The European Super League? Of course, some British newspaper columnists will love it — they never get relegated either

A rigged game where even mediocre players get rewarded? Sounds like the British media to me.

I should have realised that at least a few newspaper columnists would come out in favour of the European Super League (ESL) — twelve footballing ‘big beasts’ breaking away to form their own midweek competition and throwing a whole box of spanners into their national leagues.

Given the almost universal distaste for the ESL idea from fans, other clubs, politicians and most of the media, the temptation for controversialist columnists to say it’s a fantastic plan is huge. But there’s another reason that the British commentariat could find it in their hearts to love the ESL — they’re already playing in their own version.

With a limited number of slots available, little viable competition, and almost no chance of being relegated once you’re promoted to the comment pages, British columnists have been in a super league for years. Besides an occasional transfer or the promotion of a promising young big mouth to the first team, the same columnists slouch onto the pitch week after week, year after year, kicking around the same topics with ever-decreasing enthusiasm.

David Aaronovitch is like Arsenal — still harking back to the big seasons of the late-90s and early-00s, regularly nutmegged by smaller teams on Twitter. Giles Coren, a legacy player who only scores sitters, hasn’t really got the temperament for management, and is far less interesting than his legendary father is the Nigel Clough of being a clattering prick. Meanwhile, over at The Daily Telegraph, Christopher Hope is Chelsea because he loves (royal) yachts and has no class.

Elsewhere there’s Adrian Chiles, a plucky lower league player dragged into the top flight after some interesting performances but really only in the first team because the club needs to justify the expenditure and he’s very close to the manager. Brendan O’Neill remains the league’s West Ham — constantly shrugging off racism scandals and picking up column topics from other teams when they’re long past their best; only knows one way to play.

And I have to say, Jeff, there’s been some wild moves out of the academies and in the transfer market this season. Odd decision by the gaffer at The Times, bringing young James Marriott into the first team. Yes, he put in some strong performances for the Books section reserves, but can he regularly put up points in the Controversialist’s Cup? I’m not convinced.

Suzanne Moore moved from The Guardian to The Daily Telegraph as a free agent. It made sense to link her up with old teammate Julie Burchill, especially as Bites Yer Legs Burchill has lost a yard of pace after that wreckless racist challenge on Navara’s sensational young striker Ash Sarkar.

Relegation and promotion would 100% improve the moribund state of the British commentator class. Just picture it now: A muggy afternoon in early May and the pubs fill with comment fans picking over the media sections for transfer news. Will Marina Hyde finally make that big-money deal to join The Times?

Could John Crace make a last-minute recovery after a mediocre season, avoiding the drop zone as Jan Moir, the Leeds United of ugly insinuations, finally crashes out of the top flight? Or will he be spending next season writing parliamentary sketches for the Colchester Gazette?

And whither Richard Littlejohn and Rod Liddle, the slur slinging strikers who must surely be close to retirement? How can their ageing knees handle all that kneeling to kiss the boot?

Let’s take a look at last night’s efforts from the big kickers of the columnist super league. First up Giles Coren putting in a predictably pedestrian performance that would get anyone else benched. Returning to an old tactic — calling everyone other than him ‘thick’ — Giles misses the goal entirely and sends the ball high into the stands. He writes:

After nearly three years of deliberashuns, the International (Internashunal, surely?) English Spelling Congress has voted for a noo set of spelling rools, called Traditional Spelling Revised (TSR), to “become the new norm”, eliminating silent letters such as the “w” in “wrong” and making changes to up to 18 per cent of words, “making English easier to learn” on the back of news that 200,000 children will leave primary school this year unable to read and write properly.

So, yeah, fine, go on, lower the bar. That’s the way they do it in education now. Too many thick kids leaving our schools? Then redefine “thick” and, woohoo, you’ve got a generation of geniuses.

The annoying thing is, I am good at spelling. Always was. If you take it away then what is there left for me to be good at? Because I was rubbish at maths, physics, geog... hang on. If they’re simplifying spelling, then surely they must do the same with maths. The younger me would have been laughing.

If Coren’s boss John Witherow was serious about freshening up his squad, he’d be putting serious pressure on the columnist at training. Particularly as the player ends his latest outing by blatantly questioning why he and not his wife Esther has a permanent spot in the starting eleven:

Below the line on Saturday, readers mourned its passing and clamoured for more from Esther, observing that she is right about everything and much funnier than I am. “Why on earth,” they asked, “should we care what her stupid husband has for lunch?”

And, you know, as I rinsed off my liver, tucked in my belly and clipped on my bib to head out for work this week at one of the restaurants now taking outside bookings, I found myself wondering the same thing.

Still, that’s Coren’s act — combining Ibrahimovic-style arrogance with Ali Da-style dismal delivery.

Elsewhere in The Times’ squad, Melanie Phillips has a run-out and plays the same long balls and bigotry style she’s been offering up since the 90s. Her attempt to score against the Oscars once again reveals her fundamental unfitness.

Having decided before she started that the Oscar nominees this year are woke rubbish, she overstretches to ‘prove’ it:

One front-runner, Nomadland, is about itinerant Americans scrabbling to rebuild their shattered lives in a shattered country. Another, Minari, is about an immigrant Korean family whose farm produce is destroyed in a barn fire.

The plot of Mank boils down to “bleeding-heart liberal Hollywood writer revolts against movie moguls’ attempt to silence leftist anti-poverty campaigner”. Promising Young Woman is yet another hyper-feminist drama about taking revenge on violent men.

The Father is about a man stricken by dementia. Judas and the Black Messiah is about the betrayal of one Black Panther leader by another. And The Trial of the Chicago Seven is about radical leftists and, yet again, Black Panthers, put on trial in 1969 by a risibly vindictive legal and political system.

Many of these films undoubtedly possess sterling qualities, including magnificent acting or clever scripts. But what is there in this list to make the spirit soar, or provide a cinematic experience that millions of people actually want?

To ‘McCarthyite’ Mel everything looks like creeping communism. How would she have described 1967’s groundbreaking (and multi-Oscar nominated) comedy-drama Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? “More radical leftist nonsense about so-called racism…”

Phillips’ column continues:

Many of these films undoubtedly possess sterling qualities, including magnificent acting or clever scripts. But what is there in this list to make the spirit soar, or provide a cinematic experience that millions of people actually want?

As the American TV host Bill Maher savagely noted: “The 2021 Oscars, brought to you by razor blades, Kleenex and rope. Please welcome our host, the sad emoji.” Hollywood, he reminded us, once knew how to make a movie that was about something…

… Why would millions want instead to tune into an agenda remote from or actively hostile to their own lives, promoted by an unrepresentative elite effectively talking to itself and hectoring everyone else?

What she really wants to say is that she doesn’t understand why anyone would want to watch so many films about people that aren’t white and aren’t of the right. When she — and Bill Maher — snidely suggest that the nominated movies are not about anything, they’re actually saying: “I don’t care about these things.”

That Phillips’ best example of a ‘good’ film that received Oscar nominations in the past is Titanic tells you all you need to know about her position. She doesn’t want to watch things that make her think or challenge her positions, and she certainly doesn’t want to hear about the lives of left-wing people or anyone a shade darker than Dairylea.

Over at The Telegraph, Sherelle Jacobs, a journeywoman in the columnist super league, delivers another plodding performance with a column rehashing her usual Covid ‘sceptic’ act. Celia Walden attempts a one-two with her striking partner (and husband) Piers Morgan by wanging on about things she deems ‘woke’ once again — with the added force of making it a scare story for parents.

The Guardian fields the workhorse, Zoe Williams, on Tory sleaze, wildcard sub Robin Carhart-Harris on using psychedelics to treat depression, and John Harris, a centrist midfielder unaccountably still in possession of a Britpop haircut, with his familiar moves on the Left and Thatcher.

The Sun drafts in a big-money transfer to cover the European Super League story as Boris Johnson contributes an op-ed. He’s got form as an unreliable player for The Daily Telegraph but he’s moved into management — bringing his club, the United Kingdom, out of European competition while delivering a run of bad performances at home.

Adrian Chiles also appears on loan from The Guardian with a galumphing effort in mid-field, firing off the usual moans about the lot of the humble football fan.

Finally, over at The Daily Mail — the Manchester United of British media, with a groaning trophy cabinet, unpleasant set of players, and unaccountably large fan base — the usual squad of dirty-tackling, duckers and divers is deployed.

Dan Wootton man marks the Royal Family again with his usual mix of snidery and superciliousness, Littlejohn lumbers onto the pitch to cover the ESL story — brought in from his training ground in Florida — and Sarah Vine once again fails to justify her wage bill, while Piers Morgan showboats to little effect with an attempt to tackle the younger, nimbler Demi Lovato.

Like many Premier League games, today’s batch of columns provides mediocre performances and few goals with only the obscenely well-paid players and their (often foreign) proprietors benefitting. Just imagine how relegation would liven up their efforts. They might even think about the readers now and then.

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Thanks to John Hill for inspiring this edition and supplying several of the best jokes. You’ll probably spot which ones they are.