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14th May 2019

If each Game of Thrones season was a Premier League striker

Kyle Picknell

Game of Thrones has absolutely fucked it so let’s reminisce about the good times

The career arc of Game of Thrones reminds me now of a whole host of footballers that have started their journeys incredibly brightly and then got even better before, inevitably, they start to believe their own hype and suddenly find themselves rotting away on the bench for Karabükspor during an ill-fated loan spell, having fallen out with their actual manager at a Premier League club because they refused to warm up and come on as a substitute for the last ten minutes of an FA Cup fourth-round tie against Bristol Rovers.

This is where Game of Thrones is at the moment. It’s Ross McCormack at Central Coast Mariners, galivanting about barbecues he wasn’t invited to with one goal in five appearances to his name.

As much as I would like to, one footballer simply isn’t enough for this metaphor and I will, therefore, be choosing eight separate strikers to help me map out the Game of Thrones career arc, using the finest/only utensil I have: a deep-seated knowledge of all the good and bad and vastly mediocre players to have graced the Premier League. Better yet, I will be matching the years up. Because I can do that. I am that talented.

Season 1 (2011) – DJ Campbell, Blackpool

Like Game of Thrones, DJ Campbell had been going for a long time before audiences in the English top flight caught sight of him for the first team. For GoT it was in the form of George R. R. Martin’s series of fantasy novels A Song of Ice and Fire.

Nobody had read them, or at least, nobody wanted to admit that they had read them – implicating their own virginity – until the same material became a popular television series.  For DJ Campbell, it was playing in the Isthmian League Premier Division for Yeading, and scoring 65 goals in 88 games. Similarly, nobody knew about or had watched Yeading. And those that did probably also didn’t want to admit that they spent their Saturday afternoons watching a man called ‘Dudley Junior’ (actually his name, btw) round a hungover scaffolder playing at centre back time and time again to score four goals without breaking a sweat.

But by the time it hit the mainstream – GoT on Sky Atlantic, DJ Campbell in the Premier League with Blackpool in 10/11 – it was new, exciting, vaguely interesting: ooo, look at those ice zombies, look at those neck tattoos.

Both seemed to come out of absolutely nowhere, even though they hadn’t, and more than that, they were quietly successful, too, with DJ scoring 13 goals for a team whose best players were *checks notes* Charlie Adam and Gary Taylor-Fletcher and GoT managing to rope in lots of horny middle-aged men that would usually ignore a fantasy show on the basis that it wasn’t realistic, despite simultaneously raving about 24, a programme about, *checks notes* a man who has to stop an assassination attempt, a bomb plot or cyber terrorist attack on a literal daily basis.

What I’m saying is, like DJ Campbell, Game of Thrones Season 1 just had something about it, a certain je nais se quoi.

Even if it did end in tragic circumstances with the execution of Ned Stark and the relegation of an Ian Holloway Blackpool team to the Championship.

Season 2 (2012) – Yakubu, Blackburn Rovers

By the time the second season of Game of Thrones rolled around, everybody knew what to expect. Despite this, it still managed to evolve into something. Enter Yakubu Ayegbeni.

Having already bulldozed through the Premier League during spells at Portsmouth, Middlesbrough and Everton, Yakubu had his single best goal return during a chaotic season at Blackburn Rovers during the early Venky’s period.

You know, the Indian chicken company that every Rovers fan hated as though it was headed by Joffrey Baratheon, which meant in one game Yakubu and Wigan goalkeeper Ali Al-Habsi had to spend five minutes chasing around a rogue protest chicken that had been set loose in one corner of Ewood Park.

Obviously Yakubu caught it. Obviously Yakubu caught the chicken.

This was the kind of frenetic energy he would bring to football matches, a man who was built like an industrial estate but who could move with all the grace and precision of a Russian gymnast. He scored 18 goals for Blackburn in 11/12, and he scored them in typical Yakubu fashion.

What is typical Yakubu fashion? Typical Yakubu fashion is: playing football like he is a blue whale and goals are krill and he is just unhinging his jaw and completely fucking consuming them whole, one after another, bicycle kicks and penalties and shinned tap ins and scuffed low drives into the corners from both feet, all in-and-around the six-yard box, as he circles it, does laps of it, just looking for more and more krill because he is hungry and he is always hungry and he will never, ever, have enough krill.

Game of Thrones Season 2 was this, a show finding and establishing its rhythm through the development of a whole host of (then) brilliant characters, who were all slowly beginning to form into their true selves: Daenerys, Jon Snow, Tywin Lannister, Rob Stark, The aforementioned little blonde shithead, Tyrion, The Hound, Arya.

Season 2 also gave us the fiery, explosive The Battle of Blackwater. Yakubu Ayegbeni gave us four lethargic goals against Swansea City. Which was better? That’s not for me to say. Like the children I don’t yet have, I love them both equally.

Season 3 (2013) – Michu, Swansea City

Game of Thrones Season 3 was truly when it made the jump into the mainstream and achieved ‘must watch’ status as a pop culture phenomenon. The same season, a completely unknown Spanish attacking midfielder by the name of Michu was signed by Swansea for £2 million from Rayo Vallecano.

It was hard to know which was more shocking in the grand scheme of things: The Red Wedding that came and bludgeoned us over the head like a Victorian policeman or this 6 foot 1 lad who ran like he didn’t have knees turning up in South Wales and doing his best AC Milan years-Kaká impression to the tune of 22 goals in all competitions and a League Cup trophy.

Both were incredible to witness and genuine, visceral shocks; the heavy gut-punch of Rob Stark crumbling to his knees and arrows flying into his chest was the exact same feeling you got whenever Michu jogged around the pitch for 80 minutes before suddenly deciding to finesse a left foot curler into the top corner and sprint at all the other team’s fans waving his hand by his ear.

You were shocked, then maybe you were angry, then maybe you realised you had just witnessed something really fucking cool, even if it did come from the mind of a book author who actively chooses to dress like a train conductor or a gangly, hair-band wearing Spanish lad called Miguel.

Season 4 (2013)  – Luis Suarez, Liverpool 

The single best season of Game of Thrones deserves the single best season we have seen from a striker in the Barclays in recent years.

In 2013, GoT was a completely different animal and gave us everything: The Hound and Arya together, Joffrey being poisoned, Tyrion crossbow-ing his father whilst he was scrolling through Reddit on the toilet and the infamous The Mountain/Oberyn Martell mutual destruction during a trial by combat.

Luis Suarez was pretty much the same animal, a kind of hyperactive rodent obsessed with nutmegging defenders and pelting the ball in from every conceivable angle and distance. He gave us four goals against Norwich City, an over 100-year-old professional football club that he repeatedly turned into his own personal chew toy over the course of his time in England, scoring 11 goals in five games.

He won Player of the Year, the first non-European to do so, and finished the season with a staggering 31 goals in 33 games. Liverpool still didn’t win the league.

And then he went to the World Cup with Uruguay, bit Juve hardman Giorgio Chiellini on the shoulder, the third major biting incident of his career, and said to the FIFA disciplinary committee: “I lost my balance … falling on top of my opponent … I hit my face against Chiellini, leaving a small bruise on my cheek and a strong pain in my teeth.”

Truly, this was a shithouse of a show and a shithouse of a player at their absolute peak, giving you non-stop entertainment in the form of grisly violence and bangers week in, week out.

This… this is the Game of Thrones we now miss.

Season 5 (2015) – Saido Berahino, West Bromwich Albion

Season 5 was the beginning of the end for Game of Thrones as it gradually began its descent into a bloated, underwhelming mess of a television show. Which brings us very neatly onto the tragic tale of Saido Berahino.

Berahino had his only good season of football to date in 14/15, scoring 14 times in the league and winning England u-21 player of the year ahead of Harry Kane.

Unfortunately, that was as good as it ever got for the now-Burundi international, who finished the season with two drink driving offences to his name and a very public spat with Tony Pulis after the dementor-in-a-baseball-cap rejected successive transfer bids from Tottenham Hotspur and refused to accept a formal transfer request from the player himself.

Ever since Berahino has been a shell of his former self and has scored only seven leagues goals in the four seasons since his breakout – a time period that included within it a run of 913 days and 48 games without scoring a goal.

Season 5 had ‘Hardhome’, Berahino had a telepathic strike partnership Solomon Rondon. And that was the last time each of them were truly great, whatever glimpses they’d give from then on.

Season 6 (2016) – Harry Kane, Tottenham Hotspur

Harry Kane, you might remember, scored 29 goals in the 16/17 Premier League season and comfortably won the Golden Boot. The problem was, seven of those goals came in the final two games: four in a 6-1 rout away at Leicester and then another three on top of that a few days later at Hull City.

Add in the fact that he notched another hattrick in a 4-0 demolition of West Bromwich Albion and you’re faced with the cold, hard conclusion that over 33% of Harry Kane’s goals that season came in those three fixtures.

What I am saying is, most of Season 6 actually wasn’t that good, in fact it was mostly quite bad, and that all of the exciting, thrilling moments you remember came were crammed into just three episodes that blew the rest of the series out of the water: ‘The Door’, ‘The Battle of the Bastards’ and ‘The Winds of Winter’.

Deep down you know it’s true, in the same way that, deep down, Harry Kane owes this particular Golden Boot to playing against Yohan Benalouane and Michael Dawson in consecutive games to end the season.

Season 7 (2017) – Romelu Lukaku, Manchester United

Expensive, clunky, issues with pacing and occasional extreme heavy-handedness make Game of Thrones‘ seventh season a lot like Romelu Lukaku’s debut campaign with Manchester United after a £75 million move in the summer of 2017.

Big Rom had his moments during a season in which United finished second in the league and won the Europa League, including scoring 10 goals in his first nine appearances to break a historic record held by Bobby Charlton, but he was still frequently picked apart by fans for his sloppy first touch and a brutally direct style of play.

The same thing happened with Thrones, when, after so much hype and expectation, audiences started to feel underwhelmed by the rushed story arcs and whatever big budget set pieces David Benioff and D. B. Weiss would throw into the mix.

The fans had no idea at the time, but much, much worse was to come.

Season 8 (2019) – Alexis Sanchez, Manchester United

So this is it. They don’t love you anymore and can’t wait to see you gone.

You’re just not the same. Something has changed. Something is different. Maybe it was all the money and the adoration, and now you’ve simply stopped trying. Maybe it was the sheer weight of expectation when you knew the end was in sight. Maybe you shouldn’t have left behind the steadying hand that was guiding you, whether it was Arsene Wenger or George R. R. Martin.

Whatever it was, Alexis Sanchez and Game of Thrones Season 8, you’ve absolutely fucked it. You’ve just well and truly fucked it. And don’t worry, we don’t hate you. It’s nothing like that. But it is something worse. We just feel sorry for you. Whether it’s the stray coffee cup in a scene or the scoring of a single goal during an entire Premier League season, it’s just getting embarrassing now.

It’s. just. getting. sad.