Just before the 2008-09 season started, the Barclays Premier League launched its Get On With The Game initiative, designed to discourage "unacceptable behavior" from players and managers, usually directed at the officials. It had minimal impact (in fact, this might very well be the first you've heard of it), but given some of last season's dramas -- there were managers who made shrieking pantomime dames look like subtle artisans -- the scheme was revived last week. "There are always going to be incidents," said Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore last week, but he was "confident" that players, managers and referees were committed to improving relations/not behaving like infants.
Hmm. Didn't last long, did it? We're only three days in to the new season and we've already seen more farcical overreaction than an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond. Saturday's game between Newcastle and Arsenal was so dreadful that the crowd might have been grateful for the intervention of a 22-man brawl, but in the cold light of day it all looks a bit pitiful: Gervinho's petulant slap, Joey Barton responding like he'd been hit by a haymaker, Steven Taylor miming an elbow at the ref then trying to sidestep the post-match brouhaha by saying "I didn't see a thing."
Earlier in the day we'd seen Bolton's Ivan Klasnic take a ridiculous nuzzle in the gut from QPR defender Clint Hill as if he'd just stood in the way of a high-speed train, and on Sunday West Brom's Shane Long reacted as if Tom Cleverley (who actually pulled out of the challenge) had come in swinging a hammer, adopting the fetal position until the free kick was given then trotting into the penalty area. Frank Lampard might actually have got a penalty had he waited until after Stoke's Marc Wilson stepped in to drop to the floor. These are just the ones I remembered to jot down.
Indiscipline is one thing (if anyone deserved a red card this weekend, it was Alex Song, for mindlessly treading on Barton), but this kind of stuff is just pathetic. Do people really need to sign up to an initiative to stop embarrassing themselves? Players and their managers seem to spend 38.6 percent of every season moaning about refereeing decisions and the rest of the time dishing out playground stuff or throwing themselves about trying to ensure that the referee makes a mistake. It comes to something when you start fondly reminiscing about the days when players had the decency to throw a proper punch and get on with it.
A tough call, despite the fact that the opening weekend of the season brought us nine goals fewer than it did a year ago: there was a great deal to admire in Gary Cahill's first goal for Bolton since March, a shot teed up with the left and curled beautifully into the far side of the net with the right -- not bad for a center half -- but it was not quite as dumbfounding as Sebastian Larsson's
He may have ended up on the losing team, but West Brom's Somen Tchoyi did his reputation no harm at all against Manchester United on Sunday. There can't have been one of United's six defenders who didn't find Tchoyi breathing down his neck at some point; the Cameroon midfielder might have lost his way occasionally (wasting a late chance by dallying too long with the ball), but it was one of his powerful runs that laid on Shane Long's goal.
Stoke City goalkeeper Asmir Begovic was a busy man in the second half against Chelsea on Sunday, keeping out long-range drives from Mikel, Florent Malouda and Didier Drogba. His most impressive moment came with about 20 minutes remaining, when Chelsea were really turning up the heat and a winning goal seemed inevitable. Coming into the left of the penalty area, Nicolas Anelka sent the ball arcing toward the top-right corner and Begovic somehow managed to tip it on to the bar and away. Former No.1 Thomas Sorensen could find it even harder than he anticipated to wrestle his place back.
Even the least imaginative scriptwriters in Hollywood might have thought twice about an injury two minutes and 20 seconds in to Keiron Dyer's Queens Park Rangers debut. The sight of him being carried off on a stretcher, weeping beneath a towel, was not one the audience wanted to see. Fortunately the scans found not a metatarsal out of place, so he should be back fairly swiftly. And it was gratifying to see fellow treatment-room regular Jonathan Woodgate, turning out for Stoke for the first time since his switch from Tottenham Hotspur, perform superbly at the heart of the defense.
A word for Norwich manager Paul Lambert's reaction to Wes Hoolahan's equalizer against Wigan, a delightfully unplanned blend of the tennis fist-pump and a Highland jig.
"Welcome to England" -- Alex Ferguson responds to questions about David de Gea's shaky performance against West Bromwich Albion. Once Shane Long's not-especially-powerful shot had squirmed under the goalkeeper shortly before half time, the Baggies did everything they could to unsettle him. Ferguson breezily recalled Peter Schmeichel getting similar treatment when he first arrived, but the smile did not convincingly hide concerns that de Gea's in-at-the-deep-end introduction hadn't been such a brilliant idea after all.
Three -- the number of penalties awarded on the opening weekend.
One -- the number of penalties scored on the opening weekend. Wigan's Ben Watson was the only player to convert. On the other hand, Liverpool's Luis Suarez skied his spot-kick, while Blackburn keeper Paul Robinson saved Kevin Doyle's effort -- though couldn't stop Wolves' impressive comeback.