Monday, 26 March 2012

Near-Death Becomes Us All

My God this season has seen football take a battering. Tevez and his touchline tizz; JT and co undermining the manager, plus his own ongoing court battle which has seen his legal team preparing request to deny the court lip-readers; Luis Suarez, his hands unwrung and unshaken and his club's absurd support; the peerless ruination of clubs by the blind staggering inebriates in charge of Portsmouth and Rangers (and Darlington, come to that).

"Hands up who likes Luis?"

We’re about to enter a new phase of churlish shit-stirring as the Mancs lock horns over the Premier League run-in. Mancini was furious after his team’s visit to Stoke on Saturday, as if he was surprised that Pulis’s pit-bulls crashed into his delicate vases like chimps armed with claw-hammers. It is what they do.

I don’t see Citeh winning it. I really don’t. It’s called bottle and there’s a lot of muddled heads running around in sky blue right now, not least upfront. If Balotelli’s not plodding around like a bewildered foal you’ve got Dzeko doing an impression of Dimitar Berbatov, but with less finesse and half the work-rate.

Ferguson meanwhile ploughs his team onward. The squad that couldn’t beat Basle or Bilbao should have more than enough to win the title in this substandard year.

But... Well sometimes all this crap gets turned on its head. Of course it takes something truly horrendous to do it. On this occasion it was the apparent death and miraculous resurrection of one Fabrice Muamba.

I haven’t prayed for the lad, cos I don’t know who to address the remarks to. Often when God gets involved in this sort of thing He gets the credit for the upsides but never the condemnation for the cardiac arrest in the first place.

All I’ve done is offered up my warmest hopes to the man and his family. But, whatever the cause of Muamba’s remarkable survival, be it the brilliance of medical practitioners at White Hart Lane and the London Chest Hospital, or the divine intervention of the beardy mysterious mover upstairs, the knock-on effect has been brilliant.

Football fans have united – poor choice of word as it’d be nice to do without United – have ‘come together’. Numpties who commonly crowd the terraces and think supporting a football club is a simple act of badmouthing the opposition have sung, chanted, daubed on sheets, the name of a fellow human being who nearly died playing the game we all love.

Footballers and managers, in particular at Bolton Wanderers, have proved themselves to be genuine, eloquent human beings.

Owen Coyle has been a model of dignity and responsibility. This has not been an easy season for him. Maybe Muamba’s near-fatality has put the trauma of a relegation dog-fight into the perspective it deserves.

Top man.

Kevin Davies, a man whose elbows would be handed in if Greater Manchester Police declared an amnesty for dangerous weapons in the Bolton area, has been immense. This is a club captain who has spent much of the season warming a bench. He’s not refused to get his tracky bottoms off when called upon. Davies wondered aloud why it takes something like this to bring people together. I agree.

Except there’s a little more to it than that. It’s more a case that those fans, the huge majority, who simply go along to suffer or celebrate are the ones whose true opinion has come to the fore.

This vast majority is the teeth-clenching cringers bowing their heads as some half-brained bollock hollers some obscenity at a member of a different ethnic group. It’s the happy band of travellers that find no amusement in references to Heysel, Munich or Hillsborough; that doesn’t feel the need to question the officials’ parentage, even if they are doing a shit job at the time; that can shrug helplessly if someone waltzes past their wooden back four and fires it in from twenty-five yards.

Of course some’ll say it’s only a bit of terrace banter. Well not if, for example, you’re at Craven Cottage happily chanting that Mohammed Al Fayed’s son is dead. Or you’re bawling out the usual grim witless stuff cos Tottenham Hotspur are paying you a visit.

There’s a folly in believing that them that shout loudest are the true representatives of a particular group. Those that hollered the name of Fabrice Muamba over the past nine days or so are the heart and soul of football:
those that weep every other week; that married their second love, cos football never says 'yes' when asked.

Personally, I’m fed up with all the seething malice that sticks to footy like so much clag to the side of a men-only household’s pan. It’s pointless. I think there is a lot in football to feel frustrated about. Luis Suarez encapsulates it perfectly. Half the time he is a sinuous swivel-hipped genius. Half the time he’s a racist cheat. As for John Terry... well there’s only so often you can read the word ‘allegedly’ before the whole paragraph loses its meaning.

At the Reebok, football didn’t seem to matter much. Except that young Fabrice apparently saw his team-mates winning a football match on Match of the Day and I’m sure that helped him immeasurably. And that it was a match entirely blessed by Muamba’s family, who know, despite their son and partner’s circumstance, the importance of football.

So, off we pop to watch the next instalment of ours and our team’s life. Momentarily, but hopefully for longer, it’ll be with a greater sense of what unites football fans than what divides us. It’s getting too Biblical to say that a near-death and resurrection did that. Despite the dives, dodgy deals and downright dirt, football is bloody brilliant. As are most of the people who play it and watch it.

Get well soon, Fabrice.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Crossing the Line

There’s always something disturbing about listening to someone like Alan Green and finding out that you agree with him. It’d be like watching Clarkson and then digging out a tweed blazer to wear with your jeans.

But Green’s right about video technology. Just get the hell on with it.

The naysayers down the Blue Bell have come up with various arguments against:

We love a debate. That’s what footy’s about. Human error’s all part of the game. Well yes. We love jeering the poor sap of an official if he gets it wrong. But how do we know he got it wrong? Cos Sky TV have 347 different camera angles to tell us he’s wrong. (Notice I don’t say ‘she’ cos as far as I can tell Sian Massey’s understanding of the offside rule surpasses most referees’, if not Andy Gray’s.)

In other words we, the watching post-match pundits and fans, CAN’T FAIL to get it right but the people who actually make the decisions are allowed to be wrong. Bonkers.

And do we really need a blatant injustice to start a heated debate? I nearly came to blows with some Man United fan just the other day cos I happened to question Michael Carrick’s worth. It was the sort of debate that would happily have graced the cloisters of Oxford University.
‘He’s shit’ said I.
‘You’re shit’ said he. ‘And so’s your football team. It’s a shit club in a shit town.’
‘Au contraire’ I riposted while me mate Tony Thompson grasped on to me drawn-back fist.

Another argument is that it’ll slow the game down. I just don’t get this one. The object of the game is to score a goal. When it appears that one may well have been scored, thirty seconds spent checking this either way is time well spent. Particularly if you’re a Man City fan and your team are playing away for proof of a goal would be a rare thing indeed.

Others get into the practicalities. When do you stop play to look at the telly? I heard one bloke say ‘Well what would’ve happened had Bolton gone up the other end and scored? Eh? EH!? Tell me that!’ And he sat back in his chair and folded his arms as if he’d just proved the existence of God.

Well, Colin – for that was the poor unfortunate’s name – you’d have looked at the replay while Bolton’s players were running around celebrating and you’d have discovered that their goal had to be disallowed cos QPR had scored twenty seconds earlier. In other words, tough shit, Bolton. End of argument.

Or if the attacking team feel like they’ve scored a goal you can appeal and go straight to the video footage.

If this isn't the picture that ends the arguments I don't know what is.

Then there’s the ‘floodgate’ argument. If you allow this then the argument against using the TV for all decisions is irresistible. Except it isn’t. Cos a ball has either crossed the line or it hasn’t. And, I would add, a player is either offside or he isn’t. These things are specific, measurable, provable. And there technology ends.

For the rest of the decision-making has to be down to interpretation. One man’s foul is another man’s dive. One man’s two-footed lunge is another man’s reasonable attempt to obtain the ball. It’s the job of a referee to decide on this, and get pilloried by half the crowd for favouring the opposition.

So there we are. Still plenty to debate and to infuriate. Why does Ashley Young suddenly find himself bouncing off one of two dozen randomly placed trampets when he gets inside the penalty box? How is it that United continue to not give away blatant penalties at Old Trafford?

But more pertinently the big question (now the use of goal-line technology is a given) is, can a bunch of skilful overpaid mercenaries keep going when the going gets tough?

Mancini’s done pretty well this season, but his players do get downright sulky, don’t they? It’s easy to focus this discontent into the shrugging petulant form of Balotelli.

Perhaps Mario was still seething from his fine last week – which as me good pal Andy Smart remarked, doesn’t so much affect him as the citizens of Manchester who have come to expect the odd wad of a Friday night from out the back of Mario’s Ferrari. Well, them and the North-West’s biggest vendors of fireworks.

But it wasn’t just Balotelli. Barry chuntered as he left the pitch too – and he should be grateful that he gets off the bench at all in my book. Silva looked uninterested. And I’ve seen a higher work-rate during a Mexican siesta.

When you compare that to the busy bees at OT you realise that Mancini is always going to suffer from the fact that the main principle guiding the players in his squad is self-interest – and that does not a team make.

Still Tevez’ll be back soon so that’ll make all the difference.

Compare and contrast with the sides that David Moyes has scratched together over the past ten years and you’ll see why a team ethic is the absolute minimum requirement.

So, given their run-ins it’s United again to win the title (yawn); and to go down..? Well, Bolton look like they might slip free; Blackburn are playing better than the other four; Wolves are shot (Terry Connor wears the expression of a man who’s spent three years trapped in a revolving door); QPR have the sort of run-in that would make the bloke who presents The Deadly 60 turn pale; and Wigan can’t score which as any fool will tell you (and last night that fool was Steve Bruce) really doesn’t help.

Terry looks down, cos that's where he's headed, poor lamb.

Wigan v Wolves is the last game of the season and I’m pretty sure both teams will be wearing black. As for QPR, if they finish a point beneath Bolton, that ghost goal will be the festering splinter of next season’s fingernail.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

As I Write It's TTFN AVB!

Not the best time of the week to be blogging but the Tyne-Wear derby’s on the box and well I don’t feel like I should be looking, really. It’s a bit like watching your neighbours’ pit-bulls tearing into one another, and after last night’s parmo I don’t have the stomach for it.

(I do, in fact, have an excellent stomach. Not so much ripped abs as a sympathetic pregnancy. Six-pack? I call it my one-pack.)

As a Boro supporter you might suppose that my indifference is a front for deep-seated envy – and you’d be right. Except that I know for a fact that the Riverside would be currently hosting six-pointers against former Lancastrian mill towns in crisis.

The way things are looking we might just be playing all three of them in the Championship come August: Wigan, Bolton and Blackburn. The managers of the last two have somehow maintained a chirpiness that I don’t associate with Glasgow – unless you’re from the green half in which case I’m guessing you’re already celebrating winning the Scottish League title – for the next five years .

Owen Coyle managed to watch a completely different game form the rest of the world at the Etihad. The realists witnessed one Mario Balotelli trying to prove that late-night clubbing is a crucial part of a top striker’s preparation. He scored in the end, and nicked a goal on Saturday too.

I’m sure Zat Knight behaved himself on Friday evening and then spent Saturday afternoon trying to pull Balotelli. Which he did, all over the penalty box. You’ve never seen a side so bored with the comfort of its victory and yet Coyle pointed to one brilliant save by Joe Hart and suggested that ‘had that gone in’ it might have been different.

You might Coyle’s in la-la land but to be fair he did have a bad night’s sleep after being awoken by the tooth fairy. He must know that Bolton were crap.

Blackburn are little better but they do have Paul Robinson leaping about the goal like some animated king-sized blanket. And if they do stay up it’ll be his fault. Kean continues to stride perkily around like a free-range bantam who hasn’t realised that someone’s stuck the words ‘Fox Food’ on his backside.

You can only assume their optimism is as forced as the smiles on the faces of people who have to shake the hand of Michael Gove in public. Maybe it’s a better stance than that of poor old Mick McCarthy whose last press interview as Wolves manager was the longest face seen since Ruud van Nistelrooy’s last trip to a hall of mirrors.

As for Wigan, well even Dave Whelan has broken cover on the subject. Martinez has unshowily kept a collection of rare finds and bit parts up for the past three years. There’s no point in kicking him out now. Whelan is one of the most supportive chairmen out there so it must be bad.

I told you it was a bad idea to start blogging now. Villas-Boas has just been sacked. End of project. You just have to wonder what Roman Abramovich thinks he’s doing.

Here’s a bloke who has, due to I’m sure the most upright procedures both morally and legally, walked out of the shadow of communism with his trousers stuffed with the sort of money even Carlos Tevez might have a problem conceiving of.

There’s not a thing Roman hasn’t been able to get, or rather buy... except the Champions League. Theoretically it ought to have its price, though, didn’t it? And if you’ve paid enough then why the hell has it not happened?

Well the first thing Roman can be certain of is that it’s not his fault. The first person to blame was that lousy tosser Mourinho. A few League titles and FA Cups – ha! Chicken feed (which is tangentially what Boris Johnson recently called his £240k a year salary as London mayor – which begs the question what the hell does he feed his chickens?)

And furthermore the Special One thought he knew best when it came to team selection. Who does he think he is?

Still at least Avram Grant did what he was told. But lost out to United twice over. And in the process made Mick McCarthy look like a children’s TV presenter.

That’s why you had to go for Scolari. You pillock, Abramovich! England were desperate to have him as manager – wasn’t that warning enough? Scolari’s team were like some mean-spirited next-door neighbour. They wouldn’t let you have your ball back but they wouldn’t do anything with it either. Your average shore-crab had more go-forward.

Hiddink was respected, but unfortunately respected himself too much to hang around while you told him how to do his job. Ancelotti stood it for as long as he could but sadly for him could only muster a League and Cup double. (For fuck’s sake!).

So then in your wisdom you make a long-term appointment. A manager who can talk, dress and crouch with some style but who looks like he’s got his coaching notes in a satchel along with his geography homework. Still give him time and let him work through the project, and the chippy old lags who don’t take kindly to some wet-behind-the-ears philosophy student giving it his best Wenger.

In short, I don’t blame AVB. He appears to be a nice bloke. He can’t be a terrible coach, it’s just he took on the stupidest job in football – working for a man who doesn’t realise that the joy of football is that it is played by human beings with all the frailty and uncertainty that that involves, and even your slush-pit of wealth doesn’t guarantee EVERY BLEEDING THING.

God help the next stooge!