This is the first part of a new series that looks at some of the unsung aspects of football that don’t necessarily get the shout outs and the column inches among the glitz and glamour of the modern game.
Whether it’s lesser-valued trophies, unheralded officials and rules, unfancied formations and tactics, or simply half-time pies, this series will be about recognising all the things, big and small, that make football the beautiful game.
One such thing is the Community Shield.
Is it really a trophy? No, not really. Does it matter whether you win or lose? Again, no.
But the Community Shield serves one purpose and one purpose only: it’s the opening gong, the firing pistol for the start of a new season.
And we should all bloody love it.
We’ve been lucky this year, in that we’ve only had to put up with about three football-less weeks in the summer thanks to the World Cup.
The odd-numbered years, any football fan will know, are absolute hell.
Sometimes as much as 10 weeks without “proper” football.
At first you think you can cope without it, you can finally act like a normal person for a while. Your family and partner organise activities on a Saturday and you actually go, and don’t spend the day checking BBC Sport on your phone.
You go to overpriced festivals and rooftop bars and get away for a few weeks to the Costa del wherever.
You’ve almost not thought about football, this whole time. Well, you’re still constantly checking Twitter ITK accounts in case a Brazillian wonderkid has been spotted at the airport nearest your team… but maybe this no football thing is alright, you think.
And then it’s gets to the end of July and beginning of August, and suddenly the urge starts to creep back in.
Down the pub when your mates are discussing Brexit negotiations you feel the sudden desire to describe it as “unbelievable, Jeff”.
Scottish football starts and you almost think it would be worth watching.
You find yourself tempted by things like the MLS, or fancy-titled pre-season tournaments, just to give yourself that taster of the real thing.
But it doesn’t satisfy you.
You begin to yearn for Martin Tyler’s bellows of “and it’s liiiive”. You’re getting desperate for that first glimpse of Gary Lineker’s cheeky mug on a Saturday night, twinkle in his eye, ready to say “we’ve got a great lineup of games for you tonight”. You start checking your FPL team on a daily basis even though no games have been played.
And then, in that first or second week of August, out from the ashes of whatever distractions you can muster; cricket, sunstroke, days out to Ikea with the other half — you spot it.
Like a pal who’s been off travelling through South East Asia for months, only to turn up at your flat with a dodgy tan, some beads and exactly £4.55 in their bank account, the Premier League strolls back into your life.
And just like that traveller pal, you need to do something to celebrate the occasion.
So you get your mates together and go down to the pub, and have a good old catchup.
That’s the Community Shield. It’s the catchup, it’s the celebration of the return of the prodigal son.
Imagine, for a moment, if we didn’t have this ritual.
Imagine if it was just, out of nowhere, a Friday night in August and Man Utd are suddenly playing Leicester and you’re like “oh, I guess we’re back into it then?”.
Like if your traveller mate just one day strolled into the pub, sat down and started mouthing off about whatever the last topic was you’d been chatting to him about before he left.
It would feel weird. Out of place. A jolt.
The Community Shield gives us an opportunity to reconfigure ourselves.
We sit down, watch the game, remember who does what and how things work, maybe there’ll be a new player or two, something a bit different. It gives us a chance to get to grips with how the new season is going to be.
It’s a game of pure promise, even for the teams not involved.
You watch the Community Shield, not yet sure of your fate. Maybe you’ll win the league, maybe you’ll get relegated. But you don’t know yet. Anything could happen in the next nine months.
A lot of people don’t like the Community Shield, they say it’s a meaningless game.
In pure footballing terms, yes it’s meaningless. But it’s role is far more important than that.
It gives us just the required taste we need to remember what it’s all about. The hope, the joy, the anguish — just a little twinge of it. In one ultimately sanitised, meaningless football match, we’re reminded of why we do this to ourselves every year and what delights and disasters we have to come.
The Community Shield is not an important football match.
The Community Shield is football…
…and it’s liiive!