Mickey Blue Eyes
When Europeans talk of "class" they usually mean social class. When Americans talk of "class" they usually mean appreciable style. In this opinion I use the latter meaning. Hence if you wear three quarter kecks with black socks and dirty trainers, a black tee shirt covered in dandruff, have a shaved head with nose or ear-piercings, and have ugly tattoos in exposed places.....then you are not "classy." It follows automatically that you are an ugly, empty-headed Summer Twat and ought to be executed slowly and in great pain.
So, in your view what constitutes "classy" football, or, for that matter, "good" football? I ask this question bearing in mind our current form. Undeniably we have played some of our best ("classiest") football for almost fifteen years, some of it brilliant and cohesive pass-and-move. Yet here we are bottom of the pile and winless because we haven't scored enough. Therefore we deserve to be propping up the table. Lucky or unlucky, good or bad football, the results speak for themselves. There are no excuses in professional football and we shouldn't seek any. To use an old expat phrase, ultimately you have to shape up or ship out. The longer you take to shape up the more likely you are to ship out. That's the way it works. But everything isn't just black-and-white. It never is......well, not if you use your natural ability to think about things rather than kick out instinctively like a stone-brained mule. Human actions and events are mutable, not precise.
The subtext questions are: would you be happy if we kicked our way up the table, out of trouble and ended up as hated as some other clubs who deliberately adopted that infamous policy? Were you comfortable when Joe Royle called us "The Dogs of War" in place of the jealously guarded "School of Science" label of Harry Catterick and Howard Kendall? So, bottom line, where do you draw the line? What do you regard as "good football"?
To expand, do you remember over a decade ago how Wimbledon got pilloried for their long ball strategy....when, apparently, they emphatically didn't play "good" football? Unfortunately for those who made that proposition Wimbledon at the time did rather well for a modest club. They played to their strengths, and it worked until the inevitable happened and their "small club" status caught up with them and they disappeared off the radar screen and, allegedly, into the nearest ale-house. Then go to the opposite end of the scale, the Ipswich team that played some smooth-as-silk stuff under George Burley and slipped elegantly but inevitably out of the top level, or the West Bromwich team who did the same under Tony Mowbray. Each of these managers said they weren't prepared to change their style of play. Each got relegated.
The funny thing is there's nothing new about this subject. It has been there for decades. So far as I know it first surfaced with a vengeance after Hungary routed England 6-3 at Wembley in 1953 and Puskas, Hidegkuti et al ran elegant rings around a team of clod-hopping Englishmen in baggy shorts and dubbinned boots. The Hungarians had cut away boots to go with their positively-indecent cut away shorts. Six months later they completed another annihilation in Budapest, this time by 7-1. It was no fluke. And this was an England team that contained Stanley Matthews, Billy Wright, Alf Ramsey and Stan Mortensen amongst others, all of them considered the cream of the crop. These games changed football perceptions at almost every level. While England tried to get the ball wide to the wingers for them to cross high or low for a "traditional" centre forward the Hungarians blithely traced a ground-hugging exquisite geometry almost at will. In the first game Hungary had six times the number of shots made by the English. No exaggeration, it could have been ten and there would have been no complaint.
Immediately English footy went into one of its intermittent hysterical paroxysms, this time over everything from kit design to styles of play, particularly a so-called Long Ball V Short Ball debate. Wolves - then a leading club - took on a series of continental teams in televised friendly games and beat them comprehensively, supposedly using the Long Ball game. Traditionalists claimed we needed to change nothing; but they were pissing in the wind. Everything was about to change, not just football. British culture had become wearily complacent and smug in almost every respect. Then the European Cup arrived and forced the football issue at club level. It all culminated in England's well deserved World Cup victory in 1966 and an even better but unsuccessful team in the 1970 series. Subsequently English teams also did very well in the European Cup. The debate has ebbed and flowed ever since. At the moment it is in full flow because England was so wretched in World Cup 2010 and others before. Probably it will never be fully settled.
The fact is many English fans just wouldn't tolerate the kind of football played in Italy, Holland and much of South America. Rightly or wrongly, English fans want to see as much goal mouth action as possible, preferably with individual skill. But if not, no worries, just bang it into the back of the net with as little pissing about as possible. This is one of the reasons most Evertonians loved Duncan Ferguson so much; when he scored or headed it on it was usually with a crowd of plain-scared opposition outnumbering him. The crowd adored him for it, though he got some terrible injuries in the process. England has a long tradition of powerful and fearless centre forwards. Also, the very early days of the game in public schools openly allowed "hacking" as part of play. It was considered manly to dish it out and take it without demur. It only began to disappear when the sport became fully codified and properly administered in the late nineteenth century. However, the attitude persisted for over fifty years in England. The rest of the world missed out on the early primitive development cycle and so mostly concentrated on ball skills and teamwork as opposed to brute strength and force. In England you could shoulder charge the goalkeeper. If you did that elsewhere the home crowd went crazy. Not that other nations' footballers couldn't be brutal too. It was just that they weren't very good at concealing it - in England the ability to conceal intent was called "professionalism." Over time of course the two attitudes converged and now there is little difference. The English game has even accommodated shirt-pulling, an impossible notion only twenty years ago; at one time it had the same affect on crowds here that shoulder charging had on foreign crowds.
But it would be wrong to think English football was made up entirely of mad-axe Viking descendants intent on pillage and rape while the rest of the planet was full of simpering, vulnerable footy virgins. Scotch, Welsh and Irish football produced some wonderful players that usually ended up supplementing the game in England. In fact it was that combination of nationalities that originated the "School of Science" tag so beloved by Evertonians. There is a long and honourable list of great individuals and club teams in the English game, to which our club has made a distinguished contribution. Also, just before the Hungarians kicked our game in the arse there was a famous push-and-run team at Tottenham managed by Arthur Rowe. And Stanley Matthews, Wilf Mannion, Alf Ramsey, Tommy Harmer and Tom Finney weren't exactly the butchering type. Since those days we have produced players like Bobby Robson, Davey Burnside, Jimmy Greaves, Ray Wilson, Glenn Hoddle, Bobby Charlton, Rodney Marsh, Howard Kendall and Paul Gascoigne amongst many others. As I said, it wasn't and isn't all black and white.
By the time the late 1960s rolled around the impossible had happened: the game became chic. It was, after all, the only decade in modern British history when it looked as though working class people might finally impose their just interests on the Establishment (not only in Britain but across the West). Alas. This was soon reversed. But football couldn't escape the effects......so what was more appropriate than "the people's game" pushing its way further into the national consciousness? The same thing happened in different ways across the world, thus providing a satisfying but short lived spectacle of the Establishment loosening its bowels into its underpants. Eventually, inevitably, different footy attitudes and cultures began to converge. Professional footballers began to move from country to country. The British, as notoriously conservative minded as all island people, were the last to accept the inescapable. Ironically, it was creation of the much-detested Premier League in 1992 that made the final transition. Thanks to European Union employment laws foreign players flooded in in search of greater earnings. There is no question this resulted in highering the standard of individual skill and team play of English football. And basically that's where we stand today.
So there's great irony when you hear a contemporary English crowd jeer, "Hooooofffff!" when someone hits a long ball upfield. After all, that was once considered "the English Way." The same applies when someone in the crowd yells "Gerritover!" to a player on the wing, even when there's nobody to get it over to. The one thing that has scarcely changed is that a large part of crowds here want the ball in the goal mouth as soon as possible and generally they aren't too fussed how it gets there. The Gerritover Mob doesn't want all the tip-tap, ball-canoodling, arty-farty foreign stuff. They want scoring blood. Ask Duncan McKenzie.
In common sense reality there is of course plenty of room for all different styles and methods, which is one of the game's greatest attractions. The game is all the richer for it. When Wimbledon were doing their thing and humping it up to the likes of Fashanu it mystified me to hear some of the verbals they got - Vinny Jones, Lawrie Sanchez and Dennis Wise apart, of course. They were merely playing to their strengths, and for a short time it was footy-deadly. Let's face it, Wimbledon were never going to be able to pay enough to get Dennis Bergkamp or Ruud Gulitt. You have to cut your cloth accordingly, as we all do. Wishful thinking isn't worth a carrot and isn't the same thing as sensible ambition. Which is why Colin Harvey (and who was classier than swivel-hips Colin?) once recommended Vinny Jones play for England. At the time the national team was in one of its varying states of National Emergency, presumably the only valid reason Colin could plead temporary dementia.
All of which brings us full circle to our present position propping up the rest of the Premier League, and the footy we are playing while suffering it. The only game in which we were completely wretched was the Newcastle game. And no question it is pissy-offy to see Our Boys knocking it around with supreme self confidence all the way to the edge of the enemy penalty area........and then falling on each other's sword. It is uncomfortably too much like Tony Mowbray's yoyo West Bromwich Albion. Some fans think, "Moyesy doesn't know what his best team is." If that is correct I am in good company because neither do I in present circumstances. Sure, I have an opinion as to who I would play and who I wouldn't, but then I don't see them every day at Finch Farm to gauge their attitude and micro-fitness. What is ominous is Moyesy saying it will take a long time to dig ourselves out of this. If that turns out to be true then we can already forget about qualifying for Europe. And when you start going through the team you end up peering into a crystal ball with just about the same chance of success as Gypsy Petulengro. But you take on the hopeless - nay fatuous - task anyway. It's what us footy fans do.
We can't fault Tim Howard for outfield play, though I could have murdered him for that fuck-up at Blackburn. That means you have to look at the three main segments of defence, midfield and up front. Defence has usually been just about okay, midfield is all over the place and upfront just isn't there.
I'll deal with the last one first, and that's easy because at present we don't have an upfront except for Tim Cahill forays. We have only scored in two league games so far and that speaks for itself. Yakubu is our only out-and-out striker and he isn't delivering either because he still hasn't recovered from the tendon injury, he can't be bothered, or he's having a run of poor form and bad luck, maybe a combination of all of them. Supplementing his efforts with Fellaini doesn't work because it depletes the midfield. Louis Saha is injured again and so is Vic Anichebe. Sadly, evidence so far is that Jermaine Beckford won't make the step up. James Vaughan's gone to Crystal Palace on loan, scored a hat trick in his first game and got sent off in his second. As Paul would say, "It's all going off here." No wonder we're firing blanks. It's difficult to see where the goals are going to come from unless things turnaround smartish, which looks unlikely. It looks like another heavy scoring load on Tim's shoulders to add to his narky midfield mithering, which means he'll probably get injured again.
Midfield rhythm has been wrecked by the injury to Jack Rodwell just when we were looking forward to seeing a formidable centre mid trio of Fellaini-Arteta-Rodwell, with Steven Pienaar an important outlet on the left. John Heitinga can't play midfield but has had to in the emergency, but he's as slow there as Sylvain Distin is at centre back. There's no adequate cover wide right mid as the world and his wife know, though tyro Seamus Coleman likely will be given an opportunity to see if he can fill the rôle. Leon will be good to have for the last half hour of a game if he can ensure his stamina levels don't fall. But until the right side is sorted we will continue to be vulnerable to two-against-one whoever plays right back.
Defence has been the best part of the team despite some silly mistakes. Tony Hibbert and Leighton Baines have paired well at full back, Jags has made a good comeback though he isn't quite there yet, Sylvain Distin isn't the centre back partner Jags needs - John Heitinga is, and Phil Neville, bless him, at a pinch can cover for almost anybody. Generally the defence shape has been good. It has only gone wrong when Sylvain gets stranded and everybody scrambles to cover for him, which, given our midfield disarray and therefore limited protection, happens too often for comfort.
Looking at the bench might have been comfortable if everyone there was on top of their game, but they're not because, erm, they aren't in the team. Bily still looks short of physical strength and motivation though nobody in their right mind denies his abilities. I hope he realises we don't want him to be a sort of Russian Duncan McKenzie on the cusp of retirement. Jan Mucha looks like he would be an okay sub for Tim Howard. Given previous public statements John Heitinga won't be too happy warming his behind there; might get awkward, that one. But usually the bench has enough experience plus one youngster to have a real affect in the closing phase of the game.
What is really irritating about our current predicament is not the lack of individual skill, because there is plenty of that. Nor is it the lack of good teamwork, because there is plenty of that too. We're just doing almost bugger all in the final quarter of the pitch and it's absolutely maddening. Still, we cling to the hope that once the floodgates open we'll become a tsunami to sweep all before us; if only, friends, if only. The fact is total team chemistry has gone - temporarily, we hope - and none of us (including Moyesy and the players) really knows why. It happens like that sometimes because it happens like that some times. The problem is, not winning can become as much of a habit as not losing. And before you know where you are you can be in real shit. Which is why they all better wake up and set things right. We all know what they are capable of. Now is the time for them to prove it.
In the meantime I console myself that the temperature has dropped and there has been an equivalent and noticeable drop in the number of Summer Twats. It would be nice if this became an exponential fall-off that became permanent. Oddly, though, a recent visit to Madrid showed a depressing increase of said scruffs in the Spanish capital. Thus demonstrating what spooks call "the blow-back affect." That'll teach the Spaniards to send us class players like the great Mikel Arteta. We English know style when we see it.........don't we? And we are the School of Science.........aren't we?