight: every Sunday for the past 11 or so weeks, newspapers have carried reports about people getting ‘fined’ or ‘cautioned’ for breaching the COVID-19 health and safety regulations: by organising barbecues or picnics attended by more than six people, for instance; or walking into shops without wearing face-masks; or even – in some cases – just for being outdoors, and older than 65.

And yet, as we all saw on Monday night, a crowd of literally hundreds of football supporters of all ages – including quite a few who visibly belong to ‘vulnerable categories’ – could suddenly converge en masse on the Floriana Granaries (almost literally a stone’s throw from the Police Headquarters, please note)… all hugging each other, jumping around on parked cars, and generally behaving as though their favourite team had actually won some kind of ‘league’, or something… and…

… um… No, that’s it, really. Nothing happened. Nobody was arrested; nobody was fined; nobody was even cautioned, or ordered to wear a mask… there was, in fact, not a single, solitary policeman anywhere in sight.

It was as though all the rules and regulations imposed because of the COVID-19 pandemic were temporarily suspended, without a word of warning or explanation: but only in Floriana, and only for that one night; and even then, only because a football team had somehow managed to ‘win a league’ without actually playing all the games.

Well, what can I say? No wonder so many people are so passionate about football in this country (or indeed, in the entire world). No wonder so many people treat this otherwise mundane, unremarkable team-sport as if it were some kind of ‘religion’.

Naively, I always used to think it had something to do with the sport itself: a sort of adrenaline rush, brought about by all the excitement and energy of the so-called ‘beautiful game’ (for even if I find football about as interesting as the cultures of mould currently evolving in my kitchen-sink… I can still more or less appreciate that others might find the same sport rather entertaining).

Now, however, I suddenly realise that it has nothing whatsoever to do with anything that happens on the football pitch (how can it, when the sport itself hasn’t actually been played in this country since early March?) Now, I finally understand that ‘being a football supporter’ is actually just a glorified licence to be able to break any law at will…  without having to face any consequence whatsoever.

And with that realisation, also comes a sudden flood of regret. I mean… just think of all the trouble I could have spared myself in my younger days, simply by pretending to give as much of a toss about football as everybody else.

That time I got pulled over for squeezing 12 passengers into my four-seater Opel Corsa, for instance (on the way to La Grotta in Gozo at around 4am, as I vaguely recall; and still in costume after a toga-party…). Instead of telling the police the truth, as I ingenuously did at the time – i.e., ‘Sorry, officer: but I’m young, stupid, irresponsible, and drunk’ – what I should have said was: ‘Sorry, officer: but I’m celebrating my favourite football team’s imaginary victory, in a league that hasn’t actually been played….”

And that would have been the end of it: the policeman would no doubt have nodded sympathetically, and waved me along with a smile… and more importantly, I would have been spared the fine, the hassle of having to appear in court… not to mention the additional expense of reclaiming my car after it was towed.

But no. I just didn’t appreciate the sheer beauty of ‘the beautiful game’ back then; and boy, did I pay the price…

Still, no matter. It’s never too late to change one’s ways, I suppose; so from now on, I’m going to start taking an interest in this sport called ‘football’.

For let’s face it: there are more advantages to being a football fan, than merely being able to get away with as many crimes as you like. This week, I also discovered that football is a game you can win without even playing. Which also makes it an automatic licence to party like there’s no tomorrow… even if there’s no actual ‘victory’ to celebrate, either.

This league that Floriana FC is supposed to have won this week, for instance: correct me if I’m wrong (remember that I’m kind of new to all this, myself)…. but… weren’t there supposed to be another six games, still to be played, when the competition was abruptly halted in early March? And weren’t there just three points separating the two teams at the top of the table?

By my count, then, there should have still been 18 whole points to be played for, before anything resembling ‘victory’ could be declared. But then again – in case I haven’t made this clear enough already – I never really understand this sport to begin with, and I probably never will.

Besides: far be it from me to dampen so much genuine enthusiasm, at a time of such universal fear and anxiety. If Floriana FC supporters are so passionate about their team that they’re even willing to risk their own (and everybody else’s) health, for the sake of a street party… let them, I say.

But it’s only fair that everyone else gets to enjoy the same perk from time to time. And now that it has been established – by the Malta Football Association, no less – that ‘playing the game’ is no longer a necessary pre-requisite for ‘winning the league’… how about we resort to the same decision-making process every year, instead of only when there’s a global health emergency?

Just think of all the advantages for a moment: not least, for the players themselves… who would be spared all the unnecessary exertion of actually having to run around on a football pitch for a full 90 minutes, every other week or so.

I’m sure we can all agree that it must be pretty darn tiring for those poor athletes. Hardly fair on them, is it, to go through so much physical strain… for a victory that just as easily be decided around a table, in a secret underground bunker, by people who will afterwards need the equivalent of a ‘witness-protection programme’ (plastic surgery and all)?

No, indeed: it would much simpler for all concerned to simply scrap the Premier League altogether, and just pull the name of the lucky winners out of a hat.

The real advantage of this new system, however, is that sooner or later, everybody else will get their own chance to celebrate, too. Because if the choice of league winner no longer depends on the results you get on the pitch… then it doesn’t really matter how – or even why – one particular team gets chosen instead of another.

In fact, we could even decide on a roster to cover all tomorrow’s Premier League results, today: so if Floriana FC got chosen this year… I guess it stands to reason that their rivals Valletta should be pre-emptively selected as next year’s winners. Then Hibs… Hamrun Spartans… Naxxar Lions… Xewkija Tigers… Tarxien Rainbows… Dingli Swallows… and so and so forth, until fans of every single Maltese football team finally get their own opportunity to celebrate their own imaginary victory, by collectively breaching the country’s (very real) social distancing rules.

Only fair, wouldn’t you say?

And on that note, allow me to end this article by pointing out that my car is currently parked further down my street (I can provide the exact co-ordinates to anyone who is interested); and my insurance policy just happens to be up for renewal anyway.

Oh, and I also have a spare jerry-can of petrol, in case you’ve run out; and I might even have a box of matches lying around somewhere.

There’s only one thing I’ll ask, however: before carrying out any arson attempts, please remove the cassette (yes, you read right: cassette) from the car stereo.

It’s an original copy of Led Zeppelin’s ‘The Song Remains the Same’ album, still fully functional more than two decades after I bought it...

And that, to me, makes it worth a lot more than the entire car.