Tuesday 16 April 2024

Any Given Season

 In the Match of the Day (2) studio, following defeats for both Liverpool (1-0 at home to Crystal Palace) and Arsenal (2-0 at home to Aston Villa) on a possibly fatal Sunday for the ‘three horse’ title race, ex Manchester City goalie Shay Given declares a “special mention to Manchester City” for being six games away from a fourth league crown in five seasons.

Arsenal’s 31 points from 36 since the turn of the year will become merely a footnote, just like Liverpool’s one defeat in 2018-19 and their 54 points from 57 in 21-22. These expressions of rage against the machine aren’t enough to topple it. You have to hand it to the dominant beast for using their resources super efficiently, and Given is well within his rights to applaud them. Perhaps we don’t show enough appreciation to those that have the means and ways to rule so relentlessly. But tell you what, let’s do something about that right here! Yes, seeing as City’s latest domestic prize is being celebrated before its even been won, let’s give some “special mentions” to their equivalents: stand up for the Jeff Bezos as Amazon Prime look set to close down yet another independent bookstore; three cheers, please, for Vladimir Putin, odds on to continue his reign of terror whenever the next election will be; and big up that Doctor Marten boot about to crush those ants.

By now, you may have detected that this post has taken on a somewhat passive-aggressive tone, and special mention to you if you have, because it has. But of course, like most, I am not a fitting lecturer. Given’s praise for City will have gone down well with many because it is around this time of year that the Blue Moon brigade suddenly start to became popular, standing (alone) in the way of way of clubs with more developed hate-bases trying to wrestle the title from them. This season, for instance (and purely accepting Given’s medal-handing as a guide), people won’t have to suffer the over-celebrations of the Arsenal players and supporters who it has been so much more fun to routinely mock over the last decade or two; and others won’t have to endure all those ex Liverpool players smugly pontificating over another This Means More triumph while their self-entitled fans reach new unbearable levels. Manchester City can’t bring out the intense emotions in people that others can, but they are reliable like a hush-hush, wink-wink local MP getting you off a speeding ticket. 

But as I say, I’m not one to talk. Did I enjoy Newcastle United beating Spurs 4-0 on Saturday? Yes, I did. I would be a better person if I didn’t, but I’m not. Going much further back, ten seasons ago in 2013-14, did I want Liverpool, at the expense of City, to end their unexpected charge towards to the league title by securing the one trophy for Steven Gerrard that had eluded him? No. Was I relieved that he fell over the ball against Chelsea in the third last game of the season to bring City - and Mourinho’s Chelsea - back in? Yes. My thinking back then was that if anyone was going to win the league other than the Oligarch or Abu Dhabi lot, then it was Arsenal’s right, having run them the closest since the post-Highbury thrift era had been ushered in alongside the new money elsewhere. 

I am no more than a part of the problem. My disappointment and confusion over Manchester United fans being happy about City beating Arsenal to the title last season was misplaced. I am no better than them. I can boycott as many tournaments as I like, but when it comes down to it, it’s my own interests that rule.

So special mention to the human condition.



Saturday 24 February 2024

A potted history of potty grudges.

 It’s been three months and seventeen days since I last read The Guardian. Not bad, even if I do say so myself. I was a five- articles-a-day man -  often sneaking out from the family to click on a sixth - but I’ve subscribed to a patch-up publication to help with the withdrawals and haven’t lapsed.

This is the sort of thing that happens, they say, as you approach 50 and edge closer to retirement; the lean away from the Left and the twist to the Right. The gradual, then bitter opposition to immigrants and Trans rights. The new sympathy for those poor, put-upon millionaire Tories. The sudden need to put too much milk in tea. Some of this is nonsense of course: no one is edging closer to retirement these days. 

No, it’s nothing personal against The Guardian, I have long been waging vendettas against a range of newspapers, television programmes, sporting tournaments; some for personal reasons, some credible. I was in my twenties when I finally quit The Sun for good. I think I’d had at least one other go at walking away until, one day in 2002, sitting in my work canteen, I seethed inwardly at the final straw and then folded up my printed copy and pushed it aside. What was it, you ask, that finally brought me to the light: the objectification of women? The shameless terminology used to describe other nations? the continued championing of Kelvin ‘The Truth’ McKenzie? A belated realisation that I was feeding in daily to Rupert Murdoch’s evil empire? Was it all four of those compelling factors? No, I was outraged by the negative reporting of Arsenal’s 1-1 away draw at Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League. 

Without going into details (Arsenal went down to 10 men in the second half when Ray Parlour received the second of two questionable yellow cards, allowing The Sun reporter to go on about the club’s disciplinary record under Arsene Wenger rather than praise the team for hanging on to their 1-0 lead until the very last minute, and not mention at all an unpunished foul just before the equaliser on Robert Pires that almost certainly stopped a second goal for the Gunners), my mind was made up for me, it wasn’t even a decision anymore, but suitably for a matter involving The Sun, a no-brainer. 

I moved on to The Evening Standard, less maverick maybe, but a safe pair of hands - although it’s availability wasn’t always reliable, sometimes bringing disappointment when the shop near my work hadn’t received delivery of the afternoon/evening’s editions by the time of my lunch break. On one occasion, I went up to the girl behind the counter and clumsily asked “Do you have any Standard’s?” Hopefully she’d noted my regular purchase of the paper and didn’t take offence. 

I know that I read the Standard for at least five years, as I recall the time that they too, nearly lost my custom after the 2007 League Cup Final. My favourite columnist was Matthew Norman, who though was a Spurs fan and made clear his issues with Wenger, was professional and skilled enough not to let it cloud his output (although of course I don’t know know what was edited out.) But then one day he wasn’t (in my view) and I refused to buy his paper for three days. A part of me believed (as apparently it does now) that my amnesty had shown them who was boss around here. When I handed my pennies to the girl at the shop on day 4, I was half expecting to read an apology.

I only stopped reading The Standard later that year when the first of my three children came along. My son’s arrival coincided with many things being dropped from my life, and reading a newspaper was one. There simply wasn’t the room to bring something else into the house among the sterilised bottles and nappies and baby wipes, or the time with all the baby signing and the existential angst. 

I would, though, live to turn my back on another publication. The existence of something called the internet allowed newspapers to be read online, and somewhere along the way I found The Guardian, or more accurately The Guardian football section, bringing me excellent feature writers twinned with a morality that chimed with mine, and no doubt further educated it. For 13 years - or 3 World Cups/European Championships - I’d found my home. Of course there were wobbles here and there, but the addiction or habit had forged a strong foothold. 

Until that November of 2023. 

What on earth could I have found so offensive in the inoffensive? The judgement of an Arsenal match, you wonder. My, aren’t I so predictable? The Guardian itself may have played a part in the betrayal I felt. I’d learned through them the horrors evident in repressive Qatar and Saudi Arabia. So in the aftermath of Arsenal’s 1-0 defeat at Newcastle that carried three acts of injustice in the goal alone, I was in no mood, even as late as the Wednesday following the Saturday match, when one of the regular columns criticised Mikel Arteta’s criticism of the referee/VAR. I was self-aware enough to understand that this column often cited “tin-hatted fans”, and that my subsequent Ferguson/Redknapp-like strop amounted to such a slur. But as Arsenal prepare to face Newcastle today in the return fixture at The…in North London, I am almost proud that my pettiness has lasted so long. 

Back in my GCSE year, I woke up to the sounds of Radio 1 DJ Simon Mayo, who unlike fellow Spurs fan Matthew Norman, wasn’t restrained in sharing his feelings on Arsenal, regularly fitting a Tony Adams donkey noise into the breakfast show and slating George Graham’s team even as they raced to the title that 90-91 season while Tottenham plunged further into financial irregularity and mid-table. I kept listening because my self-esteem was low enough to invite respect for Mayo to the point that I hung around waiting for his validation. The one time he said anything nice about Arsenal, the morning after their 3-0 win over champions Liverpool, I went in to school with the proverbial spring in my step. How sad. After that it was normal service resumed, and I even listened the Monday morning after Spurs beat Arsenal 3-1 in the first ever Wembley FA Cup semi-final and Mayo had Gary Lineker on as a guest. 

Mayo was also horrible to the listeners who phoned in to play the breakfast show games, and the sadly late Dianne Oxberry, the lone voice of reason and warmth alongside Mayo and the man-child news reader Rod McKenzie, ticked him off for being sarcastic and disrespectful. My dad chuckled at the “jumped up, little…” though Mum, distant from football and level-headed, considered my choice of Mayo as my ‘one free kill’ a waste because he was “so insignificant.” I am comfortable now, recalling Mayo’s laughably prudish lecture on Top of The Pops right after the Divinyls performance of I Touch Myself, and I smirk at his righteous indignation when rebuking Danish actor Sofie Grabol for unknowingly swearing on one of his more recent shows. I didn’t listen to it but read Grabol’s recollection in an interview. Mayo is not so much Alan Partridge, more Dave Clifton. A dosser and a dwad. 

I don’t know what the alternatives were, Radio 2 wasn’t then what it is now - and maybe I should have just got up out of bed - but the me now wouldn’t give Mayo one breath. Nowadays, because of that internet thing, you can find lots of people feeling how you are feeling about your team and the people who hate them. I pretty much use Arseblog as a counselling service. I don’t go anywhere near the danger zones of Sky Sports and Talksport FM. I did, though, expect better of The Guardian/a small part of its football section. 

So when, hot on the heels of the St James’ Park fallout, a rival comes along to offer me a cut-price deal, I will happily move on and take my custom elsewhere. I have a right not to agree with the man who is not agreeing with the manager of my team, and just as I take umbrage with that freedom of speech, I will activate my freedom of movement. Before Saudi Arabia come for it. 


Thursday 15 February 2024

Mocking all over the world

 The second half at the London Stadium was just a few minutes old on Sunday afternoon (11.02.23) when viewers and listeners were treated to the most compelling evidence yet of a new trend that is definitely growing amongst match-going fans in the Premier League. Definitely a new trend? Well, I’ve had to go back in the edit and delete Upton Park as West Ham United’s home, but don’t let that discredit my claim. 

Leandro Trossard of the Woolwich Arsenal had just directed a shot wide of the West Ham goal, and this was immediately followed by the customary cry of collective mocking from the East End flash Harrys. It was the usual noise of this sort, the one you also hear when a waiter drops a tray of glasses, the one that used to be 'Wahey!' but over time has lost the w and the a, and gained an r at the beginning (this version has now usurped 'aggggh!' as the lead insult of choice, but what will never change is that mis-directed shots and sliding cutlery will always fall prey to a certain section of the public hard-wired to find other people’s misfortune incredibly amusing.)

Of course, the Trossard baiting in itself isn't unusual, but the context here warrants examination; in short, the scoreline at the time of it:  West Ham United 0 Arsenal 4.

If anyone was ripe for ridicule in that moment, it wasn't Trossard, a player who'd already scored a vicious, bending third for Arsenal in a first half where all four of the goals for the visitors up to then had come. People on the wrong end of a 0-4 reverse at home to London rivals, now I can see the humour in that, but more to the point, I would expect the natives to have observed Trossard's latest assault on their goal with this restlessness that the media types go on about. I would expect to hear the strains of disgruntlement, or even the discontent of silence, maybe even see concerned head-shaking (although not on the radio.) What I wouldn't expect to hear is a goalscorer in the opposing team who are four goals up having the piss taken out of.

Unbelievable, you cry, but wait, the same thing happened to Bukayo Saka in Arsenal's win at Nottingham Forest two weeks before. He'd already scored as part of a two-goal lead over the hosts, but then obscurely was ribbed for narrowly missing a third for the away side.  In this instance, it may be churlish to investigate Forest’s home support, who are quietly becoming some of the most ‘interesting’ in the Premier League (particularly as Stoke City are no longer in it.) Take their barracking of the very same Saka in an FA Cup game three years ago, when they chanted “You let your country down!” after his penalty-against-the-post that saw Italy take the Euro 2020 (aka Euro 21) trophy against England at Wembley six months before. How, I wonder, would one of Forest’s most famous ever players, former captain and manager, Stuart Pearce feel about that chant?

I hasten to add that it isn’t just Arsenal players receiving the mocking-while-winning experience; I have recently and frequently been affronted on behalf of other teams, too. What ever happened to the kind of face-covering despair so regularly expressed by, for example, Newcastle United’s fans from the late winter to spring of 1996? 

I blame these world and European tournaments, where fans in the stadiums are shown flitting between sadness and joy, one extreme emotion replacing another by virtue of noticing themselves on the big screen. Many will argue that this is another virus we have picked up from those pesky other countries, the disturbing revelation that losing a football match might not be the end of the world. Honestly, it will be half and half scarves next.

Or might it be that fans are capable of evolving too? We hear about these modern day managers bringing in their counter-pressing and passing lanes and cycle hubs and XG's of 120, but is it unreasonable to consider that the paying mugs, once labelled hooligans, now derided as customers, can just as cleverly put strategies together, all too aware that outside the stadium there is even more darkness, with interest rates and energy bills and bloody Thatcher, and that if they can find a spark of joy in the other team’s wing half narrowly missing his sixth goal of the game after just three minutes, they will rightfully take it. 

Monday 5 February 2024

Howe-away the lads!

 Tempting as it is to snigger when Newcastle United complain  about anything these days, their supporters’ protest during the home 4-4 draw with Luton Town (Saturday 3/2/24) that highlighted a succession of late evening away kick offs, at least have an ounce of credibility about them (certainly more so than Eddie Howe’s moaning about being forced to comply with Financial Fair Play rules.)

Of course, sympathy may swiftly be beheaded when you consider that United’s new-found attraction, bought and paid for by the murdering PIF regime of Saudi Arabia, is at the heart of these televised dates, and to cry foul at a Premier League who allowed your club’s shiny new owners to pass their fit and proper persons test seems a bit inconsistent (though Geordies, by their very nature, are inconsistent, Alan Partridge might have said.)

Speaking more generally, it’s obviously unreasonable that a North East team’s fans should be expected to regularly turn up to a match one day and travel back the next, but then, sadly, reason has little to do with elite football in this country. And of course it’s not just them who get the wrong end of the deal. One of their recent 7pm kick off travels was to Fulham in the FA Cup, but this game was just three three evenings since the West London team were playing at Liverpool in a semi final second leg of another cup competition. Old school football bloke might say they should just get on with it like in the proper days, when there were 12-player squads and men were men, but couldn’t the game have been played on Monday or Tuesday? Chelsea, who court marginally less compassion than Newcastle, played Aston Villa in the Cup on Friday, three nights after their own second leg semi of the Carabao Cup. Why not Saturday or Sunday? 

Questions, reason, anger: they will, for all the logic behind them, count for nothing in the end. Take Jurgen Klopp, who has announced his intention to leave Liverpool at the end of the season; a man who has won everything in the club game, a legend, huge personality. Yet for all his on-pitch success he has got nowhere with the comments he’s made about senseless fixture schedules and nation-state clubs. There will have been wry smiles at FIFA and UEFA and at the Premier League when his decision to step down became public. Another giant overcome. Even someone like Klopp is just passing through. Collecting trophies and being mugged off. The authorities just ride it out, knowing it will be someone else’s turn soon. Protesting just becomes part of the story. 

Wolves played Chelsea on Christmas Eve. There were dissenting voices, but people still went and watched, tuned in. That we won’t see a Christmas Day match is only because of the threat Julia Donaldson brings. Newcastle fans can protest long into the night of their next midweek fixture in the capital, but it’s as futile, and in their case as unjustified, despite the semblance of common sense, as Howe’s other moan about injuries. These things are happening to everyone, and your own greed will eat you in the end. 


Monday 22 January 2024

Come on feel the Moyes

Bramall Lane, Sunday Jan 24 2024, and West Ham boss David Moyes isn’t someone who wants to pin two late dropped points on referee Michael Salisbury.

“I’m certainly not going to talk about refereees, that’s for sure, I don’t want to get myself in trouble.”

Righto, Dave, let’s see how you get on.

“You should ask the referee and see what they think.”

Well done for sticking it out, Dave.

“We have got to a stage where we are settling for a level of officiating where we are all shrugging our shoulders and saying OK.”

Shrugging our shoulders, yep.

“We are shrugging our shoulders and seeing what they are going to do. We don’t know what they are going to do.”

Still shrugging our shoulders, okey dokey. Not even the Glenn Hoddle “scratching our heads”, but just a teenage type of apathy greeting every questionable decision against the ‘Happy Hammers’. Wonder who “they” are?

“We’re disappointed, we feel as if things have gone against us.” 

Misfortune?

“We’ll only blame ourselves.”

Very noble, Dave, fair play to you. 

“But ultimately we could look at other people as well.”

Ok. 

When it wasn’t put to Moyes by reporters that Vladimir Coufal’s red card might have been a few weeks in the making seeing as, you know, the right back went unpunished for an assault and battery on Wolves defender, Jeanricner Bellagarde at the London Stadium last month (a case of on-pitch and video negligence that former Ham striker, now pundit, Ian Wright, called “pathetic”) he also opted not to talk about referees. 




Mourinho:Flames and fire(d)

 Jose Mourinho may be the one I hated the most. He’s just been sacked by Roma, which is news I greeted without glee, but such misfortune befalling him would once have been craved.

The tribal nature of the football fan ensures that grievances and injustices (certainly in the eye of the beholder) are held passionately close to the chest, and for me the swaggering yet snarling manager of the billionaire oligarch team as they indulged in their first rush of riches with the right sociopath for the job was the antidote to lovely Arsene and his comparatively moderate purchases that were the ‘invincibles’ just past. 

Mourinho’s post Carling Cup Final interview of 2007 stands out as the time that my already boiling disgust of him had its lid blown off. In the space where most managers happily reflect on their team having just won a trophy, Mourinho mocked Wenger, whose Arsenal team Chelsea had just beaten 2-1, for never winning any trophies. The interviewer (Gabriel Clarke, I’m guessing) argued “he’s won a few”, to which an affronted Mourinho spat back “Not since I arrive.”

This seemed to be the first case of a manager mocking another manager’s performance. Mourinho’s manner tempted comparisons with Brian Clough, who also criticised his fellow bosses but only ever for the perceived brutality of their teams’ conduct, while Alex Ferguson’s own tirade on Wenger (also after Arsenal had lost 2-1) in March 96-97 centred on the Frenchman’s rejection of Manchester United’s wish to extend the season due to apparent fixture congestion. Ferguson also believed that Wenger should have been focussing more on Ian Wright’s behaviour, this being the game where Wright committed to a two-footed lunge on Peter Schmeichel (this very much an on-pitch feud.)

Mourinho didn’t like it that Wenger kept bringing into question the ‘financial doping’ in evidence at Stamford Bridge. Mourinho said “He [Wenger] loves Chelsea…he’s a voyeur”. Shortly after, Mourinho mentioned that he’d sent an apology to Wenger, who said it must have been sent by horse as he’d never received it. In the next Arsenal-Chelsea match at Highbury, a 2-0 win for the away side, Mourinho strode down the tunnel at full-time without stopping to shake Wenger’s hand. Wenger followed, putting a hand through his hair. 

Wenger had a degree in Economics, Mourinho in psychology. Wenger applied the historic principles of a conservative Arsenal board, while Mourinho embraced the open chequebook of Roman Abramovic, even moaning about having to potentially play 16 year olds if he wanted another marquee signing. In the end he paid the price when Abramovic started buying the players himself, and a parting of the ways came early - and for me, mercifully (good for my blood pressure, good to see a 5-trophy in 3 seasons era come to a close) - in 2007-08. 

Arsenal finished four points off the title winners (United) that same season, but that economical prudence Wenger had been tasked with to see them through the millstone transition from Highbury to The Emirates meant that trophies had still eluded them by the time Mourinho returned to Chelsea in 2014-15. Relations had healed between the now rival managers again, and just before their first meeting back, Mourinho made comments about a manager doing something more important for a club than short-term success. He, Mourinho, said he couldn’t sacrifice himself in such a way because of “my mentality”. 

I was much cheered, but the accord wouldn’t last the season. 







Wednesday 27 December 2023

Commentator subbed to restrict the pain to eyes only

In the halcyon days before VAR, revered evil genius Pep Guardiola bemoaned that absence of a fellow dictator to a post-match reporter, insisting “we have to have it.”  Yet in the Premier League tonight (27/12/23) when his Manchester City defender John Stones goes down injured at Everton during one of those dead-play moments before offside is confirmed, he moans at the officials about the flag not going up sooner. For a man who now has the World Club title to go with the Super Cup, it is probably easy to believe he can have everything, but to push for video technology and then rail against a directive that has come about only because of video technology is a bit like a Brexit voter complaining about NHS waiting lists. 

Guardiola’s hypocrisy is all the more evident given it was he who drove a bus around the country in 2019 claiming that 350,000,000 goals a season were wrongly awarded or denied, but in the end at Goodison it didn’t matter, at least in terms of the scoreline: City were one down at the time of Stones’ injury (he was subsequently replaced to applause from his former home crowd, a reception hardly comparable to which Wayne Rooney found whenever he returned there with City’s local rivals United; was that sense of betrayal more acute because Rooney was raised in Croxteth and not Barnsley?) but the winners of Treble apathy scored three without reply in the second half, which was annoying to watch but at least I didn’t have to listen to Clive Tyldesley while it was going on. After 15 minutes it may have seemed that the likeliest candidate to be removed from the play was the hapless Mathieu Nunes, but Amazon Prime has a no-commentary, stadium noise-only feature and I exercised this feature gladly. Some people can contribute too much to a game. 

Talking of playing to the crowd, there was distinctly less satisfaction in watching Guardiola and his players at the end exhibiting their joy in front of fans boasting about being ‘Champions of the World’ (as Chelsea once were.) Even if you forgive young footballers cocooned in a dedicated professional bubble, this is still a pro-oppressive regime club that has just returned from securing world domination in Saudi Arabia. At this point, I activated the telly completely off function.

Tomorrow it will be same time but different place for Arsenal-West Ham, now a traditional festive season fixture, which is a piece of information essential to distract you from working out that the venue in question will be The Emirates. I have to confess that it will be very convenient for my moral credibility if that sponsorship deal were to end. Yes, the stadium itself wasn’t responsible for any casualties when it was being built unlike the death (Star) traps constructed in Qatar for that event last year that shall never be named, and yes, people are free to express their identity in it, but I myself am open to accusations of double-standards while those letters continue to stain the building and those pretend air stewardesses remain beside the tunnel. I could try to justify this by saying that at least this group of women (and they are always women) are allowed out in public but sadly there are just some internal noises you can’t simply turn off. 




Any Given Season

 In the Match of the Day (2) studio, following defeats for both Liverpool (1-0 at home to Crystal Palace) and Arsenal (2-0 at home to Aston ...