Saturday 28 January 2023


It’s March 1991, and the week leading up to the biggest game of the Barclays Division One season, Arsenal three points ahead of champions Liverpool and looking to stretch the lead at Anfield on the Sunday in a veritable ‘six-pointer’. That same Sunday afternoon, Mum has arranged to visit her best friend, Lesley, in hospital. With Dad. I can only speculate as to the response he gave her when told of the time and date, but he certainly released his disdain to me: “You know what’s happening that day, don’t you?”

But this season, this present day, the joke is on me. The game: Arsenal versus Manchester City, February 15th: Current Position of Competing Sides; 1st vs 2nd: Coverage: Amazon Prime Video. Streaming Service Access Available in My household: Amazon Prime Video (thanks to borrowed password from a family account). So What's the Problem, Then? It’s the first night of our half-term holiday away. Ah…

I knew all about the holiday of course, had agreed it was a great idea for a great price, and was looking forward to something that normal people did when school was out. I didn’t think to check the date before we booked, as I’m not in that sphere anymore, which in itself perhaps questions my disappointment; moreover, I’d only checked the date of the match on Sunday, when feeling that I’d missed out on the high of Arsenal’s 3-2 win over Manchester United with last minute winner. The chance to sell my soul to Sky Sports would have been there if I’d thought of it earlier. With two of the household horizontal with the virus going round the family, and me functioning the best, the 4:30pm kick off could have been purchased via Now TV, though by the time the opportunity presented itself, the match was imminent and I’d committed to picking up an urgent dose of peptol bismol for the missus (out of stock everywhere, it turned out.) The voice in the head played it down: you spent a tenner on Spurs away last April and look how that turned out. I agreed and headed for the chemists, switching the radio on, hearing the noise in the stadium and the thrill of the game and feeling a little irrelevant. 

So I was looking forward to the Man City game even more eagerly, only to find, 32 years after I was denied the highlights of this fixture’s 1991-92 incarnation by a mandatory family lunch (I sulked the whole way through it, determined that Mum, who’d engineered the outside occasion, saw how much she’d hurt me. For the record, I’d been to the actual game in question the previous afternoon), the family dynamic had struck again to thwart me. 

Unlike that 91-92 season of terrace-filled electricity, I cannot get in to the ground these days, no matter how early I get on the phone lines or web page when it’s ticket sales day, so have to rely on the telly to get closer to the players, to get to know them more. It’s what I’m left with. So missing the Man City home match is understandably a gripe. 

The other thing to say is that this fixture would already have been played had the Queen not died just before the weekend of the originally scheduled meeting. That decision to postpone matches still seems stupid, and is part of an ongoing conspiracy by the monarchy to ruin my football life. For instance, just 26 years ago no one cared about my hat trick in a pre-season friendly for Highground against Cotterells Club when it fell on the same day as Princess Diana being killed. It was completely overshadowed when the news came through. 

Friends, family and royalty, who needs them?



Friday 13 January 2023

A Christmas philosophy

One of the stand-out Christmas successes this year was the redeployment of the recycling area in our kitchen. The bottom drawer, as mooted some time ago, is now host to a tub for recycling and a tub for rubbish. The visual effect is pleasing on the eye, in so much as the eye can’t see it, while the wooden shelf by the window is no longer filled with tins, cans and bottles while there is also no need for a bin-bag hanging off the fridge door anymore. It really is the gift that keeps on giving! 

Our 15 year old was moved to submit his approval of the new system, which though requires probably the same amount of visits to the outside bins, is literally contained and offloaded in one tip rather than, as previously, requiring several trips back and forth from the open window, where the missus would hand out the dispiriting collection of loose items as if we were operating through a piss-take hatch. 

The revolutionary system has hopefully exceeded the trial basis, which was basically proposed by the missus as a way of making sure I complied properly with the process and didn’t re-employ the window shelf as an overflow option. I believe that I have passed the probation period with flying colours, while still aware that any complacency could result in a written warning, or worse, a return to the previous recycling approach.

My mantra is the one espoused by Mikel Arteta, and also the one plagiarised by me on a recent Talking Additional Needs parental course: that mantra being ‘Trust The Process’. I must ignore the temptation to pop a couple of stray items on the side as much as the Arsenal player in possession should avoid hoofing the ball up the pitch when harassed by opponents near the goal. Arteta will back Granit Xhaka for knocking the ball in-off Chris Wood and past Bernd Leno as happened at Burnley last season, but you’ll be out in your ear if you take the easy option. Sniffing doesn’t stem the runny nose. Don’t be afraid of bumps in the road. The long game is the short game. 

Once upon a time  in this country, playing the ball across your own goal was one of the first no no’s you learned, the football equivalent of running with scissors, or taking sweets from a stranger. All part of the English DNA. Abroad of course, there has never been a wrong part of the pitch in which to ‘play’. I think it was during Italia 90’, when a pundit, possibly Ian St John, highlighted Roberto Donadoni showing a natural instinct to play the ball short and retain possession when presented with the ball in his own penalty area under pressure from attackers. Yet even in 2012-13, during the early stages of Brendan Rodgers’ managerial spell at Liverpool, he was hammered on telly by Alan Hansen because his defenders, unused as yet to building from the back, conceded terrible looking goals at West Brom. “Play percentages”, Hansen intoned with his usual arrogance. The following season, Rodgers’ team came within two games of winning the league ahead of Manchester City and Mourinho’s Chelsea. 

Yes, there have been some high-profile howlers, when footballers have been exposed by the instruction to play football, and its true, like Man U at Brentford this season, it does look so bad when it goes wrong. Gary Neville did his office bloke bit after that game, lamenting “just when you think they couldn’t sink any lower” but Ten Haag’s new team were never not going to win a game of football again that season. Indeed, they beat Liverpool in the next one and go into the derby with City on Sunday in something of a resurgence, Ronaldo-free and looking a good bet to get something from the game, adding to their booked League Cup semi-final appearance with Nottm Forest last week. 

In short, let’s not be afraid to try things as they may turn out to revolutionise your daily existence. The blog post you’re reading, for instance, appeared to be stuck and going nowhere, but then I found a way out, calmly and progressively, rather than just lobbing it in the bin, or leaving it on the side! 

End of season Premier League review club by club Part 2: 11-20

11th: Brighton & Hove Albion (48 points) Finishing one point behind your made up rivals must sting. A bit. It’s Millwall who hate Crysta...