Like modules at the Leveson inquiry, gut-wrenchingly exciting weekends of sport are coming along thick and fast now. But forget last weekend’s theatrics if you can, take a deep breath and get set for what truly will be one of the best days of sport in the year.
Just before we do though, a brief homage to one of the great men of British football. Anybody who watched the City skipper Vincent Kompany make his short graceful speech dedicating the victory to the supporters could see that here was a man who stands out in the world of football like the Archbishop of Canterbury in Las Vegas. The Belgian defender is the most talented centre back in Britain, can speak and read in three languages, is studying at Manchester Business School, and is a tireless campaigner for children’s charities in his father’s native Congo. The Premier League could not have gone to a side led by a more admirable man. John Terry he ain’t.
Talking of whom, the much-loved Chelsea skipper won’t be playing in one of Saturday’s highlights, the Champions League final where the righteous of Bayern Munich take on the pantomime villains of Chelsea. Terry was sent off for kneeing Barcelona’s Sanchez in the back during the semi-final, which he initially said was a terrible accident caused by the Chilean accelerating backwards towards him. Later he admitted that’s not what it looked like on TV. Thankfully, though, Frank Lampard has successfully appealed for Terry to be allowed to hold the trophy should Chelsea win. I’m sure everyone in England is now sleeping a little easier.
Anyone with a pulse should be praying for Bayern to win. They are a model club, brilliantly run for their fans with a generous seat pricing policy. For the final though the ticketing is handled by UEFA and Bayern president Uli Hoeness has complained about the prices, which start at £72. Hoeness has said, ‘We have to speak about this again to Uefa, because football is a sport that belongs to the people.’ Hear, hear.
One can maybe go too far in praising the German model (and I don’t mean Claudia Schiffer) but the Bundesliga is run with a robust, efficient egalitarianism that makes the Premiership look like a numbers racket. Average attendances are much higher than over here, seat prices much lower. If you want to understand why Germany rules Europe, look no further than Bayern Munich. In the last financial year they made €62.3 million profit, compared with Chelsea’s £67.7 million loss. They have a magnificent team, calmly led by Philipp Lahm, with Arjen Robben, Mario Gomez, Franck Ribéry and Bastian Schweinsteiger outstanding. The only anxiety for those of us who would love them to lift the Champions League trophy is that they got walloped by Borussia Dortmund in the German cup final last weekend. I like to think the Germans will want to take it out on Chelsea. My friends from south-west London think their confidence will have taken a bashing. But come on you reds, I say.
Just before that on Saturday is European rugby’s thrilling climax when Ulster take on Leinster in an all-Ireland Heineken final. Harder perhaps to bust a blood vessel over, unless of course you are Irish, or possibly South African. Ulster have South Africans as the spine of their team. The main man of the Belfast Boks is scrum half Ruan Pienaar (one of the Ballymena Pienaars, no doubt), who had a storming semi-final. Watch out too for Stefan Terblanche at full back, Pedrie Wannenburg, the massive back row forward, and lock Johann Muller. I doubt most Irish fans will mind, provided they give the right answer to the question, ‘But are you a Catholic Springbok or a Protestant one?’
Roger Alton is an executive editor at the Times.