SEASONAL AFFECTED DISORDER (SAD)
Mickey Blue Eyes
We have now entered the "January Transfer Window," a four weeks period dominated by peculiar rumour-mongering idiocy in Homo sapiens footballensis. Comedy utilitarians will make the most of it while it lasts, though it doesn't have the same élan as taking the mickey out of, say, the morons of MI5 and MI6. Still, it should be sufficient to get us through to next August and yet another repeat of the pantomime. Extract the urine while ye may. After all, the same people who have talked utter claptrap and been wrong for the last decade aren't going to change now. It is of course the absurd mentality of a Cold War arms race with all the inevitability of October 1962. To set your racing mind at ease I suggest you check out what David Moyes has to say on the matter. All the rest is nonsense.
Meanwhile, Wednesday evening in January, Newcastle United away is not the kind of fixture you relish. It has nothing to do with the good people of Newcastle, who are at least as warm and welcoming as any other part of England, loony tribalists and London excepted. No, worst affects emanate from the local constabulary, location of the away section, and weather and travel time.
The Northumbrian gendarmerie is on a par with La Guardia Civil in its care for democracy; too many recruits have narrow eyes, no neck, and a forehead no deeper - in every sense - than a thrice folded copy of the Sun or Daily Mail. Their only motivation is to compound fracture as many innocent occiputs as possible. There is also a civic requirement to fill the hoosegow with any citizen using words longer than "lemon" and "melon." Under no circumstances should you offer these proto fascists a bonbon or a kind word, nor should you ask them the time. You will be immediately arrested as a communist or, worse, as a long-sought ally of the 1984 Miners Strike. The only time this eases is when they are recalled to kennel HQ for a saucer of grits and oats.
Nor does the asymmetrical stadium help. It is an aesthetic monument to compromise and limited land availability, typical of the execrable Thatcher era. This is in spite of it being a great improvement on the appalling slum that once stood on part of the same site. Nevertheless, it irritates greatly when you are stuck in an away section nearer a low-orbit satellite than the pitch. Climbing eight flights of stairs is not funny, even if you have tried to anaesthetise yourself with several pints of local diesel. Me, I take the lift these days.
But the main problems are weather and travel distance. Lose, and you get a small inkling of Grande Armeé morale during the retreat from Moscow. When you drag yourself home it is well into the small hours and you feel as though you have been shot from cannon. You question your sanity. Yet is it much different to dragooned Christmas and New Year rituals, or working in a wages slavery system you hate for a corporation that uses you as it wants? Football's largest virtue is its manifest triviality. You can take it or leave it. At the start of the year the choice is stark: is this not a time to be jolly?
On the long journey to and fro there is extra time to think. Doubtless this will be another year in which a new generation will again be the first to discover the proverbial good time, ideals, sex, alcohol, angst, drugs (for the stupid), humour and enjoyment. Those in disappointed middle age anger will be the reverse and, doglike, find some footy bone to worry, everyone to blame for failure but themselves. Undefeated veterans will smile the smile of reason, others will sink into a Victor Meldrew coma of despair. Accountants will still be the most boring gumbos ever deposited in an evolutionary cul-de-sac. The sun will shine. The world will turn. It will rain. People everywhere will make fools of themselves. Somewhere in suburbia a cat will be run over. Time will be dispassionate. And still we won't win the fucking League Cup.
However, that is yet to come. Early evening we still had the match to contemplate. With Marouane Fellaini back we had every reason to feel optimistic about our chances, though losing one in a row was bound to flush out crackpots. Losing back-to-back would be bound to provoke "a crisis" of message boardism "What We Must Do Now" diatribes. But I am not one of those who think Our Boys will automatically improve in the second half of the season. Fortunately it is still a game of footy played by athletic human beings, not by a set of glorified ledger clerks wielding quill pen and cartridge paper and its necessary mentality. Anything can happen. We could climb the league table, consolidate, or fall back, depending on a myriad of uncontrollable factors known to anyone with a measure of common sense.
So we go and let one in in the first minute, as stupid a goal as we let in V Wigan, and for roughly the same reason. I hope this episode sees the end of the Distin-Heitinga centre back experiment/emergency; for whatever reason it doesn't work. This time, from an offside free kick the ball got punted the length of the field by their 'keeper, it bounced over the two of them - static as Snowdonia at the edge of the penalty area - and their man simply ran on and headed it over Tim Howard, slow in coming out yet again. Evertonians were purple with rage in the away section. You couldn't blame them. I wasn't ecstatic myself.
For ten minutes or so the game became a pale reverse imitation of our previous one with Chelsea. We were lucky to get a look-in, the Skunks unlucky not to get a second. A ball fizzed untended across our goal. Later, they hit a post when a headed goal seemed certain. We should have been two or three down, dead and buried.
Yet you have to hand it to Our Boys. Seasoned professionals all, they are hardly ever fazed. They reasserted themselves and continued to play the superlative stuff that made them last year the third most successful team by results, a combination of neat passing long and short that could suddenly open up the enemy to the bone. Centre right mid Peanuts was about to do so when he was kicked on the ankle while fashioning a threat three metres outside their penalty area. Bainsey hit one of his special free kicks right on target and swerving low down inside their 'keeper's left post, but it was brilliantly saved.
Then Bainsey and Felli both missed easy close in chances, well saved nevertheless. A few minutes later Steven Pienaar and Bainsey did their magic act down the left and got the little man clear, only for their 'keeper to make yet another outstanding save. It all built up nicely to a seemingly inevitable leveller at exactly the right demoralising time, a few minutes before the break. A long air ball down the right reached Felli well into their half, where he was fouled from behind by the same feral youngster who had done Peanuts earlier.
I try to balk at hysterical superlatives, but there really is only one current adolescent word to describe the equaliser: amazin'. There are still some out there who think a high velocity round goes ping! or zowie! when it passes your ear. No, it doesn't. It goes CRACK! as it passes the sound barrier. Ask the Newcastle 'keeper who had to deal with Bainsey's left-footed free kick. I have paid agents to ransack my memory for a similar moment. They failed. The shot base was slightly centre right mid, all of thirty metres out. We scanned forward movement in the penalty area, trying to divine who would get up to head the incoming cross. So did the players. The only one who didn't was Bainsey. Instead, he took three strides and smashed a left foot shot that got to head height, swerved a little, went straight past everyone in its path, and came back out of the net while their 'keeper was still in the air. It was mesmerising, if you could keep up with it, the work of an outstanding professional athletic craftsman. Local homesters who booed did themselves no favour.
A minute before half time Felli had one of his arrogant aberrations and almost let them in with a careless flick that allowed them to break quickly from the right. At the last moment the ball bobbled narrowly wide of Tim's left post. Both our centre backs were AWOL again, thus showing that, whatever their individual abilities, as a pairing they are more akin to the Odd Couple. Still, relief flooded the away section. In which, I am delighted to report, there was a large majority of youngsters full of verbal advice and acceptable oaths. So elderly misery-arses will have to find an alternative soap box.
Ten minutes into the second half Moyesy sent on Vic for Naismith. It was chalk and cheese; the Scot still struggles to make an adjustment to the English game, while Vic - when fit - has the physical presence to upset anybody if he can avoid his infuriating complaints shtick. A few minutes later we were ahead with a glorious goal from a quite superb move fashioned down our left. Distin broke up an attack on our left, laid the ball wide left to Bainsey, a long pass to Osman on the half way line, forward to Felli, a chest down, quick turn outside, a casual lay off to Nikky, who typically got his head down, ran at a defender, got inside the left penalty area and teased a defender, lanced it forward to the edge of the goal area, and Vic touched it home. Sheer footy poetry. If Barca scored a goal of similar stature you wouldn't hear the last of it.
But Newcastle wasn't finished. With a half hour left, they came down our right and Tim had to save well from a close in acute angle shot. Shortly afterwards their 'keeper punted one down our left, the cross came in perfectly and their man should have headed home, but nodded it against Heitinga then hit the rebound straight at Tim. Another neat Royal Blue attack down our left almost brought an own goal. Minutes later, Felli stole the ball off a dozy defender half way on our right, and ran right-to-left to centre edge of the penalty area, where predictably he got sandwiched. Bainsey's free kick took a micron of paint of their left post.
With a few minutes left and the tension high, Newcastle broke through to the same right side position as earlier and should have equalised. Instead, Tim stood firm again and saved excellently. At which point Moyesy sent Oviedo on for Nik. Bainsey promptly raced through all the way to the left corner of the enemy goal area and squared it for what would have been a killer third; but Oviedo and Vic left it to each other and it was gone. Our Boys then played keep-ball until the final whistle. It was a well deserved win despite a closing tense ten minutes.
Given their average age, this Everton team is probably at its peak. They know each other's strengths and weaknesses and can compensate as a unit when one hits a sterile patch. Nik Jelavić for instance works his socks off despite a dearth of goals. Steven Pienaar keeps going despite the appalling physical "treatment" he gets. Vic Anichebe was outstanding when he came on. Midfield was bolstered by Felli's return and of course while the enemy is watching him we have other alternatives. Altogether, they are a sight for sore Evertonian eyes after years of waiting. How long it can last, I don't know. Make the most of it while it's there.
It isn't only the US economy on the edge of a fiscal cliff. So is football everywhere.