Tuesday 27 December 2022

Live and Let Hope

 Half-time and 1-0 down at home to West Ham yesterday, I was preparing myself to turn my back on it all. I wasn’t burning with anger, no, I was philosophical, perhaps even with an eye on relief and a burden being removed. 

Carrying on with hope after a defeat to a team we hadn’t lost to since 2006 (I believe) would have been too much to bear. Not because of the seasoned dismay, but through an already established bitterness over that World Cup. Before that appalling tournament’s regrettable existence, Arsenal were top of the League, just one unfortunate defeat to Man U away and a draw at Southampton the only games they hadn’t won. Manchester City, sponsored by Abu Dhabi, were five points behind, even with the addition of robot Haaland and his 100 goals in 20 games, or whatever it is. Smart money, as always, is with the best squad coming through in the end, but Arteta has got us hoping, dreaming, deluding. The team has improved drastically, the self-belief and style is convincing, the boys are young but mature. Gabriel Jesus has added a vital mix of ability, experience and winning mentality, filling that void up front and taking the team to a higher level. 

The disruption to momentum was always a worry, and then last week, when I told my mate Charles that I couldn’t get tickets to Brentford at home in February, I learned that Jesus picked up an injury at that World Cup, meaning he’ll miss, at best, 3 months of the season. 

So at half-time of West Ham, I would see how the second half would go, find out if the possession of the first half could be turned into something tangible, ie, goals. If they didn’t, well, I would be more than happy to turn to the books I got at Christmas and carry on reading through the season and all the seasons after, perhaps occasionally looking up when something exciting happened. How fitting would it be, in this season of a World Cup in Qatar, that the tournament helps Man City win another league title. What a fairy story! They already had Messi and Mbappe in the Final from Paris St Germain, sponsored by Abu Dhabi. 

As it was, The Arsenal swept West Ham aside in the second half, as if the East End boys were an irrelevance. Saka, Martinelli and then Eddie Nketiah, in for Jesus, scored the goals, two that came from making your own luck, the other, Nketiah’s, one that the watching Arsenal Wenger, in his first return since leaving in 2018, would have been proud of. 

And so it’s Arsenal’s best ever start to a league season, seven ahead of Newcastle United, sponsored by Saudi Arabia, and eight over City, who play at Leeds on whatever day it is on 28th, and I live to hope another day. 

Friday 23 December 2022

Jingle Ball Rock

Step into Christmas, eh, Elton?

Curiously, I don't remember this uplifting song, written in the seventies, forming part of my festive season soundtrack as a child, and have only really been aware of it over the last ten years or so (which probably means fifteen), as if there was some dispute over rights, or something, but it's there all the December time now, like Alex Ferguson or Harry Redknapp suddenly talking to the BBC again. It's the one song that makes me still want to be out and about as a young person, dancing forlornly on nights out, the unfathomable hope propping up the underlying despair.    

The seasonal (Christmas, to clarify) despair is of a different kind now, far away from pubs and clubs, and less about loneliness and the paucity of Arsenal's midfield options (a distinctly troubling concern in either 1989 or 1992, I think). The only girl I'm worrying about is my daughter, innocently responsible for a large portion of the ever-evolving to-do-list that features a fierce battle for Priority No.1, while trying not to crack up on the school run or the children's bedtime. The squeezing of time and money fade away at these times, only to move back in later, but their daily occupation is almost numbing, at least. Christmas always goes well but the getting there is an impossible journey, until somehow it isn't,  

But still, Elton, is there a chance of Stepping Out of Christmas? Or at least taking a year off, like Glastonbury?

I can see why 1970's Elton embraced the Most Wonderful Time of the Year, for the same reasons as I tried to as outlined above, essentially the enduring scam of hope, except that EJ had loads of money and contacts and an awareness of his own brilliant gifts...not to say that he didn't have his own troubles of course: the mother, and, doubtless, the prejudice. Now that he has kids of his own, perhaps the magic is curtailed slightly, though it's a debatable point given children can bring Christmas joy back to you, and that he probably has a few quid for toys and cars. At least, as Elton points out, the admission’s free. 

There is the option of stepping out of Christmas, I guess, but not so much if you are a parent with a conscience or a heart. It's easy to swerve the Qatar World Cup if you have those things, but the brutality of the festive season is one that must be obeyed. Sometimes it feels like a trap, a trick to empty your pockets to the beneficiaries of consumerism, all the while being whipped with brightly smiling notifications of blissful gatherings around tables that are free of political conflict or an uncle or aunt going off on one about the ‘woke’ people ramming transgender rights down their throats.    

Zoe Ball of Radio 2 nearly made me well up on the drive back from the school run this week (the school run is now nearly always a drive, given the toil involved in getting to the place) when she asked us listeners how we were getting on, and that even though we might still be mired in the chaos, we were so nearly there. I know she’s paid well to be kind to us, but it was touching and helpful to hear anyway. 

And we will get there - if we’re lucky - to finally enjoy it, and do it better than Last Christmas.  


Saturday 10 December 2022

A proper legacy

If we tolerate this, then what we will tolerate next.

Not quite a Manic Street Preachers song, but a similar theme. I trust MSP aren't watching the Qatar World Cup, but if they are, Wales in it or Wales not in it, then shucks to them; forget sell-out shows, you're the sell-out! Your scuffed principles leave me with Motorcycle Emptiness.

I await their reply.

Is John Cleese watching it? Probably, now that he's of an age where he's desperate to show his distaste for anything 'woke'-related, but Basil Fawlty was at his finest when declaring to his hotel guests that "This is exactly how Nazi Germany started!" So maligned, Basil, and to be fair what a bully, but would it be similarly extreme to blame Putin's war on Ukraine on Putin being given the World Cup in 2018? Yes, you might say; after all, giving a gun to a child who has been brought up to be considerate and respectful may not result in a massacre, but of course Putin is neither considerate or respectful (despite what the Qatari's said in the build up to their tournament), and to be awarded an international global event of magnitude only rivalled by the Olympic Games can only have added an extra layer of acceptance to his methods. How we laughed when an umbrella was held over him during the winners ceremony in Moscow while everyone else got soaked in the rain. What a guy! Steve McClaren must have looked on in envy, knowing the vitriol he received for doing the same at Wembley in 2008.  

No doubt the inevitably reported record-breaking viewing figures at this World Cup will similarly embolden FIFA to give Saudi Arabia the tournament in 2030 (following a break from oppressive-regime domination with USA-Canada in 2026). Mohammed Bin Salman will be that year's Putin, making sure somebody takes great care of his own head, breaking with tradition in that country.. 

What a missed opportunity this has been. The squandered chance to think and act beyond football, and show such a country that their bullshit won’t be accepted, tolerated…or any other words people link to conduct towards minority groups. 

I’m sure independent boycotts would have been complicated, and that in England for instance, where the hardcore Brexit champions hold disingenuous sway with authorities, the backlash would have been substantial, but wouldn’t it have made such a protest all the more courageous. Something to have been proud of. 

‘One more’ lonely night: Spain 2 England 1. Euro ‘24 Final

 I've already back-tracked on unflattering comments I made towards Alvaro Morata in these pages, so let me now add Marc Cucurella to tha...