The Sky football pundits – suitably coiffured, suited and booted (sadly, not into touch) – did their best to hype up the final afternoon of the English Premier League season. In the event, it rarely felt as though very much was at stake as qualification for the Champions League may be important for the accountants running football clubs but avoiding relegation is all about the hopes and fears of football fans.
However, there were, in fact, many questions to be answered. Would a blow to the side of the head adversely affect Daniel Sturridge or serve to remind him that matches usually last ninety minutes or so? Would Arsene Wenger get to emulate Steve McQueen without even getting his motorbike (OK, Vespa) out of the garage? If Garth Crooks felt uncomfortable, how would it be for those watching in widescreen? Would Conte satisfy John Terry, the Chelsea fans and those who can play football before coming to his senses and recognising that a defeat to David Moyes is like being floored by a feather?
None of these questions were as important as the really big one: who would win the end-of-season claret and blue jug?
In 1872, a silver claret jug was introduced for the winners of the Open Golf Championship. Ten years later Burnley decided to play football instead of rugby and, at the turn of the century, Thames Ironworks was relaunched as West Ham United. Why not institute a new trophy: the claret and blue jug? I mean, how much easier is it to get a ball in a net as opposed to hole?
Like Burnley, West Ham played in a claret and blue strip which had allegedly been ‘won’ after four Aston Villa players had challenged one of the Thames Ironworks coaches – Bill Dove – to a running race. Dove had soft-soaped them into placing bets on the results but hadn’t actually told them that he was a top-class sprinter. He easily won the race and, unable to pay up, one of the Villa players – who was in charge of washing the Villans’ kit supposedly offered him a full set instead.
Now, more than a hundred years later, Aston Villa are still living on hard times having taken ridiculous gambles on success against superior opposition (even local team West Brom play in a higher league than they do) and have now settled for mediocrity under Steve Bruce. So, they were not in the running for this year’s claret and blue jug which took place at Turf Moor.
Burnley had won ten matches at home and West Ham had lost nine of their matches away so, the result appeared to be as much of a foregone conclusion as Slaven Bilic’s eyes staying on the inside of his head.
Sam Vokes duly put Burnley ahead before pre-Brexit East End favourites Edimilson Fernandes and Andre Ayew combined to give Sofiane Feghouli a Hammers equaliser. Ayew showed an Independent streak (‘I am. Ayew?) to score the winner for West Ham, just 18 minutes from time and just nine goals worse on goal difference from finishing in the top 10 (a position held by, yes, West Brom!).
Burnley finished 16th – which is their highest league placing since 1975 – and, more importantly, not 18th, 19th or 20th. They were equal on 40 points with Watford who followed their successful strategy of replacing relative success with distant Italian cousin, three times removed.
Sean Dyche took his jacket off to his adoring fan who was celebrating the claret and blue jug win and announced to nobody else that: “”Recruitment is a massive thing, that is going to be massive over the summer.”
Michael Keane was probably thinking exactly the same thing.
Meanwhile, West Ham’s owners shared the extra cash they earned for coming 11th by commissioning new trophies of their own: the Karen Brady PR Cups.
Sadly, as with the claret and blue jug, they are unlikely to be awarded to football’s winners.