Mickey Blue Eyes
Back home from sunnier climes and terrible mayhem, for a few weeks I again ponder the mysteries, neuroses and psychoses of professional football. After which it is back to the equal mysteries of Arabic and north Arabia until the December holiday. Footy of course still navigates the same narcissistic illusions and tawdry cynicism. Some things never change. After a century and a half only the tidal rate varies.
Nobody really knows why we support football (or any sport), not even trained psychologists. Sure, we all trot out our own delusion, but I have yet to meet a rational honest man not baffled by the experience. How many times have you come away from a match muttering darkly about a lousy performance, yet you still turn up next time? It has never been any different, and it will be thus as long as club spectator sports survive. Meanwhile, when shrinks and sociologists search for an answer they merely end up tying themselves and their subjects in sophistry knots. It can make an interesting spectacle, though.
Example, I recall an article in long-defunct Charles Buchan's Football Monthly in which a particularly one-dimensional psychiatrist claimed fans thought they were at war when they attended matches; it was bollocks of course, but I wager he got a peer award or two when subsequently the game was almost overwhelmed by organised thuggery. I suspect he was from the same school of propaganda as Milton Friedman, Patrick Minford and Henry Kissinger. There are many other contemporary examples. Sadly, at times some supporters do verge on or actually become obsessed sado-masochists. In fact football is a hopper into which we heave ourselves, and what comes out the other end is almost entirely a matter of conjecture and chance. And, where you can find it, good humour. There is no formula, which is what infuriates simpletons who tell themselves - and anyone daft enough to listen - they have all the answers.
Certainly football is not a brand or a product, whatever wet tripe is served up as hors d'oeuvres by bus-boy "market consultants." At its best it is an exhilarating and harmless escapist hobby, a game; all veteran fans know what it is at its worst. The last thing we need is the spivvery of "branding." Me, I have loved the game for my recorded time on this mortal coil, long before ha'penny barrow boys leeched off it and internet loonies ran amok. The last thing I need is a coked-up, arm-waving adman goon to inform me. Nor have kids ever needed a "presentation" spiel to be drawn to the sport. In human affairs some things are just inexplicable.
(It could be worse. If you think football has too much phony hype - and it has - I draw your attention to two tennis players emerging for a recent final through clouds of ice vapour strafed by trouper lights and strobes, or the farcical Hackney Olympics masque balls, or anything at the O2 Ripoff Arena, or hoodlum-owned boxing. It is impossible to exaggerate the banality and comic jargon of latter day Elmer Gantrys. Recently, and I shit you not, somebody on the BBC World Service referred in all seriousness to "Brand Beckham"......and that is one of the weakest examples. It would help our national culture no end if Yankified "marketeers" were nailed to a tree by their weenies, the tree set on fire, and they handed a pair of blunt plastic scissors. If you are a "market consultant" I mean nothing impersonal. Just do one to Las Vegas where you belong. And take Canary Wharf and London with you.)
Nevertheless, I have badly missed Everton footy while out of the country, and, atavist as ever, missed our beloved city even more. Sometimes, though, it is healthy to cut yourself off from football completely, as I have for a few months. Such catharsis can help when you again meet its worst sulks. But it would be a big mistake to think persecution mania will evaporate - it won't, because it is all some poor sods will ever have. Reverting to a lighter vein, nothing can replace live controlled athletic tribalism, even when Our Boys play with their jock straps filled with embryo hedgehogs. At such times I also miss post match ale-house laments, chin-music for togger addicts. However, there are limits; in our company surly fools are stood in a corner and deprived of spittoons and marijuana. One does one's best for the future of our species. But, really, almost all Brit ale-houses should be avoided, honourable exceptions apart. Mostly they are disgusting, sticky-carpet dives patronised by too many slurred half wits with the conversational ability of a moose head.
Fortunately Our Boys still appear to be playing rather well, only two league matches lost heading into December - four all calendar year thus far - and much justified fans irritation at too many draws. Pre-season, not even our greatest optimist forecast this marvel. I certainly failed to. I failed even to suspect it. It reminds me of a long-ago physics teacher and his endearing mantra to explain the origin of universe: "A fortuitous concurrence of atoms." Actually, our fortuitous concurrence of atoms is named David Moyes. Richard Dawkins, Stephen Hawking, Roman Abramovich (perm any one from nine managers), eat your hearts out.
So to get in the mood I watched a recording of the previous home game V Norwich. It was a mistake. A bad mistake. Even as a mere stream of electrons it was mostly a fragmentary spectacle with pisspoor refereeing to match in a typical cold, rain-sodden English November, and a scrappy Everton performance, especially from a makeshift midfield that almost vanished in the second half. The Old Lady seemed in one of its library-silent maudlin moods, the ninety minutes like three hours. Then yet another last minute equaliser conceded to a couple of ale-house footballers, Holt and Bassong, and another Tim Howard screw-up. In that position it is Keeper's Ball, no question. It was an awful goal to let in to another modest team we should yet again have seen off long before. No surprise if Moyesy did a post-match Greek Plate Dance in the dressing room. It seemed to underline, as if you didn't know, how the backup players (and one or two first teamers too) do not have the necessary oomph however hard they try and however willing to join the fray. It may yet do for us in the chase for top league positions.
Which is why I relished the Arsenal home game and the chance to restore team balance. We owed a pasting or two to the frenchified cockneys and their tortured vowels, as in "farst," "larst," "glarss," "gyme" and "fack." Whenever I hear Lahndan fans I get this surreal image of Dick Van Dyke porking Mary Poppins while exulting, "Gawd bless the Prince of Wyles!" during the vinegar strokes. Also, another distant memory flares of Terry Venables' inglorious brief encounter with Catalan, or the contemporary prospect of 'Arry Redknapp tackling Ukrainian. These, of course, are outrageous and unwarranted stereotypical generalisations. But if not quite true, then true enough for present purposes.
(There are two certain ways to enrage Brits, arguably the most close-minded of European people despite severe competition from the French. The first is to poke fun at his accent or speech. The second is to insult his self-imagined "class." It has been thus since the Norman invasion and certainly it will not change in your lifetime. So make the most of it. It can provide hours of fun, especially if the target is one of the new Daily Mail "middle class" in trouble with mortgage repayments. It has almost been worth the thirty years wait. Almost.)
Meanwhile, we can only guess what Arsenal's previous Calvinist manager George "Bunger" Graham thinks of their current reputed expansive playing style. Apparently some of their supporters, dull-as-algorithms contract IT clerks, are miffed at not winning a trophy in seven years, and at "lack of investment." Read that last quoted phrase again and weep for humanity; it is bullshit from an incoherent generation (bang-up job there, teachers!) raised on chewing gum, Rupert Murdoch tabloidese, phonetic spelling, texting, Yankee bang-bang, institutional fraud, bad lager, computer games, TV soap operas and imbecilic marketeering. Small wonder present manager ascetic Arsene Wenger lost his temper with them. These days he has the look of a man who just bit through a lemon he thought was a muffin. The last time I saw eyes as menacingly bloodshot was when Christopher Lee made teenage girls wee their pants in fear. Yes, it's that long ago. Well done, Arsene......surely the most unfortunate forename in footy. Pre-match he committed the unforgivable sin of telling the truth when he said Everton can never have the money to compete at the very top, which is quite true if unpalatable......until we get a new stadium. Trite cliché: a problem cannot be solved until it is admitted there is a problem.
Still, these are the times we live in. If you are not used to it you have failed to notice the last twenty years of rat-eat-rat football capitalism and its howls for instant success and instant boos for "failure," for which witness Chelsea or Aston Villa or indeed Arsenal. Always assuming you can avoid the puerile and useless arguments about what constitutes "a big club." Unchanged, it can end only one way, tearfully. The information is there in plain sight. Go find it. Do your own research. This scribe is bored pointing out the obvious, see archives. Radical improvement will come only when critical mass is reached, tomorrow or twenty years hence, possibly over some quite trivial matter.
Part of my relish was a chance to see Mikel Arteta again. Alas, he now wears the wrong colours for the wrong club in a disliked distant city subsidised by corruption and theft from the rest of the nation and owned by people like Rupert Murdoch and Roman Abramovich. He was a fine player who matured beautifully during his eight years with us, though he had a poor last season here and plainly wanted out by then, possibly by prior agreement. In the end it was a good deal for both parties, the sort of agreement possible only between consenting adults, agents, "investors," Max Clifford and bank managers. There is even a reasonable argument we got the best of the deal if you believe we paid £2 millions for him and got £10 millions when he left as a 29 years old, apparently taking a pay cut into the bargain. Thus proving human life is not static but dynamic. Still, as we all know, like Alan Ball and Wayne Rooney, the little Basque just doesn't look right in crimson ugliness. Mind you, nobody does. See, I can be as biased and visceral as the next peon.
Speaking of which, I got my old season ticket seat and assumed my position next to the usual lovable suspects. This was a boon because, despite my long absence, I am as used to their neuroses as they are to mine, which saves an awful lot of explanation time and leaves us free to watch the game instead of listening to expectorate bile from some grotesque paranoid goat with a shaved head. We got that out of the way in the pre-match ale house where (absent) Plewsy's "jokes" were mimicked by John in full flight; I have never before seen someone intoxicated on apple juice. It was pleasant to see everyone properly dressed for the freezing weather, which made a change to previous years. Maybe the penny has dropped that when November arrives so does Winter - if so, it will bring us in line with the rest of the Western world. So us peasant socialists went to watch twenty-two capitalist millionaires at play, actually not too different from shovelling ale-house profits into the pockets of gleeful brewers or coughing up £500 to watch pensioned-off Rolling Stones Inc. or keeping Hewlett-Packard neck deep in dollars. And cold it was, but dry and clear. Goodison looked and sounded wonderful, bright and noisy, crisp colours, not at all like the Norwich match (at least on the recording).
To the game, and a whiff of battle-camphor. We had Marouane Fellaini, Darron Gibson and Tony Hibbert back, which I thought would be worth something in the clinches. As it turned out, so it was. Arsenal, it transpired, just weren't that good, two giant centre back donkeys a la George Graham. For all their money and Rupert Murdoch Sky metro bullshit much of their play was vaguely like a sort of skilful Stoke, especially when they were under pressure in the second half. We were marginally the better side even with a change in formation caused by absent Mirallas. Still, we ended with yet another draw, again helped by the kind of refereeing you wouldn't see at a schoolboy match. It was wildly irritating in toto.
The average age of the side starting against Arsenal was just under twenty-nine and six were thirty or older, which serves to emphasise Moyesy's continuous problem. We have rescued so many games after falling behind it begins to look like the young bull and old bull in a field next to a corral of cows. Suddenly the corral gate swings open, the young bull drools and shouts, "Quick! Let's rush in and fuck one!" And the old bull drawls, "Nope. Let's stroll through and fuck them all." Such is the role of sex in history and football. This one was no different when we fell behind after less than a minute, just after I got my behind on the seat. You can imagine the colour of the air.
The goal was an illustration of what happens when you have a run of bad luck. The attack was innocuous enough virtually straight from the kick off, a simple enough diagonal run through the centre, right-to-left. Our right side was AWOL Hibbo's "support" and looked on as their man got a fortunate rebound around the left edge of the box and stuck it through to a wider left unmarked attacker, Tony threw himself in a desperate attempt to block the shot, it hit him and looped over Howard. Christ, here we go again. It was Arsenal's game for the next ten minutes, buoyed by the goal.
Then the tide began to turn and things got a bit nasty, no doubt fired up by Wenger's pre-match threat that the game would be "physical." They were particularly intent on hacking Steven Pienaar each time he turned inside; plainly, they were determined to do a George Graham-type number on him to slow him down. It succeeded for most of the match, too; try as he might, he couldn't go more than a few metres before he got downed. It was bound to affect him and the pattern of the game. So much for Arsenal's "passing game." Naturally, there was retaliation. Which meant the game was an entertaining physical battle without extended good periods of play, but every now and then there was a flash of individual lightning. It was enough to get the crowd going. Play soon evened out.
We had a few promising raids that didn't materialise into much until the half hour mark. A spiffy little through ball from centre mid right from Pienaar almost let in Nikky Jelavic but their keeper just beat him to it and rolled it out to their right. From there it was transferred to Mikel Arteta in the centre. By this time Peanuts was clearly pissed off at the treatment he'd been getting - almost all of which went unpunished by yet another truly awful referee - and he came charging in on our former idol. No prisoners, it was an obvious foul not called, and the ball bounced back to their centre right mid. Undeterred, Steven chased and fouled him too, and the ball got misplaced straight to Felli at our centre mid right just outside the penalty area. From whence, cool as you like, he hit a carefully controlled ground shot that bent slowly around a defender before making it inside their 'keeper's right hand post. Oh the irony. The cockneys were paid back in full coin. You had to laff, not larf.
Then a couple of minutes before half time, a piece of world class footy from Nikky. On the half way line, right side, a long air ball forward to Felli almost where he scored. He headed it on to Jelavic who had his back to goal. A brilliant instinctive back flick over his head completely flummoxed their big cow of a centre back and Jelavic was round him in a flash and hit it on the volley from left of the penalty spot. Sadly, it screamed over by at least five metres. Had it gone in it would have been goal of the season by some distance. But it galvanised our resident Croatian out of a fitful display - for a reason I cannot divine some idiots in the crowd have decided he is a new scapegoat - caused principally by a failure to play the ball to him the way that suits his style. Grant Holt he is not, fortunately.
The second half was almost entirely ours with some dangerous occasional breaks from the enemy. Most of our attacks of course developed down our left, where once again the Bainesy-Peanuts axis was well nigh unplayable without the enemy fouling one or the other. How they manage to create anything in a match and an opponent of their niggling type is little short of an athletic miracle. Then again, most of the Prem seem to have got the message and flock to our left like flies around a cow pat. Under normal circumstances this would make a little more room for our right side, but on the evidence of this match Steven Naismith is not a wide player. Maybe it will change when he is finally rid of his long term injury and can play more centrally. There's no question the team balance is a little awry with this formation, though Moyesy doesn't have many viable options. You have to make do with what you have.
The pace was hard and unrelenting all night, typical English stuff most of us wouldn't swap for ten Serie A or Eredivisie. There's an aesthetic price to pay if you want box-to-box play. We had a good call for a penalty when Mikky hauled down Pienaar - who else - on a left side run that had goal written all over it. Naturally the ref didn't give it, because as knob heads go he was an absolute purler. On another occasion, Bainsey - also, who else - got in one his brilliant dipping crosses and Sylvain Distin's header was clawed away. Either side of their 'keeper and it was a certain goal. Then Nikky got clear on the left and hit a fast killer cross nobody could get a touch on, ironically the kind of ball he lives off. Arsenal had a couple of raids that might have given them a late undeserved winner but even Lady Luck wasn't going to do us in yet again, so it ended all square; which on balance was just about right. One day we're going to get the breaks, and when we do somebody will be on the receiving end of an awful pasting.
In this game our midfield wasn't really up to it. Most of them scrapped when they had to but apart from Fellaini and Gibson they faded badly toward the end. We fared even worse when Gibbo had to come off or risk another injury or total burn out. Felli got a bit arrogant in the last ten minutes or so and started misplacing passes, one of which almost let the enemy in for a winner. The sooner we get a settled midfield the better. We should start winning again then.
We will soon see. Our next two matches are Manchester City and Tottenham. Sadly, I won't see either of them. My next match will be during the December holiday when I shall fly out of the place where all this Christmas nonsense started. As I said, oh the irony!