A (HAW)THORNY ISSUE
Mickey Blue Eyes
Closure of the August "transfer window" was a cause for regret by all lovers of inspired humour. Apart from that, it is little more than a comic biannual exhibition of research data for social workers and the gushings of media clerks and front men. There might even be a conference for psychiatrists in it somewhere. I confess at such times my people-studies intensify as gossip beer suds foam in my local pub. I also confess to an occasional stir of the brew as the fancy takes me. That is, when somebody talks so much crud you want irresponsibly to test the limits of their mental health. I consider this one of my lazy contributions to civilisation.
Given our mediocre start to the season it was certain the transfers tide would inundate local bat caves. Sure enough, resident mammals wheeled and squealed in flocks. But in the weird deluded world of professional footy and its followers a chiroptera mentality cannot understand that if results are what we expect, actual consequences are what we get. When it collides with expectations reality must, and always does, comply with The Law of Unintended Consequences. Hence the mirth.
Examples in our own batty colony: Some people wanted "more attacking play"; they got it. Then the very same people wanted "better defensive play." Some people wanted "early signings" and not "panic signings made at the last minute"; they got the early signings. Then the very same people wanted "emergency signings in the last minute." Then there is my favourite, "Splash the cash!" quickly followed by, "Oh Christ, I didn't mean that much!" Any day now I guarantee the same yoyos will give it large on the stadium issue, while Earth is daily decreed flat. At such times your correspondent gives way to uncontrolled joy. When empty heads stop turning you hope for their own sakes they face the right direction. Well, you either laugh at them or tell them to fuck right off to the Jeremy Clarkson subsidiary of Thatcher Inc., Canary Wharf. Proof, if it was needed, of Koestler's observation that all good comedy is a collision of opposites. Enjoy the show; the next one is due in January 2015.
We had another lift when all our international players had good Euro qualifiers in the international fixtures, particularly Aiden McGeady with a dazzling world class goal for Ireland. John Stones did well in a good English win in Switzerland, as did Bainsey and Jags. But I admit to avuncular concern about Stonesy: I am uncomfortable when he slots in at right back, and he seems unready for the physical rigours - particularly heading - of centre back......time may be on his side, but the demands are merciless and the judgment immediate and cruel. Also, he still has to prove his undoubted natural class will prevail over lesser footy mortals. Seems to me he needs a bit more physical self assurance and determination to assert himself. We all fervently hope he makes the final transition. Fortunately nobody ended up as another Finch Farm in-patient.
So, after our seppuku V Chelsea we faced West Bromwich Albion away. We hoped this time the laugh would be on the enemy. We fail to see the joke where our defence is concerned. Too many goals let in, too much bad luck brought on by slow instincts and slower - perhaps ageing - feet. If we Evertonians have laughed at all it has had a hollow sound to it; we are in danger of becoming the schlemiels of the Premier League. Thus, footy-wise, many of us spent the last few weeks muttering to our shaving mirror. But the time to really worry is if a disembodied voice answers from under the lavatory seat.
And a visit to Albion hardly fosters your best instincts. The Hawthorns is among the more outdated grounds of the Premier League, an upmarket clone of Lahndan sinkhole dumps at Selhurst Park, Loftus Road and a Shepherds Bush Pound Shop; actually better than all of them, though only marginally. By comparison even the Old Lady is a paragon la mama nuzzled lovingly by her grandchildren. Nevertheless, like the rest of us, they do what they can with what they have. Just surviving in this awful economic era is an unlikely if unresolved revolutionary action. Sooner or later the tide will turn. If not, the long term consequences are unthinkable.
Meanwhile, approach to their away section is disgusting, and so is urfascist policing of it. In a throwback to bad old days, visiting buses park in a crumbling road next to a decayed concrete approach ramp. The surroundings are an appalling industrial estate full of 1950s buildings clad with wrinkly tin and effloresced brickwork, the kind of visual muck "designed" by stiff-faced talent-free structural engineers. A tooled up police platoon crowd visitors onto the ramp while their more totalitarian comrades video us Cool Hand Lukes. Nearby, a squadron of police cars could be in Ferguson, Missouri. Doubtless some journo-hacks will claim this is "atmospheric," as they sometimes do of The Hawthorns stadium itself........Bollocks, of course. Something is still badly wrong with twenty-first century football with this hideous mask of authoritarian poverty. Frankly, I would rather visit Hofuf old souk with Al Qaeda as tourist guides. During a winter shamal sandstorm.
Despite recent events we expected a victory. I had some sympathy for the Albion manager Alan Irvine, once of our parish as an admirable player and coach. He has a big job on his hands to fuse many new players into a functioning team. But of course when it comes to the crunch none of that matters a row of beans: we want to batter everyone we play. I cannot recall anyone expressing sympathy when we were in a similar position.
Team: Howard, Coleman, Stones, Jagielka, Baines, McCarthy, Barry, McGeady, Naismith, Lukaku, Mirallas. Sylvain Distin made way due to injury. The team looked as good as ever on paper; it is the flesh and blood of fallible humanity that causes footy grief. Osman came on for Lukaku with twenty minutes left and Muhamed Bešić did another few minutes cameo at the end in place of McGeady. And while he managed to avoid his comic juggling shtick he still worked his way deservedly onto a yellow card, the numpty. His third appearance should be interesting, if only to see what form the hat trick will take.
We could scarce have had a better start. Albion did for us what we did for Chelsea - gifted an early goal. A couple of minutes in and Jags cleared from central defence midway in our half to Steven Naismith in the centre circle in their half. A quick turn and he was off on a slightly diagonal run to our left mid. Once clear, he spread it wide to Bainsey (I might as well make that a copy-and-paste phrase), who duly delivered one of his deadly ground passes to the near angle of the penalty area. The ball bobbled loose toward the penalty spot and their centre back and he promptly hit it straight back to Romelu Lukaku on his weaker right foot. This turned out to be fortunate. From slightly further in on the left edge of the area the big man clipped a below strength shot that was going wide until it faded and then bent in around their 'keeper's left side dive. It must have swerved a metre and a half before arrowing inside the post. We know how Albion fans felt.
The rest of the half was fairly non-descript stuff, competent keep ball from us and incompetent chasing from them. I cannot recall any worthwhile threat at either end of the field. At such times you feel an urge to join those strange, lonely denizens below the stands who get pissed and watch the match on TV; it takes all sorts. Instead, I took the opportunity to weigh up Jags-Stonesy. And I judged the combination a success, though I reserve final opinion until they are faced with bigger and better attackers. Heading is not their strong point and is a potential weakness which will be duly noted by enemy analysts.
The pace stepped up in the second half on the basis that it could scarcely be much slower without sending everyone to sleep. I do not know what the possession stats were - now that subject is guaranteed to set this fan snoring - but it felt to me like it was 80-20 in our favour. Yet while the score stayed at 1-0 it left you with an ominous gnawing in the stomach. Fortunately the enemy managed only a few defensive furores by us, though even those were unconvincing. We should have had a second after a quite magnificent scissor movement through the centre by Lukaku and Naismith left the Scot to knock home a point blank rebound. Which hit the top of his ankle and went over. At this stage my stomach felt as though ravaged by an uncertain Balti. Bad starts to the season do that to you.
Which is why there was palpable relief in the away section when we got our second with just over twenty minutes left. It came down the left again. Shit, I liked that so much I'll say it again: It came down the left again. Actually, it was from tight instinctive combination play on the touchline forward of their penalty area. Naismith-Lukaku-Bainsey sorted it out with an inside pass to Mirallas, a quick Pienaar-type turn and run inward, Naismith went on a decoy run into the centre, everything opened up, and Mirallas mishit at half power from the left edge of the area. Their 'keeper went down for a routine save on his right. Next thing, oh dear, the ball squirted out from under him and went in. Well, we were due a measure of luck.
Albion melted except for the closing minutes. A win by three or four looked highly likely, but their 'keeper made two brilliant saves from Osman after two separate superb moves slalomed through their defence as though it was AWOL. McGeady made a couple of outstanding solo runs that came within a whisker of glory, while Steven Naismith continues to astound by his new found confidence; both a credit to themselves. In the end it felt a whole lot easier than it had been.
I have to say the game gave me the willies even when we were two up, but especially when we passed the ball around in our own half as though Albion had nothing to do with the game. A reasonably organised opposition would have caused us more than a few tremors. It was a good job the enemy was as hapless as their supporters apparently felt they were. When, infuriatingly, we gave the ball away in midfield they promptly gave it back to us. The problem with possession football is it requires one hundred percent concentration one hundred percent of the time, even with close passing. If one link fails the whole chain is in jeopardy and you get the kind of cast-adrift disaster we suffered the previous week. It looks like a car crash in slow motion. In spasms, Jimmy McCarthy has been less than his excellent self: one hopes the siren call of even bigger money is not echoing in his head.
Still, a win is a win and in this case it was a well deserved team effort if sort of weirdly unsatisfactory. The clean sheet was a bonus. But oh how we are going to regret those dropped points.
More important matters meant I missed Match of the Day, but I am reliably informed our game was commentated by Alan Green. If Green is to become a TV regular then the BBC can count on this citizen eliminating them from my media preferences. This is on the basis that the fellow is an utter know-nothing arse head with the intellect of a moth and the talent of a lobotomised orang utan. Doubtless some BBC suit thinks Green is "a character." Well, he isn't. He constitutes a soap opera of everything wrong with contemporary football coverage, a woohoo Hibernian moron with a microphone and an empty head. His only use is a prompt for the off switch on your radio, and now presumably TV. Yeuk. As if the usual Beeb drones cannot fulfil the bore quota. But what can you expect of a rigged neocon "Trust" whose new chair is a three-days-a-week (salary £124,000 p.a.) Yankified HSBC banker accused of ignoring money laundering for drug dealers and terrorists, subject to a class action legal suit in the USA, a director of Pepsi Cola, and whose predecessor was last governor of the rump British Empire in China? After due thought you could say Green is in the right company.