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This has been football’s craziest year ever – but brought us closer together

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this has been footballs craziest year ever but brought us closer together scaled

IT’S over, it’s finally over. The Championship season is finally over.

My team got promoted. This would be special at the best of times but, after the longest season ever, it’s an unbelievable feeling.

West Brom fans celebrate their team's promotion to the Premier League

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West Brom fans celebrate their team’s promotion to the Premier LeagueCredit: PA:Press Association

It’s over, this weird season, which for several months looked like it might not finish at all. Fans not being allowed to go to matches somehow made it even more nerve-shredding than usual. And it all boiled down to an evening in which the fans of a whole host of teams were to either jump for joy or drown in despair in front of their TVs.

On Wednesday night my team, West Brom, got themselves promoted by the narrowest of margins right at the end of the very last match, crawling desperately over the finish line.

At the very same moment Brentford, having won seven straight games since the restart, then lost their second consecutive match to miss out on automatic promotion.

Their despair was our joy. In turn, their opponents — Barnsley — by winning had saved themselves from relegation, so their joy raged unconfined as Brentford’s players fell to the ground in abject misery.

Elsewhere, Swansea and Nottingham Forest pulled off a minor mathematical miracle by respectively winning and losing in some style to get into, and fall out of, the playoffs, which start this weekend.

Fans around the country felt sick to their stomachs, joy in their hearts, horror in their souls.

All this kind of thing would of course still be true in normal times: the joy of Liverpool fans; the despair at Bournemouth and Watford as they face relegation; the quiet, agonising stress of Aston Villa fans as they pray their players now don’t go and fluff their lines on Sunday.

But two factors have made this bizarre, crowdless end to the season much more intense. We’ve had to watch alone or perhaps with one or two friends. 

West Bromwich Albion players celebrate their side's promotion at the end of the game against QPR

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West Bromwich Albion players celebrate their side’s promotion at the end of the game against QPRCredit: PA:Press Association

All in same boat

There’s been no physical strength in numbers — no fellow travellers to lean on, sing with, laugh with, sob with or hug. It’s been a lonely road at times, and all the tougher for that.

But in a different way it’s brought us all closer together, because there’s normally a big dividing line between fans of a club. 

There are those who are there, at the match — and those who aren’t. 

This last month there has been no divide, we’ve all been in the same boat. And I suspect that for fans around the world that’s been an extra special feeling. Because now, for once, they’ve been equals.

Ahead of our big promotion game I heard from West Brom fans in Croatia, Australia, France, Italy, New York, California and Japan. We’d all be watching anxiously from the same place, in front of our screens. 

And as well as fans of my own team I had good wishes from, among others, a Southampton fan I once met in Antigua; a Wolves fan who happens to be a rock god (Robert Plant); and a family of orthodox Jewish Man United fans in Jerusalem who I filmed with five years ago.

All of this was very nice but ratcheted up the tension to unbelievable levels. 

At home things had been tense for days.

My girlfriend, you see, is a Leeds fan. They’d got promoted thanks to us losing last Friday. She kindly kept her celebrations very quiet that day, while I’d just glowered darkly in a most immature fashion. 

Brentford's players appear dejected after the Barnsley match at Griffin Park

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Brentford’s players appear dejected after the Barnsley match at Griffin ParkCredit: PA:Press Association

Unbearable

But she wanted the Albion to be promoted too (she knows what the team’s fortunes do to my mood). The tension was so unbearable she went off to fold some washing.

Meanwhile at Anfield, my friend Lee Dixon was covering the Liverpool v Chelsea game. 

As a West Londoner he was hoping for the Brentford goal which would have promoted them instead of us. But he said on 89 minutes he suddenly had an image of me sitting there, in pieces. 

Lee calls my hair “the squirrel” as he says it looks like one is sitting on my head.

“I just thought of you tearing your squirrel out”, he said. “And I found myself almost hoping Brentford wouldn’t score. I didn’t think you would survive the trauma.”

He’s right about that, and possibly about the squirrel too. But then the whistles blew, and we were promoted. 

The bloke from Antigua, Robert Plant, the Reds of Jerusalem and hundreds of others all texted.

I thought, randomly, of something Jeremy Paxman, of all people, said to me the other day. 

He’s not greatly into football but said he always liked the way us fans use the word “we” when we talk about our teams.

And “we” is what it’s all been about this summer. 

And I mean “we” not just as in fellow fans of our own teams, but “we” as in all fans of this wonderful game the world over.

West Brom manager Slaven Bilic gets drenched in champagne after clinching promotion into the Premier League

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Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta offers a blunt assessment on why Mesut Ozil’s exile continued

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arsenal boss mikel arteta offers a blunt assessment on why mesut ozils exile continued

Mikel Arteta suggested his Arsenal side is evolving without Mesut Ozil as the club’s highest-paid player again missed out on the squad for Wednesday’s Carabao Cup win at Leicester.

The Gunners made seven changes at the King Power Stadium as a Christian Fuchs own goal and late Eddie Nketiah tap-in sealed a 2-0 victory for the visitors.

Despite those alterations there was still no room in the matchday squad for either Ozil or Matteo Guendouzi, who have yet to kick a ball this season.

Mikel Arteta suggested his Arsenal side is evolving without Mesut Ozil as he missed out again

Mikel Arteta suggested his Arsenal side is evolving without Mesut Ozil as he missed out again

Mikel Arteta suggested his Arsenal side is evolving without Mesut Ozil as he missed out again

Ozil has not been involved since Project Restart having previously started every game

Ozil has not been involved since Project Restart having previously started every game

Ozil has not been involved since Project Restart having previously started every game

Ozil has not been involved at all since Project Restart having previously started every Premier League game under Arteta before lockdown.

Asked why the World Cup winner had fallen out of favour, Arteta replied: ‘The team is evolving, you can see the level they are achieving.

‘This is where we are at the moment. We want to evolve more and play better and compete better.

‘We need to keep maintaining that.

‘I’m really happy with the performance here, how difficult they’re making things for the coaching staff to select the squad.

Arteta said: 'The team is evolving, you can see the level they are achieving' as Ozil missed out

Arteta said: 'The team is evolving, you can see the level they are achieving' as Ozil missed out

Arteta said: ‘The team is evolving, you can see the level they are achieving’ as Ozil missed out

‘We are picking the players that we believe are the best for each game. You can see we keep training, it’s what we’re trying to do.

‘You can see that the players we are changing, we are using, it’s very difficult every week not for Mesut but for some other players as well to make the squad. Every week we try to pick the right players.

‘Of course I understand and I respect your questions but I have to try to do my job as fair as possible. I try to select the players that are, in my opinion, in better condition.’

Arsenal will face either Lincoln or Liverpool in round four and, if Jurgen Klopp’s Reds win on Thursday, it means two quick trips to Anfield for Arteta and his players.

The Premier League game on Monday night has been moved forwards to an 8pm kick-off to fall in line with new Covid guidelines for pub closing times.

‘You can imagine, probably the toughest place to go in Europe or the world. That’s the fixtures, we have to go there,’ Arteta added on the prospect of two away games against the champions.

‘Let’s go first on Monday, let’s prepare well and see how it goes.’

Arsenal will face either Lincoln or Liverpool in round four after 2-0 victory over Leicester

Arsenal will face either Lincoln or Liverpool in round four after 2-0 victory over Leicester

Arsenal will face either Lincoln or Liverpool in round four after 2-0 victory over Leicester

While Arteta shuffled his pack, Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers played with an entire new deck as the Foxes side showed 11 alterations from Sunday’s win over Burnley.

‘I think if we are going to lose a game, I would lose in that way in terms of the players showed good energy in the game,’ Rodgers said following the defeat.

‘There were moments of quality in it and even though there were lots of players playing their first minutes of the season the cohesion in the team was very good.

‘I’m obviously disappointed with the goals, that was the only criticism – it was two scruffy goals that we lost to.’

Wilfred Ndidi was not involved for Leicester and Rodgers revealed after the match that the Nigeria international may be sidelined for up to 12 weeks with an abductor injury suffered against Burnley.

‘We are just waiting to hear more on that, but he could be anything between six and 12 weeks,’ he said.

‘It is an abductor injury – it may have come off the bone which could be a nasty injury, so we will wait to see if needs an operation – it does then it will be 12 weeks.’

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Everton fans fume over two more Jordan Pickford errors in their Carabao Cup win over Fleetwood

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everton fans fume over two more jordan pickford errors in their carabao cup win over fleetwood

Jordan Pickford was back in the spotlight after making two high-profile errors in Everton‘s Carabao Cup victory over Fleetwood.  

The goalkeeper was at fault for both the hosts’ goals, first dithering over a clearance which was eventually charged down for Mark Duffy to make it 2-1 and then changing his mind over a cross and failing to keep out Callum Camps’ overhead kick straight at him for 3-2.

Goals from Bernard and Michael Keane spared the shot-stopper’s blushes but Everton fans aired their frustrations on Twitter, with some fans calling for Carlo Ancelotti to find a new No1. 

Jordan Pickford made two errors in Everton's Carabao Cup win over Fleetwood on Wednesday

Jordan Pickford made two errors in Everton's Carabao Cup win over Fleetwood on Wednesday

Jordan Pickford made two errors in Everton’s Carabao Cup win over Fleetwood on Wednesday

Some fans called for Carlo Ancelotti to find a new No 1 after the shot-stopper's mistakes

Some fans called for Carlo Ancelotti to find a new No 1 after the shot-stopper's mistakes

Some fans called for Carlo Ancelotti to find a new No 1 after the shot-stopper’s mistakes

33547222 8766049 Some fans called for Carlo Ancelotti to find a new No1 after the a 101 1600900146887

33547222 8766049 Some fans called for Carlo Ancelotti to find a new No1 after the a 101 1600900146887

 

One supporter wrote: ‘Jordan Pickford is going to cost Everton so many goals this season. Ancelotti needs to replace him ASAP.’

Another added: ‘Don’t think we’ll be able to bring in a top keeper this window but next summer we NEED a new top class GK Jordan Pickford man.’

But Ancelotti refused to blame the England international for the first goal, instead claiming the goalkeeper had been put in a difficult position by his team-mates. 

‘I think the first goal it was not any individual mistakes, we passed the ball back to Jordan and it was a really difficult ball,’ said the Everton boss.

33547220 8766049 image a 104 1600900191922

33547220 8766049 image a 104 1600900191922

‘We could have behaved differently, so we didn’t do that well. Of course you have to improve there.

‘You want to build up from the back but when there is not risk. If it is risky it is not good, we can concede a goal like we did tonight and it is a good lesson for the future.

‘I didn’t speak to him (Pickford). I have to speak with the players that were involved when we were building up. He was not the only one, Jordan.’

But some fans were less forgiving than the Italian, with one tweeting: ‘If Jordan Pickford was a fisherman he still wouldn’t catch anything.’

Another on-looker wrote: ‘Everton seem to have brought in some very good players this transfer market, pity Jordan Pickford will undo all their good work.’

33547226 8766049 image a 100 1600900139722

33547226 8766049 image a 100 1600900139722

33547230 8766049 image a 106 1600900267798

33547230 8766049 image a 106 1600900267798

Carlo Ancelotti refused to blame the England international for the goals Everton conceded

Carlo Ancelotti refused to blame the England international for the goals Everton conceded

Carlo Ancelotti refused to blame the England international for the goals Everton conceded

A brace from Richarlison and goals from Alex Iwobi, Bernard and Michael Keane set up a fourth-round tie with West Ham and Fleetwood boss Joey Barton highlighted the gulf in class between the Premier League outfit and his League One side.

‘We had a 18-year-old, a 19-year-old and a 21-year-old at centre-back. We never had any ball but we knew that would be the case,’ he said.

‘We then gave them a goal and they got the second goal. We adjusted at half-time, brought Duffy on and then we got a gift by closing the keeper down.

‘Then we shoot ourselves in the foot by conceding in a few minutes and then we got back into it again – but they have the quality to pick you off on the counter.

Pickford was unable to keep out Callum Camps' overhead kick despite it being straight at him

Pickford was unable to keep out Callum Camps' overhead kick despite it being straight at him

Pickford was unable to keep out Callum Camps’ overhead kick despite it being straight at him

‘I am pleased we made it into a cup tie because at half-time it looked like being a long 45 minutes.’ 

On Everton fielding a strong side, Barton added: ‘I am delighted with that because it shows Everton are taking the competition seriously.

‘It pays us enormous respect that they turned up and played in the correct manner, especially when you look at the gulf in class at both clubs. 5-2 probably flatters them at the end but they were way above us tonight.’

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Frank Lampard on the cusp of completing swoop for Edouard Mendy from Rennes

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frank lampard on the cusp of completing swoop for edouard mendy from rennes

Frank Lampard believes the club’s £22million move for Rennes’ goalkeeper Edouard Mendy is on the verge of completion.

The Chelsea boss has been trying to bring in a new shot-stopper all summer and looks to finally have his man. 

If Mendy arrives in time he could be set to make his debut in this weekend’s trip to West Brom, with Kepa Arrizabalaga facing the drop after a difficult start to the season. 

Chelsea's move for goalkeeper Edouard Mendy from Rennes is on the verge of completion

Chelsea's move for goalkeeper Edouard Mendy from Rennes is on the verge of completion

Chelsea’s move for goalkeeper Edouard Mendy from Rennes is on the verge of completion 

Frank Lampard believes the shot-stopper's medical is done ahead of a £22million transfer

Frank Lampard believes the shot-stopper's medical is done ahead of a £22million transfer

Frank Lampard believes the shot-stopper’s medical is done ahead of a £22million transfer

‘With Mendy, the medical, I think it’s done, but I want to be a bit careful and don’t want to give absolute confirmation until I see him, possibly over the next 24 hours,’ said Lampard. 

‘But it seems like it’s on the verge of being done.’

Current No1 Arrizabalaga has struggled in the opening games of the season. The ‘keeper let a weak shot squeeze past him in the first match against Brighton and was under-fire against Liverpool at Stamford Bridge. 

Current No1 Kepa Arrizabalaga could face being dropped for this weekend's trip to West Brom

Current No1 Kepa Arrizabalaga could face being dropped for this weekend's trip to West Brom

Current No1 Kepa Arrizabalaga could face being dropped for this weekend’s trip to West Brom

The Spaniard was at fault for the Reds’ second goal after his uncertainty on the ball allowed Sadio Mane to intercept his clearance before finishing into the net.

Chelsea beat Championships side Barnsley 6-0 to progress to the fourth-round of the Carabao Cup on Wednesday night, with new signing Kai Havertz scoring a hat-trick.

Tammy Abraham, Ross Barkley and Olivier Giroud also got on the scoresheet while Willy Caballero kept a clean sheet in his first start of the season.

New signings Thiago Silva and Ben Chilwell made their debuts at Stamford Bridge. 

Silva played 61 minutes before he was substituted for Kurt Zouma while Chilwell replaced Havertz for the final 25 minutes and grabbed an assist by setting up Giroud.  

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