Every year feels like a seminal year for football when you're right there in the moment, screaming at screens, sulking in the evening rain, fantasising on fogged-up buses. Usually, though, all it takes is for a season or two to slide by and suddenly all the record-breaking results and seismic shifts of yesteryear start to drift from memory, to seem far less consequential.
Take 2019, for example. Sure, ten long years have passed since then, but things were happening this very month a decade ago that we really ought to remember with more clarity. Things like Jürgen Klopp's imperious Liverpool side equalling the best ever start to a Premier League campaign, or Southampton suffering what was then the joint worst defeat in the history of the division, taking a 0-9 thumping off of Leicester City. In Europe, Lionel Messi had just scored in the Champions League for an unprecedented 15th season in a row, the Argentinian 32 years old at this stage and firmly ensconced in the era of his career when he was making so much history each week there was basically no chance anyone would ever be able to remember it all.
Generally, though, it's not the living legends or the freak results that tend to slip fastest from the memory – it's all the little things about that era's football-watching experience, the mad subplots, supporting characters and eccentric details, that are most liable to vanish without a trace. So, without further ado, here's a list of seven things you'll only remember if you watched Premier League football avidly back in 2019 – a year when Erling Braut Håland emerged to consign his dad's Google ranking to the dustbin of history forever, and people realised "Dani Olmo" wasn’t the name of an obscure 1980s Balkan synth-pop star, when men were men, headers were legal, refs were human and "playing it out from the back" was as fashionable as worrying about telephones.
YOU WERE AN EXPERT AT CLOSING POP-UP ADVERTS
If you aren't old enough to remember pop-ups, they were essentially like wasps for people who never left the house; dozens of them swarming your screen as you tried in vain to stream the early Sunday kick-off, forcing you to visit innumerable strange, arcane and often horrible websites before you'd even had breakfast, terrifying nervous dads who'd wonder if their laptop might actually be as ridden with viruses as the bad people at "MacKeeper" insisted it was, awakening peculiar desires in a generation of young men and women who'd never entertained any ideas about "elf porn" before.
Who made the pop-ups, no one was sure – but the shadowy figures no doubt operating out of some dank, dark basement were hell-bent on ensuring you spent half an hour each week, two hours every month, one full day each calendar year, clicking a series of tiny little Xs for the privilege of watching Serge Aurier give away yet another absurdly stupid penalty.
'THE VOICE OF GEOFF SHREEVES'
Something jarring and unorthodox would occur down by the touchline. A defender leaves the field of play without another coming on to replace him; a kit man is filmed weeping into his jacket sleeve; two managers are separated in the technical area. Chaos would erupt and confusion would reign, until the oracle was summoned, his name descending as an ALL CAPS graphic from the heaven that exists just above every Sky Sports-tuned TV screen.
In would wade THE VOICE OF GEOFF SHREEVES to pierce the pandemonium and tell us that one manager had called the other a bottle of old wank, or that the kit man's dog died yesterday, or that the defender merely needed to shit. Shreeves served a generation in the highly niche role of "touchline reporter", a man charged with loitering near the mouth of a retractable plastic tunnel, waiting for stupid things to happen to childish millionaires. For that, he deserves to be remembered in perpetuity.
YOU MUTTERED DARK CURSES ABOUT STOCKLEY PARK
Sellafield. Pitsham Farm. Salisbury Zizzi. Dixon's Chimney. Stockley Park. The 2019/20 season was the first in which VAR was introduced to the Premier League, a move that transformed a previously unassuming business estate somewhere on the outskirts of west London into a site of real British occult potential, its name invoked endlessly on late-night talk radio phone-ins and in the backrooms of pubs, as anyone who loved football for its unstructured chaos united in outright contempt for Stockley Park.
For a while, it felt like the VAR hub was the place where everything great about football went to die, a complex full of pedantic officials endlessly rewinding and fast-forwarding innocuous tackles and borderline offside decisions until they saw something they could penalise. Up and down the land, joyous goal celebrations were cut short before they'd even begun, stadium crowds left in states of anxious purgatory as they awaited the verdict of whichever unaccountable minion had been chosen to stare into a computer monitor on a scrub of reclaimed wasteland somewhere near Heathrow Airport.
Until it was finally brought to heel years later, VAR was able to rampage unchecked as a kind of vengeful spoilsport god, a malevolent force ruining weekends nationwide from the untouchable safety of its concrete kingdom.
YOU WONDERED ABOUT THE LIVES OF LIVESTREAM CHAT BOX TROLLS
The most pathetic and piteous figures of the era, there existed in 2019 a burgeoning international class of fan who'd spend their lives pummelling insults into the chat boxes that lived on the same pages as illegal Premier League broadcast streams. This wasn't like Twitter, where everyone had their own permanent profile to tend, their own agenda to push. This was people with temporary logins committing arbitrary digital violence against total and untraceable strangers, each tirade visible for a few seconds max before it was wiped from the screen forever by more volleys of bile. Why anyone would want to devote their weekends to this, it felt hard to say at the time. A look around at the state of things ten years on perhaps makes that task easier.
YOU GREW DESENSITISED TO CORNER FLAG HATE MOBS
In retrospect, it's strange that these zones were allowed to remain so lawless for so long. If you were watching a broadcast of pretty much any Premier League game in 2019, it was impossible not to notice how the first several rows behind any corner flag would suddenly devolve into a feral pit of mob seething whenever an opposition player approached.
Floppy-haired dads, floppy-haired kids, hungover party girls, avuncular Sikhs, fleece-wearing Oxbridge students, crippled nans – no matter who you were, the corner flags in those days seemed to radiate an invisible forcefield that transformed anyone within their reach into a Medieval serf at a public execution, resulting in a televised bonanza of X-rated mime, flung bottle caps, leering iPhones, the spit that lives in the corner of angry people's mouths and obligatory wanker signs. It's one of those things you never really realise you'll miss.
YOU WORRIED ABOUT ALAN BRAZIL
Remember back before the Great Purge, when old racists used to get wound up when you called them "gammon"? Alan Brazil, the talkSPORT presenter and celebrity pisshead, was never a great fit for this demographic, mainly because his face was far redder than boiled ham should ever be; Bloody Mary or Ketchup Face would have been a better epithet, maybe even Lord Raspberry or Grapemate when he'd been on the sauce and in the sun long enough to go purple.
As concerns about the climate crisis grew to a cacophonous pitch, Brazil's face acted as a disquieting cypher for a burning world, an abominable red sphere in the hues of which it was possible to detect evidence of humanity's most indulgent and damaging excesses. Alan was 70 earlier this year.
YOU WERE ON COCAINE
And that's fine, everyone was; not just those whose lives revolved around football – and who'd fuel up on lines and bumps in stadium cubicles, the midst of Super Sunday all-dayers, laddy 5AM sesh rants – but people at every level and in every echelon of British society.
In 2019, coke had overcome every class barrier there was to hurdle, as gratuitously available in private members' clubs as it was in shabby Irish drinking hovels, the city street drug that made its way out to the suburbs and then, via the dark web, into English country gardens, the Scottish Highlands and the Welsh valleys.
The Premier League was a perfect conduit and even a subliminal advocate for its consumption; a ceaseless rolling machine of tribal noise and stimulant hype that mirrored and intensified the drug's effects and that, along with a relatively unchecked betting industry, helped join the dots and connect the network that sent coke supernova across the rupturing kingdom. Nowhere was left untouched. Not even Stockley Park…