OK, so Jermain Defoe didn’t win the Sports Personality of the Year, but he’ll surely be knighted in the New Year's Honours so we can postpone the flags till then. Besides, it’s Christmas - the season of goodwill - and there’s been some good stuff going round the world of football to strike a positive tone at this time of year.
No more so than Rio Ferdinand, who’s pledged £500,000 worth of toys and gifts to a Manchester children’s charity. Top man. On a smaller scale but still warming the cockles was the gesture by Yeovil Town management and players to stick £300 behind the bar at Carlisle United so that their 96 travelling supporters could enjoy a pie and a pint on the Club. Either prices at Carlisle are very competitive or someone at Yeovil couldn’t do the math, but lets not be picky – it was a great gesture and in the current climate of excess, egos and salaries, it’s nice to remember it’s still primarily a community sport.
Also generous - as they always are at this time of year - were Arsenal, who dropped from first to fourth in the space of a week after going ahead but then ultimately losing against both Everton and Manchester City, and I just don’t get it.
It happens every year – a bit like Christmas, strangely enough. They start off strongly, ‘this is going to be the year’, everyone’s positive, they play free-flowing, attractive football, get consistent, good results, and then it gets dark. And cold.
And it all goes wrong. They get turned over by teams that harry and hassle them, their away form suffers - especially if they have to travel ‘up north’ - and they then go out of the Champions League at the first round of the knockout stage, only to finish the season on a flurry when the light and temperature picks up again.
Now I know nothing about football, but surely as a manager you would see this happening year on year and do something about it? Maybe get some players in who were born north of the Tropic of Cancer, who don’t need to wear gloves in October, or have a hibernation clause inserted into their contracts?
Either that, or buy a few rockets to insert in the appropriate places.
Arsène Wenger’s contract is up at the end of this season and the decision whether or not to extend it will depend on an assessment of his performance. His team are now nine points behind Chelsea. I bet I know what he wants for Christmas.
And it wouldn’t be Wenger if he didn’t rail against the injustices of defeat – in the case of Manchester City, two offside goals. I haven’t seen the game so can’t specifically comment, but we’ve all seen bad decisions that turn games – offside goals, bad penalty decisions, harsh red cards and so on. So why is it therefore that clubs can appeal a red card and stand a chance of getting it rescinded, but not an offside goal?
One day. One day, all this football stuff will make sense. That’ll be the day Sunderland win the Champions League, beating Accrington Stanley in the final played before a virtual reality crowd of 350,000 holograms in the Ulan Bator stadium. And I can't wait.
Antonio Conte meanwhile has voiced his concern over the spending power of the Chinese Super League after Oscar was poached in a £60 million deal to play for Shanghai SIPC – yes, the ‘Mighty SIP’s’ as they are almost universally known absolutely nowhere.
He’ll be joining Graziano Pellè, who flickered on and off for Southampton a couple of seasons ago, pissed off the Italian national coach and retreated to Shandong Luneng – yes, the ‘Mighty Shand….’ never mind, where he’ll earn £34 million in the next two and a half years. Thirty four million pounds. That’s £260,000 per week – after tax. Oscar is set to earn £350,000 per week. That’s not just unbelievable, that’s obscene.
Oscar has come under criticism for throwing his career away with the move. Unlike some of his contemporaries, he's relatively young at 25 with arguably his best years ahead of him. Already a millionaire, he could spend the next 4 or 5 years earning £8 million a year and still go to China at thirty, when no doubt, the rewards will even be greater.
He may be sidelined at Chelsea, but he could grace any Champions League side and pit his talent against the best in the world. Or he could go and play in a country that recently lost a World Cup qualifier - to Syria. Go Syria.
There were associated parallels drawn with Wayne Rooney, who may or may not end his career in China, and it brought up the story of when Manchester United played a pre-season friendly against FC Shenzhen in 2007. It emerged later that the referee for the game took a bribe of $100,000 – to fix the coin toss.
First off – how do you fix a coin toss? One guy calls it, you throw it in the air, it lands on the ground, you all look at it, jobs a good ‘un. How do you fix that?
Secondly, what sort of betting jungle do they have out there where they’ll pay good money to fix the coin toss of a friendly? And what will the integrity of the game be like when the power-base shifts to China as it looks likely to do so in the future?
So, Bournemouth met Southampton in the Premier League this week, in what the papers inevitably called ‘the south coast derby’, and this got me thinking – what is it that constitutes a ‘derby’? Is it just proximity? I mean, Rangers vs Celtic, Sunderland vs Newcastle are what spring to mind when you mention ‘derbies’. But Bournemouth vs Southampton?
I looked up the definition and a match is called a ‘derby’ when the two teams in the game are both from the same town, city or region. However, this depends on where you live. Some of the best derbies I’ve seen were between Montreal and Toronto – they’re in different states, eight hours apart by road, and speak different languages but there’s no mistaking the fact that they’re a real derby.
So I guess we need a different definition of a Bournemouth-Southampton type derby where the edge is supplied by the fact that one town has the better shopping facilities, and the other type of derby where the rivalry transcends just sport, encompassing economic, political, religious and cultural differences that may go back hundreds of years. We need a new name for those type of derbies. Something maybe with a little more intensity.
My choice would be ‘confrontation’ - descriptive, albeit a tad incendiary perhaps, but it works for me.
Every Christmas the media sum up the previous twelve months with articles trying to put into context what‘s happened over the year. For their part, the BBC commissioned a historian to look at the big changes that came in during 2016 and to find another year in history to compare to the changes we’d seen.
He came up with 1848, a year of revolution in Europe, of huge social and political change. I then read the piece about FIFA, fining the home nations for wearing poppies on their shirts in the recent internationals, and realised – we still have a week left of 2016 to tell them where they can stick it.