THIS WAY, JOSE
Mickey Blue Eyes
Only after dust settles on transfer window nonsense do sensible people stop, look sheepishly at each other, and ask: All that heat and noise......was I actually part of it?......for what? To keep journalists and TV presenters in cud-chew and farts? Yet more pop-culture chloroform "branding" and "marketing"?
This time round, in the final hours Marouane Fellaini rejoined David Moyes at Manchester United, as most of us expected him to, Vic Anichebe headed off to West Bromwich Albion, and in came James McCarthy from Wigan Athletic, Gareth Barry from Manchester City, and Romelu Lukaku from, erm, Chelsea, the last two on loan. The fans consensus appears to be it was good business, which roughly approximates my own opinion. But there is no question it was a blow losing world-class Felli. Looking for mitigation, maybe we came to depend on him too much, maybe we need a more solid midfield; if so, the difference will manifest in short order. At such times it is a good idea to follow the hard-nosed advice of Ernest Hemingway to, "Remember old friends as they were. Then write them off." If it works, Roberto Martinez will be hailed as a managerial genius. If it fails he will be castigated as a turkey long before Christmas. Welcome once more to the mercurial, deluded, century-old world of professional football. Some things never change.
The break for international football helped dissipate transfers hot air, but our main interest was the (substitute) début of Ross Barkley in the England team versus Moldova of the Mitropa East Sunday League. He did well, too, for a nineteen years old tyro, nothing flashy, all of it solid and determined, and very nearly an outstanding opportunist goal to go with it. The experience can only be good. Then came England's match V Ukraine in Kiev and a 0-0 draw notable only for the mediocrity of both teams and the mature excellence of Phil Jagielka at centre back; tangentially, what it illustrated is just how lucky we are to see our left wing of Leighton Baines and Steven Pienaar - by comparison, England's wing play was a shambles of metronome lousy passing and empty-headed running. Still, England look likely to get through the qualifiers and head to the next World Cup tournament in Brazil. So, barring catastrophe, be thankful for small footy mercies.
Saturday brought Jose Mourinho and Russian owned Chelsea to Goodison Park for one of those hated early evening Murdoch-Sky TV kick offs. Typically, Jose has flouted the conventional wisdom of never-go-back; which I suppose is one of the reasons I have yet to meet anybody who dislikes him. Your correspondent loves him. Sure, he can be irritable in the way all egotists are, but so what? The moment you offer an opinion you paint a target on yourself; there will always be nutters who resent anybody who disagrees with them. If you have any gumption about you, you relish the opportunity for humour and scatty excitement. Mourinho certainly does. In his case he has indeed proved he is as special as he claimed. And there aren't many who can resist that gnomish sly grin and attenuated English, just as there aren't many teams who can get one over his formidable tactics. In the circumstances I expected us to get a hiding by a couple of goals and a constant tour of well drawn circles. But once again - a riot of understatement - it didn't work out that way.
Meteorologists said we would be swamped by rainstorms, gales and low temperatures sweeping in on the tail end of a belated Atlantic hurricane season. Naturally, it was a beautifully warm evening, a clear blue porcelain sky, a perfect setting for football. Thus demonstrating why nobody trusts anything coming out of somewhere called the Bracknell Weather Centre.
Lukaku, of course, couldn't play in the match and Steven Pienaar was missing for some reason, Kevin Mirallas went to the left to dual up with Bainsey, Gareth Barry replaced Marouane Fellaini, and for all the seemingly minor change I had a distinct feeling of a new start. So, apparently, did the crowd; there was an immediate buzz around the place and it didn't have too much to do with the sensational Brazilian female legs in pre-match display, though I can tell you there was at least one veteran fan who relished the sight. By the time of the kick off my glum pre-match assessment had disappeared. I was as loony optimist as everyone else.
The opening exchanges lifted everyone. It was immediately obvious the enemy had better individual skill and long and short passing ability. But they were more than matched by chasing and harrying from Our Boys all over the pitch, none more outstanding than Steven Naismith. Tippy-tappy it was not. Plainly Our Boys were determined to assert professional pride and the crowd could almost smell it like an animal. You thought......could it be?.......
Both sides missed early headed opportunities. Theirs went to Eto'o - a signing that still puzzles this fan - ours went to Nik, both following right wing attacks and brilliant long crosses, both should have been buried. The game pattern seemed to be five minutes on and off for each team, but you always felt Chelsea's better control and combination play would be deadly if they got in front. Still, none of that seemed to matter to the Royal Blues on and off the pitch. The noise was incessant. As usual the visiting fans, never the most convincing in the Premier League, were reduced to a peculiar isolated cockney accent of "Chewlsee," and mumbling of the usual Daily Mail/Sun inner Lahndan Little Englander neocon muck. Our lot seemed to be on one of their occasional missions to bring the roof down.
A game of this kind can turn on a seminal moment. Sure enough, it came when Tim Howard inexplicably screwed up a simple clearance at the left edge of our goal area, the ball got pulled back to Eto'o unmarked, advancing dead centre of the penalty area......Well, it's a goal isn't it. Except it wasn't. Barry appeared from nowhere, made the left-footed tackle of this or any other season, and deflected the ball over the bar. Oh how the Street End loved that one; he was an instant hero. A few minutes later Tim made an absolutely magnificent save from an equally splendid cross shot, thus compensating for his howler. The crowd lifted even further.
Then the Rent Boys missed another after a typically superb Mata left side free kick got headed over from a clear chance. Then we promptly went down the other end on our left after a pass from Barry at centre went to Bainsey then on to Mirallas, who kidded two men and crossed to the far post for an angled header from Seamus. Yes, Chelsea looked sharper, but they never looked settled. We were giving as good as we got.
As half time neared I dreaded the prospect of a Chelsea goal in its dying moments. Instead, we got one. A quite outstanding passing movement originated from slightly right of centre midfield, where Naismith picked up a loose ball and laid it right to Seamus on a forward run. It came back to Osman inside as Seamus got even further upfield to receive the return, back inside to Leon at the right edge of the penalty area, a short sideways pass to Ross Barkley, who jinked slightly to imbalance them, then played it wide right to Osman again, a chipped air ball to the far post, Nik had to stretch to head it back into the middle....and Naismith couldn't miss a close in header. Bloody hell, we were in front and it was Chelsea who was going to be on the end of broken tea cups.
Half time, I tried to rationalise. Our midfield was older than theirs. Ergo, the longer the game went the more likely we were to tire first as we chased shadows. It was all bollocks. Which is why we love the uncertainty of the game.
Not that it looked that way in the first ten minutes after the restart. Clearly Jose had kicked them all over the dressing room and they nearly got an equaliser after a minute when they broke through on the right, but Tim did his job well and covered an acute angle and it went into the side netting. Not long after, Tim had to do it again this time against a long distance left side shot from outside the box. It rebounded off his chest and their man scuffed it tamely wide. You began to feel it was only a matter of time. But not a bit of it. Gradually Chelsea got more and more frustrated with their own shortcomings - they had four booked - and then began to unravel as Mirallas appeared all over the pitch to run at and bewilder them. Barkley joined in to have them back pedalling nervously. Now it was Our Boys narrowly calling the shots.
First, Barkley won a tremendous tackle left centre mid and gave it wide left to Mirallas, who came dribbling in, checked inside, had a glimpse, and smacked in a blistering right foot cross shot that Cech saved well. Two free kicks demonstrated the change in the game. First, Mirallas got fouled at centre on a cross field run, took the free kick himself from twenty five metres and brought another good save out of Cech. Then Barkley went on a head-down determined run through the middle, made a complete mug of Luiz - what does anybody see in that guy? - and got upended on the edge of the box. Bainsey took the free kick left footed, bent it over the wall and it hit the top of the bar before going over.
By this time the ground was in uproar, nerves shredding by the second. I looked across the aisle from me. A guy I had never seen in my life exchanged looks that said the same thing: why the fuck do we do this to ourselves? Then the whistle went and it was our first win, well deserved, not a sign of tippy-tappy, great effort from everybody, and El Bob won the battle of the substitutes. Jose looked greyer as he disappeared down the tunnel. It must have seemed a long way back to Rent Boy country.
Afterwards, we went into town and had a few libations in various disgusting haunts, talked footy, and generally decided the world was an infinitely better place than it had been at 4.45 pm. I have no idea what time I eventually fell into the sack. Football, ey?
Your correspondent won't be at West Ham for our annual benefit match. I am off to Madrid and have tickets for the Real Madrid V Getafe game, which should also see the home debut of Gareth Bale, the world's most expensive footballer. I wonder if Real will show half the commitment Our Boys displayed? Of which, more anon.