The Premier League's vain attempt to clamp down on internet streams of its 3pm Saturday kick-offs was destined for failure, and even the illicit thrill of that forbidden fruit has started to wear off. Now, any supporter of a top-flight club who has the patience to click on the hundred or so minuscule Xs to get the adverts out of the way (isn't it amazing just how many above-average looking single women live in my area and would like to chat right at that very moment?), can enjoy each and..........[buffering - please wait]....every game in the comfort of their own mid-afternoon filth. Even Tony Gale's co-commentary-by-numbers isn't enough to switch off the laptop and watch normal telly.
If you're lucky enough to be too busy for that, there's always 101 Great Goals on hand to provide the day's goals (but, oddly, often only the replays of them) courtesy of Russian TV coverage. By 10.25pm, you're laughing in the face of the newsreader who warns you that the scores are about to be reported, and contemplating not bothering with Match of the Day because your team were held to a pixellated 1-1 draw at home to West Brom and you've seen that 35-yard goal-of-the-season contender in the Southampton game on a mobile goals app.
What I'm trying to say here is that we're watching too much football. When was the last time you were genuinely awe-struck in a televised game? Zlatan Ibrahimovic's long-range jujitsu goal against England, perhaps. Players are arguably more technically gifted than ever before - and certainly stronger and faster - but the crucial mystique factor has been diminished. The 1990s drip-feed of foreign talent - when we could only catch a glimpse of Serie A's finest by either watching Gazzetta Football Italia on Saturday mornings or playing Championship Manager Italia morning, noon and night - is unthinkable now, for there's a clasico somewhere on the planet every other night.
To find unique stimulation through football, one is forced to go the fringes*. In among the Ronaldo-style free-kicks and the false nines, small glimpses and moments exist that remind you why you really love football more than pretty much anything else. Some are noticed by only a fortunate few, most of them are inconsequential, but all retain a certain charm that a thousand Lionel Messi hat-tricks could only dream of. They are football's fetishes.
1. The ball hitting the corner flag and staying in play - The ball remaining on the pitch is crucial here. Simply hitting the corner flag and going out for a corner or a throw-in will simply not do. That such a flimsy thing can provide such resistance is central to the appeal of this truly unexpected phenomenon.
2. A goalkeeper taking a throw-in - The reclusive uncle in the family of goalkeeping fish-out-of-water novelties, appearing only in the dying moments of games where the trailing side really want to get on with it. It's so rare that 1) some people are unsure if it's even permitted within the Laws of the Game; and 2) there doesn't seem to be any footage of it happening on YouTube. And why would there be a video on YouTube of a goalkeeper taking a throw-in?
Here, though - have a video of Bruce Springsteen-a-gram Dean Saunders aiming a quickly-taken foul throw at a visibly panicking goalkeeper who's gone walkabout:
3. A manager (ideally in a suit) controlling the ball when it goes out of play - A curiously popular spectacle. Despite the obvious handicap of wearing a tailored suit and gripless, shiny shoes, these managers are usually former players of relative quality - their ability to trap a football shouldn't come as a surprise. Still, as the ball flies towards them, out pops a nonchalant brogue to kill the ball dead, to the delight of their fans. Even a mere flick-up will elicit a ripple of "waaaaeeeeyyyy!" from the stands.
Or, if you're Dragan Stojkovic, volleying into the net from fully 50 yards:
4. A shot hitting both posts - Tony Yeboah helped establish that a goal scored off the underside of the bar will trump anything else, but that is a base thrill for the masses. Now, a shot that hits both posts and goes in? Luxury.
Look at the England players. Look at Thomas Ravelli. Look at the fans. Look at the cameraman! Absolutely nobody has any idea what's happening in those two rollercoaster seconds, but it contains more drama than a whole decade of midday Midland derby kick-offs on Sky.
You want it to happen, though. Some replayed shots look like they might hit the camera lens dead centre, but eventually veer off and disappoint. Next time...
6. Indirect free-kicks in the area - A two-stage release of excitement. Firstly, the relatively obscure offence itself, nowadays limited to a goalkeeper handling a backpass. The roar of appeal from the crowd is followed by a murmur, as everyone realises what's now in store.
Then, the defensive wall retreats to the goal-line, which is especially good if the kick is less than ten yards from goal. The taker teases us all with his lay-off, while a host of potential and decoy deliverers of a howitzer lie in wait. The crowd expect a goal, even though there's no room to get it up and over the wall, but they know there's only one way in - brute force.
7. 100 minutes on the clock - When a player goes down injured, causing real concern and requiring lengthy treatment, few think of the far-reaching ramifications. Later, however, when the second most important statistic in the top left-hand corner of the screen ticks over to 98:00, the anticipation begins to simmer. Will there be space for it? Will there be a Millennium Bug-style catastrophe? Will those cup-tie extra-time practice drills finally pay off?
Just me, then.
8. A player losing a boot - Not so much exciting as curious. It looks like it shouldn't be allowed. It didn't affect Paul Gascoigne in his pomp, but India took it a little bit far by opting to play barefoot at the 1948 Olympics, forcing the FIFA killjoys to swiftly ban the practice.
9. A commentator starting an interesting-sounding back-story, before being interrupted - I did say these were obscure. Football commentators pride themselves in their extensive pre-match research - beyond winning streaks and pass completion, they often unearth a gem of an anecdote or back-story about a player, which they are intent on regaling as the match unfolds. It's usually introduced with the words "interesting story about [Player X] actually, he...", at which point we're all sitting comfortably.
Unfortunately, some actual football gets in the way and the commentator is abruptly torn away from his Jackanory moment. The longer the interruption, the more you fear that the commentator will forget to finish his (possibly apocryphal) tale, until the blessed relief when it finally resumes. When it's the increasingly scatter-brained John Motson, the will-he-won't-he suspense is almost unbearable.
10. Sponsorless shirts
The first time sponsorless shirts became such a glaring oddity was when British sides, whose kits often sported the logos of various tipples of thirsty hooligans, ventured to France for European ties. Like Rangers in 1992/93, Real Madrid (whose betting website sponsors weren't welcome in Istanbul when they faced Galatasaray in last season's Champions League quarter-finals) saw their kit blossom with sheer simple beauty when stripped of their ungainly emblem.
Apart from lending an 80s minimalism to the shirt designs, the unfamiliarity of the kit has harked back to that journey-into-the-unknown aspect of away legs that the widely-televised homogeneity of modern European football has all but killed off.
It's the little things, you see.
*Yes, I know, I could go and watch my local team. In my case it's Brentford, chasing promotion from League One and, in the friendly quadra-pub confines of Griffin Park, playing some allegedly excellent football in the process. But still charging more than £20 to witness it.