HAVE A BREAK
HAVE A BRICKBAT
Mickey Blue Eyes
Some things in life are certain: taxes, transfer window hysteria, Yankee warmongering and carpet bagging, addicted footballers, soap operas, and the giant ponzi scheme that is capitalism. And now, way down the list, in football an international break "controversy." Veteran fans know mainstream media have columns and minutes to fill with scrivener bilge, and have due contempt for it; there is also no pleasing more empty-headed others. Hence scatty complaints about breaks from domestic league football. Be honest, coverage of The Beautiful Game has never been known for its sensitivity, intellectuality, veracity or talent. Meanwhile, a sclerotic internet mongrel still limps after the sport and may yet gnaw it to death.
Which is why Everton in the Community stands out like an altruistic beacon in a sea of establishment greed and fans wilful ignorance. Typically, that admirable organisation is ignored by mainstream media too busy inflating legalised gangsterism, theft and cheap "celebrity" gossip. This sad truism applies against almost all voluntary fans organisations, some of which have evolved genuinely helpful ideas which may yet save the game from its self-inflicted economic cancer. Equally sadly, too many fans even now think football is all about acquiring multi millions, rich men, and sneering at a defeated opponent. Variations on this theme will continue until such time as the game is de-Gekkoed and de-loonied.
On the question of said breaks I believe for once the UEFA College of Cardinals got it right. These short intermissions from league football are a good thing: they provide a breathing space for injured players while enabling the best players to pitch their talents against each other, which is surely what they seek at an individual level. Which of us does not want to work with the most talented peers in our chosen field? But it would scarce matter what arrangement was made for international football. There will always be Club V Country idiocy.
Then England manager Roy Hodgson put his foot in his multi-lingual mouth when he claimed Wayne Rooney's Merseyside accent would discount him from addressing others, thus demonstrating even intelligent men can talk occasional bollocks. Of course, Wayne cannot lecture in a formal sense because, plainly, he is a great football player not a talker; his untrained speaking voice is about as intelligible as, say, your average Norf Lahndanaaa or hunchbacked zero-hours Canary Wharf IT clerk. Examples of those who proved the alternative......The local accent of Brian Labone and Joe Royle never obstructed their public speaking, anymore than it did elsewhere, say, of Les Ferdinand and Phil Neville......but did of Ian Wright, who in his early post-retirement days was simply an incomprehensible cockney until he was shown the vices of bling mumbling. So of course the likes of the lower middle class neocon Daily Mail leapt on Rooney while hiding the obvious, that it has little to do with accent and everything to do with clear articulation. Some, like Wayne, are more interested in playing footy than in journalese bullshit. Meantime, if you want to hear how loopy-weird the English can be try listening to that dangerous ex-public school baboon Boris Johnson, if you can, for more than two minutes.
Irishman George Bernard Shaw got it right in his preface to Pygmalion when he wrote, "The English have no respect for their language, and will not teach their children to speak it. They spell it so abominably that no man can teach himself what it sounds like. It is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without making some other Englishman hate or despise him." Roy Hodgson, from Croydon, son of an Evertonian from Walton, married to Sheila from Liverpool, fluent speaker of Norwegian, Swedish, German and Italian and some Danish, French and Finnish, should have known what mass-idiot media employees would do with his casual words. Which of course they did. Nobody ever got poor by underestimating how low cheap-propaganda media clerks can go. Most mainstream media is located in the villages of Lahndan and Manchistih and is biased accordingly (though the TV monopoly is about to be broken locally by Bay TV on channel 8 Freeview); after a while its output gets too tedious and ludicrous for words. Shaw could be profoundly observant, but I doubt even he thought accent chauvinism would last into the twenty-first century.
Fortunately England won both their Euro qualifiers against mighty San Marino and Estonia and now look set to qualify from a group that Aintree Signal Works would have a chance in. These days we England fans have low expectations; thus we are never disappointed, not even with home and away looming with Lithuania. True our national team also won in rogue state Switzerland, but it is hard not to think the Swiss prefer international money-laundering to playing football. Nevertheless, the truth is prosaic and obvious, that current best English players are generally not as good as the best foreign players. Still I am confident we will win the group. Surely even the present squad cannot screw this one up. After that likely we will get obliterated at a higher level, though I hope not. I also hope Roy finally learns that dealing with footy hacks is easy once you realise most of them are mean-spirited morons without a semblance of common sense or good will.
To my great joy all the other "home" countries also cut a dash in their groups, which proves there is hope even when chances are slim. We have waited too long for our cousins to regenerate. Scotland did us all a favour with its recent political kick in the anus for the Westminster/Whitehall/Oxbridge/Canary Wharf gang of thieves; for the Scots, the re-emergence of a sharp national football team is a perfect complement. It was almost worth the risk to the Union just to see sweaty desperation among Thameside crooks and spivs. If only the English would have a similar reckoning with the corrupt circus. And if it was supplemented by football success for working class England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and Ireland......then so much the better. Sometimes even trivia has its uses.
Then on match-eve the ("New") Labour Party issued a précis of proposed reforms to the way professional football clubs are owned and run in England and Wales. On which, more in the next few weeks as full details are made available. This supplemented a BBC Report on the cost of football during the week. In turn, this follows Parliament's (three years old) report and follow up on the same subject, which so far has achieved precisely nothing. More specific to Everton you can check the Everton Trust site for looming developments. If you want a revolution you have to take part in it. Otherwise you are a mere laptop moaner and fellow traveller.
Suffice it to say at this stage that New Labour (read: nothing in common with founding principles of the party) half-arsed reforms are probably next to useless. Anything less than fifty-one percent fans ownership leads only to sophist nonsense and bickering from wannabe shamans and frustrated middle-aged suburban househusbands; even such a percentage would lead to initial democratic difficulties. This time round, fundamental reform, a good thing if done properly, should lead to root and branch consideration of what professional sport is for and how it is legislated. Anything less is a waste of time. What matters are sensible ideas, organised action and persistent determination, not more boiler plate nitpicking or ale house blow-hards. After that comes the reality of power and decision-making, which brings you more or less full circle.
Our Saturday home match against Aston Villa was anything but footy trivial. Appropriately, decaying Hurricane Gonzalo loomed out in the Atlantic. Despite this it was a beautiful sunny day, warm and slightly breezy. In fact the game was a must win. Lose, and the possibility was a berth in the bottom three, a dismal prospect none of us even considered pre-season. Given the squad we have it should scarcely have made it to the radar screen anyway. The team for this one was: Howard, Coleman, Baines, Jagielka, Alcaraz, Barry, McCarthy, Barkley, Naismith, Osman, Lukaku. It was as near full strength as we have seen this season. Pienaar came on for Barkley with just under half an hour left, and Eto'o and Gibson for Naismith and Lukaku in the last few minutes.
A well-deserved 3-0 win was a welcome return for Barkley, McCarthy and Coleman, all of whom were central to it. Later, Pienaar helped cement it. Given our season thus far it was understandably a performance laced with wariness and flashes of brilliance, a steady if not spectacular re-establishment. But the returnees and their young legs were the main factor at the heart of play, as was Steven Naismith, a player who is a credit to himself and his determination. Amongst fans relief was palpable at the final whistle, lead not surrendered, dominance maintained. Pre-match many, me included, thought it would take more time for returnees to settle in again. Instead, control of play was almost instant and faltered only for a ten minute spell in the first half and tailed off only a little in the second half. There was more understandable nervousness in the seats than on the pitch.
Villa are a big side who look more suited to digging ditches - often tackled like it too - than playing a skilful game of football. During the opening phase it must have occurred to them that might be a better occupation. It was immediately apparent the Barkley-McCarthy combination was going to make all the difference. Gone was the stuff that drove us mad in recent weeks, the sideways-backwards-sideways aimless geometry of safe ball and uncertain defence. In its place was the footy we all anticipated in August and which we have seen only in glorious spasms thus far......yes, lateral passing, but always looking for a breakthrough or a sudden forward thrust. The foundation for it was the hunger and energy of the midfield two, well supported by Gareth Barry and Steven Naismith, all of it - at last! - properly screening Jags-Alcaraz, and the forward runs of Bainsey and Seamus. In the seats gradually we began to lose our uneasiness. Villa hardly crossed the half way line during the first quarter hour.
The first goal ended the first phase of play and came after a couple of corners on our right had the enemy spinning and back pedalling. First, Baines and Barkley teased their defence mercilessly before Ross unleashed a Eusebio-type shot from the right angle of the penalty area that got the second corner. Then Bainsey swapped close passes with Barry along the goal line, did the same with Barkley further back, checked forward, then back, then forward again, before curling over a right footer at head height for Jags to butt home at centre point blank range. Poor Villa was turned inside out.
Right, I thought, let's see how we deal with the lead this time. The crowd plainly felt as wary as I did because there was an air everywhere of Um, we've seen this before, I'll believe you can hold it when you show me. At first it looked as though it would be the same tedious story of the season: the enemy came forward, their man drifted in from the right, angled forward, got to just right of the D and bent a brilliant left footed shot around diving Tim's right hand. It missed by a whisker. For perhaps ten minutes it looked as though they might get back into the game. But that was as much as they ever achieved.
Dominance was restored for the remainder of the half and the game. Some Everton teamwork was nothing short of brilliant, everything you could wish for except more goals in the first half. One spell of forward, probing football was almost mesmerising. Villa could hardly get near the ball for what seemed like five minutes, an eternity at this level. Quite rightly the crowd responded with generous, ringing applause. Gradually, bit by bit, confidence crept back among the seats and out on the pitch, footy symbiosis in action.
The second half was more a question of nailing it and not doing anything as stupid as, say, the Arsenal, Crystal Palace or Leicester games. So it looked like job done when Rom got a second a few minutes after the restart. McCarthy won a fifty-fifty duel in the centre circle when their man got a bit sloppy, then spread it wide left and forward to Barkley on a run, a quick classy brush pass with the outside of his right foot forward to Lukaku, a muscular tangle with their man left side of the penalty area, a shift to Rom's left foot, and a hard shot that went through and under their 'keeper's dive and dribbled over the line. We hope that will show Rom what he can do when he decides to give it out as well as take it.
After that, Villa evaporated and it became a matter of what we would settle for. Another goal always looked likely. Sure enough, a third came with a quarter hour left when Pienaar was inevitably fouled wide left, yet another demonstration of the kind of physical treatment handed out to him every time he plays, yet another foul from behind, yet another knee in the upper thigh. By this time Villa were so obviously beaten they wearily handed the ball to the referee, who gave it to Osman, who quickly decked it and took the free kick while the enemy trudged away with their tired backs to the ball, a mortal loss of concentration. Bainsey was on it in a flash, angled forward to about three metres from the goal line in the penalty area and stuck one of his special ground crosses in and Seamus materialised to knock it home in front of their big defender at the centre of the goal area.
You have to say the feeling among the fans was more of relief than ecstasy. The game had a strange air about it, as though mutual confidence was still required, that we need a few more performances like this to restore early season enthusiasm and optimism. A good run of results is needed. The players are good enough individually, the squad (when fit) more than a match for any other in the Premier League, the manager wise enough when not engulfed by needless superlatives, team play exceptional when on song. All they have to do is prove it all over again.