Mickey Blue Eyes
Doubtless you are relieved there are only ten days to the end of the current "transfer window." Then no more bother from old women who stop you in the street to tell you that such-and-such is going to happen to so-and-so player, and it must be true because it came from a cleaner whose brother has a friend whose cousin drives a bus that passed Goodison Park last Wednesday night as a pub emptied out, and a dizzy wi-fied stumblebum was heard to say it, and he was In The Know, you know. (Note to self: file under Knob Heads.)
Meanwhile, back on planet Earth, there is no better sports spectacle than the first home game of a new football season, even when, annoyingly, the game is on Monday evening to suit Murdoch's Sky TV. But to hell with Rupert; you won't catch this fan subscribing to his pension fund. Still, the footy clichés are all true despite his phony hype: the pitch is emerald svelte, a fragrance of fresh lawn, cooling sprinklers on, team colours bright, the weather warm, an array of magnificent athletes, noisy fans howling their optimism for as long as it takes to score the first goal. It is unmissable August ritual splendour; at least until an adverse result and low mutterings start. After which it is every fan for himself. It never changes. It is, always has been, and always will be fabulist, spectacular, harmless spontaneous nonsense. I relish it all, especially with still-vibrant memories of an outstanding Euro 2012. Football, the people's game because they made it so, no marketing or branding needed; they alone will decide when it has outlived its worth. Until then, bring it on.
Also this season comes as a welcome answer to an absurd Hackney flag-waving zoo that polluted even the mainstream media sewage system for a few weeks. Appropriately, the backcloth was five hollow rings fronting Corruption City and its hideous 80s office blocks full of subsidised Little Englander frauds. The manufactured farce ensured people of taste temporarily left the country to baroque ur-fascists such as oblong-head Jeremy Clarkson and the fat tory mayor-buffoon who looks and sounds more Hermann Goering every day. All in all, a bullshit menagerie that went up in a puff of smoke we all paid for whether we wished to or not. Me, I avoided it like the nasty chemicked-up plague it was. Rio de Janeiro next, poor bastards...bet that helps las favelas as much as 2012 stopped London's riots, version 5. Move on, quickly.
Here in the clean crisp salt air of our beloved city by the sea, our first-match prospects looked parlous. Rumours of no Marouane Fellaini and no Darron Gibson, and Jack Rodwell gone, meant we might have a gutted midfield against Manchester United of all enemies. Up front they would have their expensive Cheesehead from Arsenal, thus proving all clubs are selling clubs and all player contracts have an end as well as a beginning. Even so, looking at available opposition midfielders - Rooney/Scholes/Carrick/Young etc. - was enough to dilute even your best optimism, though they didn't seem as strong as previous eras. Still, there were bright memories of our 4-4 draw at the Theatre of Dweebs last season, so anything could happen, couldn't it? Well, couldn't it?
Yes it could. We won 1-0. Even Scheherezade could not have dreamed this one. We won it against all expectations, mine included. I would have considered a draw a moral victory. Instead, we got a thoroughly deserved win. Bliss, sheer bliss. For once, we had a fully fit squad to settle Moyesy down.
In these matches it is mildly interesting to compare David Moyes with Alex Ferguson when they are both out at the dotted line. Moyesy is turning slightly grey at the temples, the unsettling colour combination of a human carrot with sclerotinia. Ferguson - almost avuncular these days - usually wears a tatty black barn jacket, his face and nose cross-hatched in Rioja Gran Reserva by a humorous first year graphics student; this time he wore a suit and, for most of the game, a face like a smacked arse. It is standard for indolent journalists to identify both managers as "from common working class Glaswegian roots" as though this explained their success, a claim that is vaguely patronising and racist. Actually, they are hard-working men with an overwhelming determination to make the best of their lives, which is an admirable personal not collective quality. Some people have that kind of intensity, others don't. The class war is a socioeconomic fact of life but it always gets into semantic difficulties when reduced to individuals. Rumours continue that Moyesy will one day succeed Ferguson. If the Mancs come knocking with a bag of cash there is bugger all we can do about it because we have no more to offer. It will be Moyesy's choice. I show you the irrefutable facts of footy life.
The match had a feisty start as we played toward the Park End and Nani tried a couple of forays down our left and was instantly tackled by Bainesy and Distin. Immediately the ball got played by us in neat little triangles down the same side as Nani, narked, waved his arms over something or other. All he succeeded in doing was to warm up the crowd, always a huge mistake at Goodison. Instantly, summer torpor disappeared on and off the pitch. The home crowd became one and we all know what that means: the Manc contingent were swamped, an end-of-the-pier Archie Rice trying, and failing, to compete with Richard Pryor on speed.
The game soon assumed an interesting midfield shape with a lot of intriguing little battles everywhere; at the heart of it all was Felli and Paul Scholes, who kept biting slyly at each other like a giant wolf hound having its ankles nipped by a small wire-haired terrier, and then passing short. Early on neither could assert themselves, but as time wore on Felli won more and more and the Mancs had nobody to help Scholesy, while Steven Pienaar, Darron Gibson and Phil Neville were perfect foils for the Hairy One. When necessary they were supplemented by Nik Jelavić and Leon Osman, with the latter in Tim Cahill's former rôle.
As a result Felli became as unplayable as he was in the 4-4 draw at the Theatre of Dweebs. At one stage he seemed to be all over the place, forward, midfield - even defence. He was simply irrepressible. In aggregate we looked more direct than they did and more likely to make a break through. We had six good efforts on goal to their two in the first half. Only outstanding goalkeeping and some luck kept us at bay. But, of course, while it is 0-0 anything can happen. Typical of Lady Luck, on one occasion a loose ball in our penalty area somehow ended up dead centre at Rooney's feet and he should have buried it. He snatched at it and hit it along the ground straight at Tim. On another occasion he struck a central free kick just wide of the post.
It was hugely encouraging to see our defence play solidly and with such concentration, though that is not to say we were short of anxious moments. Virtually everything was won by Jags and Distin, who were dominant throughout on the ground and in the air, while Tony Hibbert and Bainsey either pushed them harmlessly wide or snuffed threats immediately. This meant their first shot was from distance and it sailed wide of Tim's right hand post, though close enough for him to berate everyone for not closing down fast enough. Keeper demonstrations like that mean everybody is on their toes, signs of good team work.
Our first effort came from, who else, Marouane Fellaini. It was almost casual. Bainsey took a throw-in midway on the left in their half. It looped over to Felli with a Manc on each shoulder, wide left outside the angle of the penalty area. He simply shrugged one off, mugged the other with a little dink past him, closed in quickly with that long lope of his until he was suddenly in the goal area and seemingly bound to score. A defender got back just in time to put him off so he could only hit the near post. "Only" is strictly relative. It was a wonderful piece of footy. Like all great players he just made it look easy.
Then Nik was put through cleverly by Leon almost to the same spot and he won a corner off their 'keeper. When it came over he had to punch it clear from a cluster of players and it was promptly headed back by Leon, where it was clawed over narrowly for another corner, which was cleared. Then a quite outstanding patient move switched from right to left and ended up with Peanuts trying a sly low shot from left of the D through a crowd of players; it was on its way in until their 'keeper saw it at the last moment and made a brilliant save. Then a few minutes before half time Jags went on a centre right mid run that took him to within a few metres of the penalty area, curved a cross to left of the penalty spot and on to Felli's head, whence it was dropped back to the right and slightly behind Leon, who swivelled and smashed in a high purler, also on its way in until their 'keeper made another brilliant save. Still it wasn't done. Bainsey took a right side free kick that was bending on its way into the 'keeper's top left corner until he made yet one more great save. You couldn't take your eyes off it. Naturally, the ground was in an uproar.
At half time we looked at their possible substitutes and thought, well, this cannot go on. Bring any of them on and we could come unstuck big time. Still, we built good momentum and the players are experienced enough to know what was needed, assuming their legs didn't go. That must count for something, or so we hoped.
Three minutes into the second half Hibbo, the zircon in our diadem, got clear on the right and hit over a cross to the far post, where - look, I know this is almost par for the game now - Felli towered over everybody and headed it back to the penalty spot and Leon smashed in another one that hit the underside of the bar and came out. By this time I didn't know who was shaking more, the Manc defence or me. Goodison Park was at its boiling, roiling best, stupid songs left to the Mancs in the corner.
Ten minutes later, pressure building inexorably, we won a corner right side. Gibbo took it left-footed and arced it into the centre where a familiar bushy headed Belgian brushed past the enemy defence as though it was made of straw and bulleted a header down and in on the 'keeper's left. The Street End had a spontaneous mass orgasm. So did the rest of Goodison Park. At times like this it is the only place in the world. The combination of sound, sight and feeling can be almost overwhelming. You can almost scoop it out of the air. You never want to let go.
Once the goal went in the pattern of the game changed and inevitably the subs came on. At which point I dreaded us wilting after such sterling efforts. But we didn't, even though Jags had to clear one off the line and the pace did not slacken for one second. In the end it was experience that saw us through, heroes all. We were worthy winners. And there is no club, players or fans who have earned it more after going through so much.
So, we have started a season well for once. I hope we can keep it up for everybody's sake. There are bound to be ebbs and flows as the weeks pass. Let us just hope we get more flows than ebbs. Ironically, your correspondent will miss most of the season due to weightier matters. I will manage only an occasional contribution to the website this time round. It won't make the slightest difference to how I feel though. Football is still the greatest game in the world.
Come on you Blues.