‘Canceling Christmas’ and Poppygate: Premier League Guide for New Arrivals

‘Canceling Christmas’ and Poppygate: Premier League Guide for New Arrivals

Thursday, 23 August, 2018 - 06:45
A poppy design is displayed in the crowd as players and officials line up for a minute’s silence prior to a Premier League match between Leicester City and Everton. (Getty Images)
London – Marina Hyde
Welcome, talented football player from Abroad! As one of our age-old sayings goes: to be signed to an English Premier League side is to win first prize in the lottery of life. There is some dispute as to whether you now play in the biggest league on earth, or the best league on Earth, or the richest league on Earth, or the most relentlessly self-dramatizing league on Earth. But you almost definitely play in the somethingest league on Earth. Congrats!

Crucially, you’ve decided to ply your trade in the country that was most instrumental in winning the second world war. What do you mean, you thought you’d just played a World Cup there this summer? No. Not at all. Please don’t make that mistake again. Perfectly naturally, the war is still a big part of top-flight football over here, and the likely first flashpoint for you to navigate will come in the buildup to Remembrance Day in November.

It has long has been deemed that the most respectful way to honor those who died to ensure our freedom is to spend the month in advance screamingly policing whether this club – or indeed that club – is going to embroider a poppy into its strip for the fixtures closest to that date. Of course, even after that, the illusion of choice remains – you, player from another land, can choose to opt out of wearing the poppied strip.

And that’s totally cool. All that will happen is a journalist from the Daily Telegraph or Daily Mail will find out what country you come from, and write 1,500 words on what they didn’t do in the war. Uruguay? URUGUAY?! They didn’t do anything in the war. Furthermore, you will be unable to so much as visit the supermarket without having a photographer almost literally up in your grill, providing pictures to accompany more #content suggesting that you insult our war dead.

On a related note, don’t make even a minor fuss about anything to do with your job anywhere near one of the dates of the major battles in the first world war. You will discover that the most reasonable point many will care to make in rejoinder is that you would have been crap at the Somme, or Ypres, or whatever it is. So decide how much you mind about fixture congestion, or whatever it is. And then decide whether you’d mind more about standing two foot deep in mud, in a trench, having not slept since March. If the answer’s yes, keep your gently-voiced criticism in the vault.

Anyway: fixture congestion. One of the most insane things about your new homeland is that you may be required to play in the Premier League a mere 48 hours before you might be required to play in the Champions League. I know! Crazy. They’re basically asking you to pull a sporting all-nighter. You’re like the Keith Richards of football. Will it kill you? There’s simply not enough research currently available to be sure. Still: make a will before you undertake this for the first time.

Speaking of the fixture list, do you like Christmas? Oh dear. Not only will you be playing on Boxing Day, but you may be at one of the clubs whose early-December run of form is so unsatisfactory that you will learn – again from the newspapers – that the manager has “canceled Christmas”.

Other quirks? At most places of work, someone showing you the ropes will murmur: “Oh that’s Pete, he’s been there a long time, he goes off on one a lot but no one takes any notice.” Our Pete is José Mourinho. You need to understand that everyone is completely bored with his nonsense, and will consequently talk about him more than anything else, including their own families, for as long as he’s around.

At the same time, other managers will attempt to style themselves as the grownup in the room, by saying things like: “Why is [insert rival manager’s name] even talking about us? I am not even going to talk about why [rival manger] is talking about us. I am focused only on talking about how I am not even going to talk about how [rival manager] is talking about us.”

The average emotional age of a press-conferencing Premier League manager is 12. Given that someone like Jürgen Klopp’s emotional age is his actual age, you need to think what that means about the lower end of the scale.

So all that remains of our crash course is vocabulary. Don’t worry. Given it’s your third language, your English will be excellent, but you will still be foxed by terms such as “on the brink” and “mind games”. The trick to these is that the words in them don’t mean what those words usually mean. Take “the brink”. The brink can be vast, easily dwarfing the Arctic shelf. It can take months to traverse the brink. The aforementioned Mourinho was sighted on the brink a couple of weeks ago – but he could be there for some time.

So those are the basics. Regard them all as charming idiosyncrasies, or be judged as having failed to “settle”. I know the badges say something different, but the real motto of every Premier League club is exactly the same. “It’s not us; it’s you.”

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