A Love Letter to Super Sunday
Since its launch in 1993, the show has transcended football to become a ritual that has woven its way into the hungover fabric of British public life.
Illustration: Dan Evans
Here he comes: stumbling into view past the cab rank, still wrapped in Friday’s clothes like a piece of battered fish. This sleep-starved reminder of every late-night mistake you've ever made is the new idiot-king of English high street Sundays, an oversexed post-millennial pariah with karoshi sinuses and the tang of blood and metal on his tongue. There is something about him that just works in these angst-ridden, panic-rich times, that suits the violent grey ambience of a nation perpetually stuck on low battery charge.
Yes, it's him: the man with the dancing face, pockets full of mystery keys and curling notes, fresh from the harrowing jungle warfare that constitutes modern British nightlife.
Which isn't to do him down too much. After all, we have all at some stage been, or been close to, this poor maniac, which is why we all know where he will end up this weekend, when late autumn's sullen sepia haze falls upon the country like a spell for the first real endurance test of the Premier League season. Yes: it's a four-game Super Sunday, a life-destroying pub carnival featuring five of the so-called "Big Six", stretched across a day in which there is more football than there is sleep, more football than there is daylight, eight ridiculous hours in the Fosters fartbox.
"Pub" is quite a strange word, isn't it. Short. Dismissive. Curvaceous. Motherly. At the same time, it can mean an endless number of things depending on what stage in life you happen to find yourself at. These days, it's a word used as much to describe glorified restaurants where the kids' parties outnumber the session lagers as it is smelly, dark rooms full of old navvies quietly drinking themselves to death.
On Super Sunday, though, "pub" can only mean one thing. It’s a mid-table kind of pub, the sort of place you rock up to at 11AM with a Super Sunday soul like an empty and pocket-crushed Lambert & Butler ten-deck, eating Super Sunday stone-baked pizza for breakfast, lunch and dinner with a revolving cast of increasingly worried Super Sunday friends, pushing your debit card further and further into the red because the banks can’t stop you as long as it’s Super Sunday.
It is not, if this needed saying, an especially happy way to live a life. But it can feel weirdly transgressive, suddenly coming-to ten-pints deep with no sleep in your veins and the drizzle in your face as you suck on a shoddy rolly with no one for company bar the sporadic Sunday night traffic. Work in the morning. That simmering pre-Monday dread. There are reminders of it everywhere on God's favourite day, yet at a time when being employed in the UK can feel more and more like being milked, riding the Super Sunday wave from start to crashing finish occasionally seems like a genuine act of civil disobedience, albeit one that could only ever harm you and sadden and disappoint everyone you know.
Thank god they lost the La Liga rights.
Super Sunday has been going, now, for 26 years. Outside of smartphones, Dec and cocaine, it's hard to think of anything that has managed to make itself as indivisible from the national culture in that time. The mainstay of Sky's Premier League coverage has grown in tandem with the most avidly consumed division on Earth, and it all began here, in a blaze of itbox graphics and shaky camera pans, tantalising us with two-yard Ian Rush headers and a glimpse of the Trent, singing to us like an idiot "thiiis iiis iiit, heeere weee gooo", promising us that weekends would never be the same again:
Since then, it's endlessly upgraded itself. It's survived sexism scandals and competition from Setanta, BT, Iraq Goals and ESPN, refined its ergonomic appeal to the point of high art and basically invented the concept of Hunter's chicken. It’s ruined songs by Moloko, Texas, Tinie Tempah and Andreas Johnson, executed rugby and exiled the hairy man, enveloped so many of the best games in living memory. It's reconfigured the English high street and sired an unfathomable number of taxi rides, break-ups and hangovers in the process. It has sent Andy Gray to go and live in the desert.
Are these good or bad things? Who knows; it’s all part of the service. A sanctuary for fanatics and a refuge for the loveless, Super Sunday isn’t something you can really engage with fully if there are enough people in the world who care about you. Sometimes those all-day football pub odysseys can feel a little like dogging with pints, another sordid and largely vicarious national ritual performed by lonely, panting obsessives in the liminal space between private and public life.
And it’s not done yet. This weekend's offering looks an awful lot like a classic of the genre, one that could tick all the emotional boxes.
At midday, schadenfreude, with the likely evisceration of Tim Ream's collapsing clown-car Fulham by a Liverpool side that will surely be out for blood after Tuesday's limp Champions League defeat to Red Star. Next, the genuine intrigue of Chelsea-Everton, the former on the cusp of overtaking Liverpool as everyone's second shouts for the title, the latter utterly revitalised now that they have Richarlison, the best shark in the world at football, playing up front. In the double header at 4:30PM, Arsenal – for so long painted as a team of emotionally enfeebled drama school geeks – will host Wolves and the ghost of Eduardo just days after Danny Welbeck's horrible injury on the same pitch, with the Manchester derby not a bad way to complete the set.
Even if none of the expected drama comes to pass, even if this Super Sunday serves up a quartet of dreary nil-nils, it has still done more than enough to feel like the purest distillation of the Premier League experience there is, the competition at its most potent and protective, a port in the storm of life for loyal and hungover partisans to converge upon and piss away the day to. When last night's excess is starting to curdle into anxiety in the bloodstream, it can be tempting to wonder if "catastrophically hungover" is actually the emotional state that makes the most sense for watching English football, turning what would otherwise be a perfectly pleasant drink in the pub into a drawn-out hostage situation that drastically heightens those tribal senses of jeopardy and stress, harnessing your wild-eyed gaze, making you pray for the vicarious kick of victory to anaesthetise the living hell of last night's bad decisions and the dreaded Monday mourn to come.