Whisper it quietly when fans are around, but football is meaningless. It may be fun, it may even be exciting, but placing a spherical object into large oblong space means nothing.
That is of course if you are a Newcastle United or Arsenal fan this weekend. And that is in turn because all of the inventions created to give meaning to football have failed those clubs this spring.
For now 18 of England’s top twenty clubs can be pleased their existence is not futile. Watford, Boro, Spurs, Chelsea, ManU, Liverpool, and Blackburn can all still win a trophy. The rest of the division can fight for a Uefa Cup place at one end of the table, or for survival at the other.
Trophies are of course the nicety of Football meaning. Be they a cup or a title they offer a mention in historical almanacs, and some cause for celebration at the time. But both their forms fail too many clubs each year.
Cup football struggles. After all, it depends on eliminating all but two teams before it ends. And while other fans might show passing interest in the eventually winner, their own team is what really fires their hearts.
So behind the cups we establish leagues. Leagues last longer and knock no one out on a dismal Thursday night in March. And with relegation, a trophy, and degrees of European qualification, the Premiership offers plenty to play for.
But while no side will be knocked out, many will become the walking dead.
Arsenal’s season didn’t finish with cup defeat, it finished with a fluke winner against a poor Villa side on Wednesday night. That win effectively secured a top four finish with no prospect of coming first. Newcastle meanwhile face more dire a conclusion - Safe from relegation, but well out of reach of Uefa Cup football next year.
Both sides must now play out nine meaningless games while thinking about next season. And they won’t be alone for long.
Wins for Fulham, Wigan, or Villa this weekend would make them undead as they pull clear of relegation. Defeat for Blackburn or Portsmouth would probably see sixth place slip beyond their reach too. A bad set of results for West Ham would finish them, and on Monday Boro could be turned by defeat at Old Trafford. Zombies were once most prevalent in the lower divisions of English football. Promotion and relegation interested at most a dozen teams in April, with minimal ongoing cup involvement.
But undead beware, the lower leagues took action. They created the play offs and it worked. The play offs extended the prospect of promotion to sixth place. And that in turn meant fewer comfortable strolls for the team in second, and more to play for for the team in ninth.
The same format should have stretched to relegation, with four teams playing two semi-finals, and the losers then playing the final. Were that the case today not one Championship team would relax right now.
There is no promotion from the Premier league, but a Champions League place for fourth place. Put that to a play off and finishing seventh or third would then mean something. Arsenal and Newcastle would be alive again.
That might not be fair, and some zombies may object, but it would be interesting. It would foster greater excitement. And it would therefore serve the purpose of all football competitions. To give the beautiful game meaning.