Mickey Blue Eyes
Compliments of the season to you and yours. May you find contentment, common sense and good humour throughout 2013 and beyond, assuming no mistimed Mayan apocalypse.
Home. No place like it. There are times when, if you could, you would hug your home city. So......short term contract completed, favours duly squared, and no more Mayflower pub in Beirut. I'll miss the warmth of Arab hospitality, but not the expat hobby of spot-the-spook. Tiresome Western goons are everywhere, the Boys from Langley, the Friends from Vauxhall Cross, Les Mouches from the SDECE, Die Schnüfflertruppe from the BND, the ippish of Mossad and gawd knows who-all-else. It was interesting - a euphemism - to say the least, but glad to leave it for good even with December temperatures slightly higher than Blighty. Now it is back to Kevlar-free peaceful TLC reality for the duration. Well, except when our Royal Blues play Stoke or we have to go through Bootle.
Last time I returned from living and working abroad it was after an intermittent twenty years. This time it was after an intermittent six months. In the first case I was unprepared for just how far administration of the country had fallen into the hands of accountants, as disreputable a gang of rogues and scoundrels as ever carried a sack marked "swag." There was a time when such people would normally be employed at a level somewhere between a check-out assistant, an IT clerk and a police constable. Now they run the economies of cities and nations, the results of which are all around you. One of them, John Major, was described as the only man to run away from the circus to become a book keeper. Before him we had the desensitised dead-faced grocery clerk Thatcher. Since then we have also had the peculiar malevolence of Blair and the barrow-boy Brown, and now the bizarre two-headed boy that is Cameron/Clegg. With those precedents, small wonder trivial football is in its current financial state.
I arrived back in time to see on TV a man dressed as an alien in the French town of Bugarach (no, really), supposed to be the only place to survive the dread Mayan apocalypse. In a Gallic accent heavier and much worse than Joey Barton's he insisted he saw the Virgin Mary in a golden spaceship with two revolving coloured lights. I suspect the revolving lights were actually located inside his cerebellum, reamed into place years ago by the Vatican. Don't you just love crazy Western superstitions like Christmas and consumerism?
In the equally eerie and wonderful world of footy I was guest of the Blue Kipper boys for the home fixture V Wigan Athletic. Just as well, because my usual season ticket seat vapourised in the Half Season Ticket sale. Now I face the glum prospect of trying to find a place not next to a lower-primate with a shaved head, an ale gut, a mental problem and a splatter of glottal stops. Moreover, it would entail an examination of knuckles for calluses caused by too much contact with the ground. The things we do to watch a footy game.
Our Boys were fresh off the backs of a satisfying win in the Kelvin Mackenzie enclave, shortly perhaps appropriately to be relocated to the site of the Hackney Drugs Fest 2012. If you think me too hard in this assessment I draw your attention to Mackenzie's recent efforts to form a "Southern Party" in England. No doubt this would be as baroquely fascist as the Northern League in Italy, and just as advanced in its insanity. Then again, what do you expect from a former employee of liebestandarte Rupert Murdoch?
In the win at West Ham Darron Gibson got the hurry up treatment from yet another ludicrous referee. (Look, I know I keep saying that about refs this season, but only because it is true these last four months.) Nevertheless, it was a good victory earned without justly suspended Marouane Fellaini. Where he is concerned, guilty or not, there is no question he has been targeted. He best get used to it because it won't stop in England or elsewhere. There are alternative confident ways of looking after yourself without delivering a Docker's Kiss. If the Belgian Big Hairy One doesn't learn this he will have a career shortened by his own hot impatience. Revenge should be a dish served cold. All you need do is wait for the right moment to deliver it anally, and sideways. Some opposing teams are guiltier than others but Stoke City are easily the worst. No surprise there, then; after all, they play and look more like a squad of agricultural Aryans led by gruppenführer Huth. So no real surprise Felli was lucky to escape a dismissal at their hands, which were, literally, all over him. I am all for a variety of playing styles, but a minimum requirement is someone like mephitic Shawcross - a sort of Neanderthal Vinny Jones Lite - doesn't mime an orang-utan high on Guinness malaria.
I comforted myself Wigan the Pie Eaters might be uncompromising but at least they would have reasonable athletic discipline. I looked forward to the game thinking they would give us their usual hard time. Though it would never be celestial quality they would at least try to play some neat effective footy. What else could be more suited to an English winter? Which is probably why they have achieved the miracle of surviving in the Premier League on resources even skinnier than ours. Their manager-chairman combination of Roberto Martinez and David Whelan continues to astound, football-wise. Señor Martinez in particular has the kind of admirable intensity recognised by all serious students of Spanish culture.
Sadly, some Evertonians make the serious mistake of treating Wigan Athletic as they would the contents of a chamber-pot, which only invites the retribution of wind blowing in the wrong direction. History is littered with examples of faded aristocracy tending its own toilet. Nevertheless, pre-match the usual jokes quickly accrued in our little group: "I went to a weddn in Wigan last week an' dey 'ad a three tier pie," hoho, and so on. I wondered who would have the last laugh. Anything could happen on a day sluiced with rain swirling in over the stands roofs. Seasonal holiday games have always produced wacky results.
Well, overall it was a fairly routine English league game with flashes of excitement and skill after a first half of extended post lunch ennui. Despite that, you couldn't help but marvel at some of the ball control in conditions you wouldn't wish on a rabid dingo. Wigan was no pushover and could easily have had a draw and certainly should have had a second half penalty when Leon Osman clearly tripped someone. The referee was barely ten metres away with a clear sight-line and waved play on. Maybe Lady Luck has started to even things up. As expected, no quarter asked or given, a real man's game. It was indeed the expected hard time.
In my book Steven Pienaar was man of the match by a distance. Everything useful went through him, which automatically attached two or three tireless Wiganers to him. If one didn't dump him on his shorts one of the others usually did. It was all mostly legal, but you couldn't expect Stoke to understand that. In any case Our Boys were hardly Corinthian paragons. Still, there was only one serious protesting gaggle around the referee, and that was for the penalty claim. In the main all the players got on with the game.
In fact Wigan was the better team in spasms, arguably for most of the first half and definitely in the closing minutes. We missed Fellaini badly. Up front Kone always looked likely to do some damage if he wasn't watched closely, particularly when they attacked down our right. And they did it often enough to get the crowd restless, particularly amongst those foolish enough to forecast a six nil mauling. Wigan was never going to lie down for anyone at this stage of the season and in those conditions. Our defence had to be wide awake to prevent them building and maintaining a threat. It was sufficient to prevent them getting through to Tim Howard for most of the time. Just as well, really, given his form this season. Nevertheless, Our Boys "worked hard" to keep the game on an even keel and had fitful spells of control in the first half, including a series of corners, a glanced header near miss from Vic and another chance he blazed over from the right edge of the box. We even had a scatty appeal for a penalty. As usual, most of our good stuff came down our left, where Bainsey and Pienaar once again showed the kind of near telepathic understanding that confounds radar detection. Early on they ran familiar rings down the left and Peanuts hit our first shot wide angle left inside the penalty area, only for it to get deflected out.
Things improved in the second half as our makeshift midfield settled down more and the emphasis shifted after Naismith came on for a tiring Gibbo and went wide right as Osman moved into the middle. A few minutes after the restart Hitzlsperger got his ageing legs to stride forward at centre mid, 'megged one of their centre mids and hit one of his formerly famous left foot bullets from twenty five metres. It swerved on to the top of the left hand goal frame and scattered the Street End as though it was a cannon ball. Then Osman almost squirmed through on the right but delayed too long and the chance was gone. Five minutes in, a patient move down our left looked like it was going nowhere until Bainsey from the touchline hoisted a high ball to the left of the D, where Vic won a header that went just as high, but landed luckily at Osman's feet as he closed inside the D and hit a left foot shot. From my angle it seemed to ricochet like a spent round, their 'keeper went to his right and the ball went to his left. One up.
Wigan was far from finished, still full of running in fact. Every now and then they'd sprint confidently through our midfield. On one such run they had their penalty claim, which seemed a stone cert even to my thoroughly biased eyes. Later, another quick raid down our right got the ball to Kone at the angle of the goal area and you would have put your house on him burying it. Except Phil Neville had come across and blocked the glanced shot. By now the tempo of the game had shifted and so had the emphasis. We were doing things on the right as well as the left. Still, Moyesy decided to reinforce just in case. With twenty minutes left he sent on Johnny Heitinga for Hitz and Bryan Oviedo for Vic. Fresh legs were necessary.
It paid off. Fifteen minutes left, the second goal came from such a right side move that gained a corner. The ball came back to Phil Neville wide right level with the penalty area and he hit one over to the far side. Where Jags timed his run and leap beautifully, got above two defenders and looped a header over, across and in off the bar. Game shot, we thought. We should have known Our Boys will always put you through a wringer.
The only one who didn't know he was dead was the corpse. Wigan twitched and got a comical one back with just under ten minutes left. It was yet another crazy avoidable goal. Another quick right wing raid, a ball into the centre, and their man tried a shot from centre edge of the penalty area. It ballooned up in the air and arced forward with a small cluster under it, shuffling for position as it came down. The odds were on us, with three defenders on to only Kone. As it dropped near the centre edge of the goal area there was the usual shoving and pushing by everybody. It pinballed a couple of times, Tim left it late coming out and Kone poked it in. Shit. Why do Our Boys do this to us? We knew what was coming - yet another nervous close to the match where our midfield suddenly vanishes, everybody funnels back into the penalty area and we scream vile oaths at nobody in particular. We could easily have let in an equaliser, but didn't. This greatly helped our post match digestion.
Now for Chelsea Gazprom, an altogether different type of foe. I don't know whether to hope it rains or not. A win would nicely round off the holiday period. Let's hope our ageing legs hold out for ninety minutes.