Monday, 23 April 2012

Anyone But You Two

They think it’s all over.... but by Fergie’s Florid Face it isn’t, me hearties! As sure as there’s a picture of Roberto Mancini in the window of every 1980’s gentlemen’s hairdressers, there’s a game and a half to be had next Monday. So why do I feel uneasy? Well, one of ‘em’s going to end up happy. And I’m not looking forward to that.

Now where's that lovely smile gone, eh?

Of course I might be able to offer a reluctant shrug in the direction of much of Citeh’s league form this year – the incision and swiftness of their interplay; the invention of David Silva as he unpicks a defence like a seasoned shellfish eater picking out a winkle with a pin; the drive of the mighty Yaya as he drives forward like a Volvo Estate through a cloud of flies.

But Yaya went to Africa, Silva turned to brass, Kompany got dismissed then crocked, and Tevez was back home honing his golf swing. For inspiration they turned to some English yeomen or Mario Bagatelli, the man with the pinball brain. Yes, the vainglory of Citeh as their involvement in Europe became so minimal as to be Marine Le Pen-like (and by ‘eck them Frenchies lie to the opinion pollsters every election, don’t they? Put a pencil and a ballot paper in their hands though and one fifth of them turn into racists of the most rabid kind) and the title slipped through their blinged-up sky-blue fingers.

 And all the while Ferguson, with an infusion of unsung heroes, ploughed his well-worn furrow with the certainty of the seasoned artisan. No complacency, no real razzle-dazzle, but a lot of know-how. And slowly the wheel turned back to old Professor Plum. And across town the deflowering of Manchester’s Miss Peacock would have to wait.

I mean there he is, old man Fergie, allowing himself a right old chuckle on the touchline at Old Trafford as United take an unassailable 4-2 lead. But the face was positively molten with rage by the end. Ha! Ha-ha-ha!

Yes, for the average football fan for whom triumph is as elusive and short-lived as the life of a damselfly, the mirth to be had at the expense of the expensively-assembled is one’s only recompense.

But then this season hasn’t really put paid to the argument that wealth will out. Dalglish’s laughable ragbag of a team, winner of five home games out of seventeen, might well end the season with two cups.

Jeez, even Chelsea, run with all the clear-sightedness of a mole in a sandstorm, might just weedle their way into a Champions League final.

Loth as I am to give credit to Newcastle, they’ve bucked the trend a bit, and in Cabaye, Cisse and the mended Ben Arfa (hard not to think of him in Albert Square isn’t it?) they’ve got four of the players of the season. Pardew has shopped around brilliantly but he’s had a fair bit more to spend than many.

The reason that Swansea and Norwich have been so roundly praised, or patronised, is that they’ve got fuck-all money and they’ve squeezed every last ounce of talent from the poundstretcher purchases they’ve got. David Moyes is the benchmark for most managers these days and he’s won sweet f-all in his time at Goodison.

If you support these clubs you can stick out a firm chin and be ‘proud of the lads’ cos they’ve given irrational per cents of effort.

If you support one of the top clubs you spend the season with either that sneer-cum-gloat that Abramovich walks around wearing or the hard-eyed sense of injustice that Mark Hughes employs every time one of his hooped masochists begs the ref to turn yellow to red.

Not for you the scramble for fourth spot, the humbling foot-slog of the Europa League.

Now it may well be that the Europa League is the Lidl of international club football but as any acute observer, unswollen by the trappings of ceaseless wealth and the tedium of success, will tell you, we like a traipse round Europe cos our team’s done well. Ask Stoke, Fulham, hellfire Boro!

But for now the plucky majority can only stand by, like meek flag-waving peasants at some royal bloody parade, as Mancini and Ferguson start ratchetting up the tension for this season’s big one.

It’s difficult isn’t it, neutrals? As with voting preferences in this country you have to ask yourself what’s the least worst option?

Citeh finally collaring a title, their expenditure just about exceeding their capacity to self-destruct, and Mancini plodding along with this ridiculous post-match pessimism that contrasts markedly the Handbook of Italian Gesture he unveils in the technical area.
A side that have somehow embraced a man who displayed some of the rankest behaviour by a professional footballer ever witnessed at a British club.

Or Him Again. The Greatest Manager Ever Ever Ever. Two titles in two years with a bunch of players who most independent observers reckon ain’t all that. It would be his finest achievement yet. But for God’s sake you’ve achieved enough you greedy Glaswegian git. Get your bus pass, give the job to Moyes and let the poor bloke win summat himself (preferably after a brief hiatus where, I dunno, Norwich win the League).

Yes, yes, yes, it’s plain envy on one level. But this should be a mouth-watering fixture – up there with the Liverpool-Arsenal decider in ’89 (and I’ll be honest and say I wanted the post-Hillsborough ‘Pool to win that cos they’d played some of the most gorgeous football known to man that season).

"We have no chance. We are shit, honestly."

And yet for the neutral there’s no choice available. We don’t want either of you to win it. Simple as that. If I was at the Premier League I’d be deducting fifteen points off each of you out of sheer bloody spite. And that still wouldn’t be enough. So good luck on Monday. May the best team win. And lose.

Monday, 16 April 2012

National Distress

Hi there!

Into traditional country pastimes? Enjoy a bit of a flutter? Like watching horses die? Then come along to the Grand National! The race all the family can learn to gamble on!

Avert your eyes as voluptuous lassies totter by like uncertain T.Rex’s. Revel in the atmosphere at the start as three numpties tug at a tape that was first used in 175(frigging)4. Laugh as this nation’s favourite jump-jockey hitches a lift to fetch his runaway steed. Roar as jockey after horse after jockey rolls around on the turf as thudding hooves threaten to separate their bones from one another!

Is that Ashley Young in the red there?

Look perplexed as black curtains appear from nowhere to shoot another equine victim through the bonce. Look even more puzzled when you remember that if a jockey breaks his ribs they take him off in an ambulance. Wonder aloud that if the jockey faced the same fate as the horse he might jump over them big fences with a lot more care.

Put that to the back of your mind as two horses power their way up the home straight in a finish so thrilling it took your breath away almost as quickly as the bloke with the shotgun pointed at the head of Synchronised.

Isn’t it Grand, the National? Well yes. And no.

There’s no doubt that this event is not the kindest way to treat an animal. You only have to look at the unburdened bliss of the galloping horses who have unseated their riders and avoided the menacing black curtains to see how much more pleasant life could be for these mighty beasts.

If it was down to common sense – or even horse sense – the Grand National would no more exist than a boxing match. But I enjoy it, despite myself. At least I do up until the point where the bones snap and the desperadoes employed to put an animal out of his misery emerge from their deathly hollows. Much as I love a good boxing match until some instantaneously unconscious fellow falls backwards and his battered head smashes against the canvas.

So, along with anyone with a pulse and a conscience, I’m finding it hard to write a blog while simultaneously wringing my hands. Country folk, a breed apart (and in some corners of this fair land of ours, an inbreed apart) will tell you that this sort of horse racing is part of a long tradition that goes back yonks. You know... like otter-hunting, badger-baiting and incest. But we’ve banned them.

Theirs is not the stoutest of arguments. But even the RSPCA aren’t talking about banning the whole thing. There are many things that would improve safety: fewer runners, shorter course, lower fences - OK, no fences; actually, you know what call it a flat race and put them Irish pixies and Frankie Dettori on their backs and it’ll all be fine. So long as the little sadists don’t whip the nags to death before they cross the finishing line.

I suppose the point is that the Grand National is dangerous to horse and rider. (Maybe if a jockey dies there’ll be a rethink.) And surely the peril is the point. If it was six furlongs with a broomstick to hop over no one would give a shit. And no animal would die in the making of the race. Yawn.

Either we embrace it as it is, deaths and all, or we say no pony gets to die in my name. In the UK, it's a tragedy. In France, it's lunch. Let's not speak of this again. Til next year.

More cruelty was inflicted – or in Everton’s case self-inflicted – in the FA Cup semi-finals. For a team that thrives on an Up'n'At'Em attitude, Moyesy’s boys seemed Down'N'Off'Em after they scored. They let Liverpool blunder into their second Cup Final. The Reds deserved it cos the Blues didn't.

Meanwhile Chelsea benefitted from the ghost goal syndrome. (Mourinho must be spitting feathers).

There’s no point banging on about this any longer except to say that the only person who looked like an utter chump was Martin Atkinson, and the poor sod should not be left in that position.

I mean for fuck’s sake this country has CC-Bastard-TV on every street corner of every town in the hope that transgressions of the law might be witnessed and the perpetrators prosecuted. However that’s nowt compared to the number of lenses pointing at the action in a high-profile football match. It’s positively intrusive. I’m surprised Sky doesn’t stick a pen-cam up a penalty-taker’s arse during a shoot-out.

And yet when it comes to a SIMPLE case of ‘was it in or not?’ the ref can not resort to its use. It’s bonkers. Utterly bonkers. It’s so stupid that I’m sure George Osborne would hesitate before not using it.

Atkinson is clearly a decent human being and he apologised to Redknapp afterwards. Be nice to think that’s the last time. Be even nicer to think that Ashley Young might have a ready apology for going down more easily than a Friday lunchtime ale.
Even Ferguson had to concede that the lad hit the deck like a soft pat of butter. We had the usual ‘there was contact’ apologia, as if a passing moth could take out a fit and fleet winger.

The thing is, while you could say that neither the penalty kick at Old Trafford nor the non-existent goal at Wembley (presumably scored by Juan Anti-Mata) were conclusive, they did affect the matches. Because they were goals.

Ashley Young's Plummet to the Summit

If there was a villain this weekend, it wasn’t Atkinson, it wasn’t even the dopy Aintree arse-wipe who thought they could hold up a race while someone retrieved their horse (imagine Usain Bolt turning up 10 minutes late and still getting a start), it was Ashley Young for taking United on a plummet to the summit. And once again proving that personal morality means nowt so long as you're winning – even if thirty-eight cameras are watching.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Kenny Cannae Go Too Soon

Regular readers will know I’m not one to home in on soft targets. I leave that to other so-called pundits. However in the case of Liverpool I’ll make an exception.

There were many predicting that the magnificent Carling Cup Final victory (when they stumbled past a plucky but average Cardiff side like a drunk stepping over another drunk) would be a tipping point for the club. Well it has been. They’ve been backsliding ever since.

Liverpool have been the worst side in the Premier League since Christmas. That’s right. Worse than Wolves, the team that’s so desperate to have you over that you get two free goals with every visit.

Worse than QPR, an assemblage of hooped misfits whose ground staff get the bath running early otherwise Cisse gets even more pissed off.

Worse than Aston Villa, a team with all the creativity of a sock drawer. Alex McLeish gets short shrift from the Holte End – and he’s probably earned it. Then again McLeish performed very similarly with Birmingham City last year as Dalglish has with Liverpool. Tin-pot victory preceded horrid decline.

The difference with Kenny is that he is of course a legend. There’s not a true fan that doesn’t have a Mount Rushmore of Scouse countenances emblazoned across his or her mind.

Shankly, Paisley, Fagan, Dalglish – and if you’re utterly pathological in your support, Benitez. And let’s not be churlish, the achievements of the first four especially were phenomenal.

Only Dalglish has returned. It looked like a fool’s errand, trying to stabilise a faltering outfit being led into the wilderness by the plodding Hodgson. And yet the Reds finished last season with a team humming with self-belief and capable of playing and winning matches without necessarily relying on a Dirk Kuyt toe-poke.

The Yankee pass-the-parcel saw the music stopped with John W Henry and the Fenway Sports Group. Funds have been made available and by Gawd the boss has spent it. Wisely he sold Fernando Torres, in the belief that he was uncapable of separating the laces that some evil bastard had glued together just before the World Cup in 2010.

That money has gone on: Andy Carroll, who can’t score either but by some accounts often hits the bar; Jordan Henderson, who is something of an all-rounder in that he can’t actually do fuck-all; and Stewart Downing who keeps resembling a decent player without ever really being one.

Oh and Luis Suarez, who mixes brilliance with brainlessness in the best traditions of footballing maverick geniuses.

Dalglish has tried to integrate these expensive wallies and it hasn’t worked. Not one player of a North-Eastern bent has done owt but look a bit shit (though Downing had a good Carling Cup final). Meanwhile Maxi and Kuyt keep popping up off the bench and making the team look better. Does King Kenny adjust accordingly? Nah.

Henderson starts but couldn’t deliver a simple message to the next-door neighbour let alone a telling final ball. Carroll needs some decent service but then again he never gets himself into positions where its absence becomes relevant.

Alan Shearer has said that Dalglish is the right man to take Liverpool forward. But there’s a man who knows that the status of ‘legend’ means that the fans give you a lot more rope. Shearer’s tenure over Newcastle’s drop into the Championship saw such a strong commitment to winning ugly that he hired Iain Dowie as his Number Two.

No one’s blamed Shearer at the Gallowgate. It's illegal. You'd get hanged from the Angel of the North.

But even Koppites must wonder what exactly Dalglish can add to the club nowadays. The man was an utterly brilliant footballer - no one could back his arse into a tightly-marking defender and turn away from him quite like Ken. And he managed one of the most brilliant sides ever to grace English club football.

And it’s clear that it’s as much his love for the club as his sense of vocation that’s seen him return. That sentiment was enough to hoist the Mickey Mouse Cup. Or at least that’s what Scousers called it when Boro won in 2004.

I know... any excuse!

But it’s not going to be enough to lift the club now.

Neither are Kenny’s uppity post-match interviews:
‘Good point today, Kenny?’
‘What d’ye mean?’
‘Draw was a fair result?’
‘Look don’t have a pop at my players. I cannae fault ‘em. Even ths shite ones.’

Kenny deserves the legend status. Let him keep it. And give him a nice way out.
Reality is descending on the Etihad too, which is nice. Balotelli continues to be the focus and just as Dalglish seems incapable of resting poor purchases, so Mancini’s affection for a lad who’s barely acquainted with sanity is baffling.

There’s no doubt that Citeh will lose the title now. I doubt the feeder club Arsenal will be too obliging this Sunday. Game over. Fergie's sitting pretty. Now there's an oxymoron.

In other news, it’s the US Masters golf tournament. That’s right, the old freakily green course in Augusta and bastion of all things backwardly golfish. No women allowed, and for a long time it was the same for blacks unless they were lugging a bag of clubs around for you.

Golf revels in its traditions and in my limited experience that means chubby twats in V-necked sweaters telling you how there are too many immigrants in this country whilst one of them to makes him his gin and tonic.

Why Augusta won’t allow women to be members is beyond me. I mean who the fuck does it think it is, the Church of England? No, wait, they’re way more progressive.