‘The ugly game’ is back – and nothing could be more beautiful

Image: Distinct Athlete

This has been a long summer, but we’re on the final stretch. We have muddled through almost three months without competitive club football, pretending to our loved ones that a heat wave makes up for the cold void left within us. But next weekend the EFL returns to our lives, and normality will resume.

Some would have you believe that the football season does not truly resume until the Premier League gets underway, with the world’s top players back in action. However, these poor souls live sheltered lives.

They would rather watch a technical masterclass from the likes of Kevin de Bruyne than see Charlie Adam flying into tackles for Blackburn. They prefer Spurs’ patient build up play to bombardments of diagonal passes towards Adebayo Akinfenwa, Oli Hawkins, James Collins, or any other journeyman target man who comes to mind. They would appreciate skill from opponents on television, rather than spend 90 minutes hurling abuse from the stands at the anonymous players.

Image: The Telegraph

Imagine living in that world. I simply could not stomach it. Give me 90 minutes of head tennis between genetically enhanced centre-halves any day of the week. In fact, inject it into my veins.

Joking aside, I am making a serious point here. I love watching lower league football for the same reason that football was given the tongue in cheek nickname ‘the beautiful game’ in the 1970s and 80s despite the fact that many matches were less free-flowing than the average bout in the UFC.

There is a time and a place for technical skill, but ultimately there is nothing more inspiring than unbridled passion. The commitment of players who play every game seeking to win a contract; fighting for their very livelihoods, is sadly not matched by the majority of those at the top level, whose coffers are overfilled whether or not they stretch for that fifty-fifty challenge.

Image: Plymouth Argyle FC

Frustrating though it can often be when mistakes are repeatedly made, viewers of  lower league football can almost always go home in the knowledge that the will to win on the terraces was matched on the pitch. They see themselves in their teams’ players: hard working individuals who do everything in their power to keep their families off the breadline, whose entire outlook is defined by 90 minutes on a Saturday afternoon.

After all, that is why we so often see cup shocks when better technical players are overcome by honest grafters. In the end, there is no substitute for passion and hard work.

And in a week’s time we will be in the stands witnessing the passion first hand. No matter how much money top clubs throw around, football will always be 22 unknown men scrapping for their  lives on a muddy field. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.