Follow the Ball – A Reflection

 
When 2016 started I had grand plans to watch more football. Born from a place of good, I wanted to reconnect with the beautiful game and find my love for watching the sport again – away from the hullabaloo that I am all too often allow myself to get caught up in.

The idea was simple. Pick a team, watch their match and then whoever won that game, watch that team’s next match.

The plan was also formed at a time when I was unable to walk without the assistance of crutches and I figured I’d have more time on my hands than I expected in 2016. I didn’t know the severity of my injuries at the time of kicking off the Follow the Ball series but on 14th December 2015 I had completely ruptured the anterior cruciate ligament and torn the medial meniscus ligament in my left knee. In rough summary, you have six main ligaments in your knee and I’d managed to do a number on two of them – or 33% for stats fans.

Diagnosis was still six weeks away and surgery was 10 or 12. As 2016 draws to a close I’ve gone the entire year without playing any sport of any kind – no football, golf or even korfball – and a lot of my focus has been on getting myself into a position that I’ve been able to start running again in the last couple of months. By the end of February 2017 I hope to be back in training with Leeds City Korfball Club. That’s why I stopped updating the Follow the Ball series in April. It was three weeks after my operation and as I started moving around, walking became the most important thing I could do.

I became aware of every step that I made with my left leg, ensuring that my foot was going to plant on a safe, secure, flat piece of footpath, wooden floor, office carpet and/or bathroom tile. I didn’t want to put all my weight somewhere that might cause my left leg to jerk suddenly in the wrong direction and potentially re-injure me. Walking, moving and sleeping all became intense experiences as I calculated ways to look after my leg (and even now as I approach the finish line of my rehabilitation, the icy weather means its just as intense again). As such, the only thing I wanted to think about when I had time to myself at home was relaxing. I just wanted to switch off. And I did not want to type. I got to put my leg in a safe, usually elevated position and then worry about other stuff for a few hours and it was glorious.

As such – Follow the Ball and the #IBWM100 on Football Manager stuff took a back seat. I watched football but I watched it for me; and not because I had a blog to do. That means my plans for watching more football sort of worked, right?

Now with 2017 on the horizon (or already here – fuck fuck fuck, just saying fuck so I notice I have to remove something) I figured it makes sense to at least see where I might have ended up if I’d stuck with things right through the entire calendar.

Game 1:Arsenal 1-0 Newcastle United
Game 2: Arsenal (c) 3-1 Sunderland
Game 3: Liverpool 3-3 Arsenal (c)
Game 4: Stoke City 0-0 Arsenal (c)
Game 5:
Arsenal (c) 0-1 Chelsea

After Mesut Ozil won a Twitter poll (of course he did) to be named the Player of the Season up to that point, Arsenal became Team Zero and the first “champions” of Follow the Ball. They took on the mantle reasonably well, battling through four matches before coming unstuck against Chelsea in their fifth match. The 3-3 draw with Liverpool was a really fun football match.

Game 6: MK Dons 1-5 Chelsea (c)
Game 7: Watford 0-0 Chelsea (c)
Game 8: Chelsea (c) 1-1 Manchester United
Game 9: Chelsea (c) 5-1 Newcastle United
Game 10:
Paris Saint-Germain 2-1 Chelsea (c)

Chelsea also survived five games where they bounced between huge dominating wins and uninspiring draws in their matches. However I have to thank them for doing what I ultimately wanted – and that was losing to a team from another league so I got to watch a different brand of football.

Game 11: Paris Saint-Germain (c) 4-1 Stade de Reims
Game 12:
Lyon 2-1 Paris Saint-Germain (c)

Having not lost a league match all season until I started watching them, it was inevitable that PSG only lasted two games as champions before Lyon swept in and deservedly beat them at the Parc Olympique Lyonnais. Should you be interested – Lyon have got a bloody excellent young side and if they can hang to the majority of them for the next 4-5 years they might just be able to do something special in the Champions League.

Game 13: Lyon (c) 5-1 Guingamp
Game 14: Stade Rennais 2-2 Lyon (c)
Game 15: Lyon (c) 2-0 Nantes
Game 16: Lorient 1-3 Lyon (c)
Game 17: Montpellier 0-2 Lyon (c)
Game 18:
Lyon (c) 1-1 Nice

From there Lyon remained champions until my updating of Follow the Ball drew to a close. As the club marched up the Ligue 1 table, they looked nailed on to make second place their own just in time for the league season to finish.

Game 19: Toulouse 2-3 Lyon (c), Ligue 1, April 23rd 2016
Game 20: Lyon (c) 2-1 Ajaccio, Ligue 1, April 30th 2016
Game 21: Lyon (c) 6-1 Monaco, Ligue 1, May 7th 2016
Game 22: Reims 4-1 Lyon (c), Ligue 1, May 14th 2016

So close, and yet so far. Lyon did make it to the end of the season as the Follow the Ball champions and then they fucked it at the last minute. Second place was sorted with the thumping 6-1 victory over Monaco on the penultimate matchday (some of the goals do not make pretty viewing for the away team) and then they promptly lost to already relegated Reims on the final day of the season. Ligue 2 beckoned.

Game 23: Amiens 1-1 Reims (c), Ligue 2, August 1st 2016
Game 24: Reims (c) 1-0 Bourg en Bresse, Ligue 2, August 5th 2016
Game 25: Reims (c) 2-5 Le Havre, Coupe de la Ligue, August 9th 2016

I actually have no idea how I might have kept up with watching these games to be completely honest. Ligue 2 isn’t the easiest league to track down footage for – so I may have had to rely YouTube highlights. But here we are. Three games in nine days to kick-off a new season proved too much for Reims and they were beaten 2-5 at home to Le Havre in the French League Cup.

Game 26: Gazélec Ajaccio 1-1 Le Havre (c), Ligue 2, August 12th 2016
Game 27: Le Havre (c) 1-3 Troyes, Ligue 2, August 19th 2016

That ended before it really started with Le Havre replaced as champions just nine days after taking the crown.

Game 28: Troyes (c) 1-1 Lens, Ligue 2, August 26th 2016
Game 29: Strasbourg 2-0 Troyes (c), Ligue 2, September 12th 2016

Teams in the French second division seemingly struggle to put a run of results together. Two matches as champions is enough for Troyes as they are beaten at home by Strasbourg.

Game 30: Orelans 3-1 Strasbourg (c), Ligue 2, September 16th 2016

lol. Orelands went into the match having scored once in their previous four games in all competitions.

Game 31: Lens 4-2 Orelans (c), Ligue 2, September 20th 2016

That was entirely predictable.

Game 32: Valenciennes 1-2 Lens (c), Ligue 2, September 24th 2016
Game 33: Lens (c) 2-0 Red Star, Ligue 2, September 30th 2016
Game 34: Sochaux 1-0 Lens (c), Ligue 2, October 17th 2016

Three games as champion at this stage in the year is frankly enough.

Game 35: Nimes 0-0 Sochaux (c), Ligue 2, October 21st 2016
Game 36: Dijon 1-1 (p) Sochaux (c), Coupe de la Ligue, October 26th 2016
Game 37: Sochaux (c) 1-2 Strasbourg, Ligue 2, October 29th 2016

Two things: 1. French teams play a lot of games within only a few of days of each other. 2. DOUBLE CHAMPION!

Game 38: Strasbourg (c) 1-2 Reims, Ligue 2, November 5th 2016

Oh, Strasbourg.

Game 39: Saint-Maximin 0-3 Reims (c), Coupe de France, November 13th 2016
Game 40: Reims (c) 0-2 Laval, Ligue 2, November 18th 2016

Reims’ second run as Follow the Ball champions goes much better than either reign that Strasbourg have enjoyed – but they end up losing to a team I literally didn’t know existed.

Game 41: Strasbourg 1-0 Laval (c), Ligue 2, November 25th 2016

For crying out loud.

Game 42: Le Havre 0-1 Strasbourg (c), Ligue 2, November 29th 2016
Game 43: Sarre Union 0-1 Strasbourg (c), Ligue 2, December 3rd 2016
Game 44: Strasbourg (c) 3-1 Lens, Ligue 2, December 10th 2016
Game 45: Strasbourg (c) 3-0 Niort, Ligue 2, December 16th 2016

Apparently at the third time of asking Strasbourg got their act together and finished the year as the Follow the Ball champion with five victories in a row; and I’d have spent the year becoming a French football expert.

Lovely.

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