PANTOMIME SEASON......BEHIND YOU!
Mickey Blue Eyes
Our league form is so bad I looked forward to the match at Manchester City as much as an amputation by rusty bread knife. If you compared our form to theirs we were about - to echo gunny Hartman in Full Metal Jacket - to receive a sound rogering and not even get the courtesy of a reach-around. The outlook was that bleak. But like all of us I clung to the hope we would actually see the Everton which performed so well in Wolfsburg, in which case we might give the enemy a run for his dirhams. If the good Everton turned up we might even win. Thus the crude definition of schizophrenia......a divorce of reality from illusion. How else can leisure pursuits survive?
And talking of reality and illusion.......what of Manchester City? Since they represent raw football capitalism, their 2008 takeover and subsequent playing fortunes are the ultimate "challenge" to the "values" of football fans everywhere. Their owner is Mansour bin Zayed bin Sultan bin Al Nahyan, deputy prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, stakeholder in Sky Arabia, majority owner of New York City FC (to be launched in 2015), personal wealth reported at US$131.4billions and family wealth at US$7trillions. The late elder Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, ruler of Abu Dhabi and president of the United Arab Emirates until 2004, was one of the founders of the notorious BCCI (Bank of Credit and Commerce International), which, between 1972 and 1991, was the world's most corrupt financial empire working hand in glove with the CIA and MI6 in arms deals and drugs trafficking: how they larfed in Langley and Vauxhall Cross.
Mansour bought City from Thaksin Shinawatra, owner for a year, once prime minister of Thailand, deposed in a coup in 2006, tried in absentia, assets frozen, still under investigation. For the ten years before that the principal owner had been former player Francis Lee, with shares traded between a variety of individuals and organisations. City became a byword for yoyo existence, managers and absurd promises came and went, everything wrong in football, until the appointment of David Bernstein as a fondly-remembered chairman who steadied the ship between 1998 and 2003.
That is, shall we say, the "colourful" background to the two Premier League titles won by City during the Al Nahyan ownership. Added to that is ongoing expansion of their Council-owned stadium - which Mansour wants to buy outright - to an eventual capacity of 62,000, plus other property developments around the ground. Against that they have posted a series of annual multimillion losses and this year were fined £50millions for breach of UEFA Financial Fair Play regulations, which money was promptly shared out among Champions League clubs, which is what you would expect from a capitalist monopoly. From now on, says Al Nahyan straight-faced, the club will have to live within its means and investments.
Now......no sensibly-minded football fan will begrudge long suffering City fans one iota of their current football glory: they have endured much and deserve something for their undoubted loyalty, which at times amounted to little more than sports heartbreak or even masochism......No, chauvinist churlishness is not the issue.
The eternal questions are of ends and means and conscience and what place, if any, they have in professional sport - or if they ever had any in the first instance. Essentially, what is the difference between Al Nahyan ownership and Moores family ownership? What is the difference between that and the ripoff prices you pay for overcrowded incoherent overamplified rock concerts, puerile "comedy" acts that amount to little more than scripted jeers, other "popular" events, or, for that matter, the bloated price of ale and privatised monopolies? Apart from scale, what is the difference with you corruptly employing a "ringer" in a Sunday League match?
Nowhere is the tortured footy dichotomy better described, perhaps sometimes unconsciously, than in the outstanding writing of long time City fan David Conn. For years now David has written outstanding essays and books on the financial and other (wrong)doings of professional football. His works are volumes of decency. Then suddenly he was faced with the Al Nahyan takeover. I can only guess at the affect it must have had on the inside of his talented head. The same would surely apply to all of us. Thus, Manchester City Syndrome. But would you be any different? Did you complain when we were owned by John Moores? What makes you so special?
Team: Howard, Hibbert, Jagielka, Distin, Baines, Coleman, Bešić, Barry, Eto'o, Mirallas, Lukaku. Barkley came on for Bešić just over the hour mark and Osman for Mirallas with a few minutes left.
In the end, given our recent form, it was a relief to lose by only 1-0 - and that the result of an appalling penalty decision by an appalling referee - in a gruelling match that sometimes threatened to spill over into thuggery. It never did, but that's no thanks to the worst referee I have seen even in this season of whistling arse heads. Yet even the penalty decision paled compared to two City assaults on Eto'o and Barry that would have drawn prison sentences if committed in the street. Not that we deserved anything from the game despite a last ten minutes surge that had the homesters playing an anxious nay flute for the final whistle. Still, for most of the game we could hardly cross the halfway line, which meant understandably the thousands of visiting Evertonians could hardly muster a single "Allez Allez ohhh" between them, anymore than they can while the ball gets passed sideways and backwards. I have yet to meet anybody who can get excited about the drying of paint.
But at least we failed to repeat the horror performances V Tottenham and Hull. Had we done so there would be only one conclusion to draw. Fortunately there was enough professional pride left in Our Boys to invigorate ageing legs and almost rescue a point. The key word there is "almost." The return of John Stones, Jimmy McCarthy and Steven Naismith cannot come soon enough. Then we have to allow time for them to get up to speed again. All of which means there is probably more excruciating pain to endure before we can stop shouting at inanimate objects and startled pets.
So what else can we rescue from this game? Well, some compensations are there, though they cannot hold off the gloom induced by another loss, a midtable position and the obvious failures of our current playing method. We cling to the hope that older talented players will regenerate just long enough to bring in our young future heroes. Meanwhile, if we are going to hit the road to the Championship we might as well decide now if we laugh or cry en route.
The first compensation is the team held its nerve and avoided implosion when threatened. Secondly, Romelu Lukaku's game improves minutely with each outing: marginally, he wins more headers and holds the ball up better. Thirdly, Muhamad Besic also advances with more game time. Fourthly, Kevin Mirallas is beginning to match his abilities effectively with his irritated bowels. Fifthly, Samuel Eto'o has not yet succumbed to age and can still change a game in a split second. Sixthly, Tony Hibbert is a veteran marvel who never lets us down, though gawd knows for how much longer. Seventhly, the discovery that Seamus Coleman cannot play in midfield. Finally, the notion that matters can only improve when injured players return.
Against that, we still do geriatric slapstick at the centre of our ageing formation, never better demonstrated than a banana skin shtick just after the appearance of Fat Frank Lampard in the second half. Pensioners Gareth Barry and Sylvain Distin, clearly in each other's sight line, went for a harmless ball somewhere in the D. Both missed it and pratfell over each other. Fortunately when it broke loose their man missed an easy chance. Unfortunately this kind of thing now happens so regularly it has become a rest home melodrama of things that go bump in the night. Until we are rid of it there can be no improvement. It reminds me irresistibly of over a decade ago when we took bets on Dunney's Weekly Howler; oddly enough, loveable Richard Dunne had a spell at Sitteh, as did scatty Michael Ball, both of whom were shown the exit at Goodison when Walter Smith found the adolescents giggling after yet another of our many League Cup disasters. How the footy wheel turns!
After Sunday results this defeat meant we sank to twelfth in the league table, seven points off fourth and four points off the bottom three, at home only two games won out of seven. Thus the swamp effect comes into play. The more you struggle, the more you sink. In football's case it also disturbs loony methane until it bubbles stinking to the surface in the shape of badged-up "qualified" ale house "coaches" eager to blame something or some individual, which, oddly, they failed to point out before we waded into the season. Funny how these people have failed to show up since our last run of this kind.
In fact the culprit, if any, is Old Father Time.
Needless to say, any more pathetic pantomime nonsense and the situation will become really serious even for those with their heads buried in their own anal canal. There may be lots of games left, but they have to be won. And soon. Furthermore, progress now will also depend on those above us dropping points. The clock is ticking and cannot turn back. Our veterans have found that out the hard way. As the terrace song says Roberto may indeed have a dream, but let us hope it is not overtaken by illusion or self-deception.
Of one thing we may all be certain: this season is the last hoorah for the squad so patiently assembled by David Moyes and which played such fine football in its last seasons, then continued into Roberto's first season. After next May at the latest Roberto must begin anew. Time and tide......well, you know the rest.