Is it just me or is the Premier League and Game of Thrones starting to blur into one?
I know what you’re thinking, ‘Jeff Winter is coming’, right? But there’s more to it than a cheap, albeit excellent, refereeing gag.
Last week, as Liverpool snatched victory at the death over Newcastle United to keep both feet planted firmly in the title race, a part of Arlo White’s match commentary for NBC went viral. The pre-scripted opener, timed with the zeitgeist-bothering episode three of the final season of GoT began like this:
“Well, as we approach the final episodes of this spellbinding saga to crown the new Premier League kings. Jurgen Klopp will set his Red Dragons out to scorch the St. James Park turf, so he can spend another long night on the Iron Throne…”
It continued with a sprinkling of Dothraki cavalry charges and nods to Rafa and the House St James, and was lapped up by the internet.
We live in a time when shared cultural experiences are limited, but The Battle for Winterfell – watched by 17.8 million – and the series itself is a rare exception. For the time being at least, it seemed that George RR Martin’s world had seeped into the Premier League psyche. Earlier that same day, Nathan Ake’s late winner for Bournemouth against Spurs was met with a Night King-based celebration, and let’s be honest, Neil Warnock bears more than a passing resemblance to any one of those dragons. It’s getting to the point where it’s difficult to know where King’s Landing begins and Anfield ends.
Of course football has always been deemed entertainment, at least in its modern TV billions incarnation. And while those of us who follow the game know the reality is often a little different, even the most hardened of doom-monger can’t help but have been lifted by what they’ve witnessed in the last eight months.
A boxset season of football has seen big names fall, great names excel, and the most epic of Champions League comebacks – twice. And although the Premier League has had its fair share of excitement in recent years, too – from Sergio Aguero’s late winner to nail the title for Manchester City in 2012, to Leicester upsetting the odds to win it three years ago – today’s final episode of the 2018-19 season could yet top the lot.
Records have fallen quicker than it took for the atmosphere at The Red Wedding to turn a little frosty and the lead at the top has changed hands 32 times. It’s the first time two teams have both picked up more than 90 points – it’ll be the highest tally for a team finishing second – to put it into context, that’s more points that both Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’ side of 2003-04 and the all-conquering Manchester United treble-winning team of 1998-99. Combined, they also have the most wins of any top two in Premier League history.
While Manchester City won’t be able to top their 100-point tally of 2017-18, Liverpool will have to break another record if they’re to take home the league title for the first time since 1990. To win it they need to be the first side ever in second place on the final day of the season to leapfrog the leaders. And although the smart money has to be on Manchester City grinding out a routine win down on the south coast, if we’ve learned anything this year it’s undoubtedly, whatever it is you’re thinking, you’re probably wrong, so just forget it, ok?
When it comes to the GoT references, I’m hoping that last week wasn’t the end of it. Perhaps we'll see the hound get a run out up top for Liverpool this afternoon. Very much in the ‘old fashioned centre forward’ mould he could probably do a job against the Wolves backline. Or maybe we’ll see just how ruthless Arya Stark can really be. I mean, it’s all well and good having a crack at the Night King, but where does she stand on an injury time penalty at Brighton with the title on the line?