Allusions of mediocrity

Posted by Steve_M on January 19, 2005, 04:57:54 PM

When Steve Bennett blew the final whistle at the conclusion of Saturday’s game, I stood up and sighed.  Strange feeling.  I leaned out of the way, so those around me could get past and shuffle their way to the nearest exit.  I took my hands out of my pockets and briefly applauded the players for their efforts.  I swung my leg over the back of the next seat and stepped into the empty row behind.  The crowd continued to trundle along the rows and down the aisles.  Most of them were soon swallowed up in the exits before spewing out into the surrounding streets.  I didn’t feel like joining them just yet.  To be honest, I felt a bit confused.  After a defeat, especially one at home against bitter rivals, various feelings come to the fore.  Anger.  Rage.  Frustration.  Resignation.  And yet on Saturday I felt nothing. 

I leaned over to a friend and asked how he felt.  “Hate losing to the Mancs”, was the predictable reply.  “Who doesn’t?” I thought.  “But is it as bad as previous years?” I probed.  “Not sure.  Think so.  I just don’t like them.  I don’t know”.

I sort of knew where he was coming from.  Minutes after a game is the worse time to ask any fan for a rational view of the immediate events.  In many cases it is also the most honest and revealing time.  But the result wasn’t sticking in my gut the way it used to or indeed should have.  And it began to gnaw at me for the rest of the afternoon.  When I watched Kevin Keegan later jokingly reply to an interviewer’s question about the previous week’s result against Oldham with a retort of “What happened last week?” I could understand why he couldn’t be bothered re-treading old ground.  It was history and now confined to the stats books.  I felt like that within minutes of the end of our encounter with the Mancunians 

On the way home that night, I sat and wondered why I seemed to have rationalised what had happened that afternoon.  Why wasn’t I more wound up?  This is probably the sort of thing psychopaths do when trying to justify their actions.  No matter how brutal or obscene they’ve been, they can come up with a sane explanation that sounds entirely plausible.  That’s if you didn’t know better.  Yet there hadn’t been any metaphorical slaughter at Anfield that day.  In fact it was more of a paper cut sort of day.  Where was the Keano who had tried to end Alfie Haaland’s career?  Where was the Stevie G that causes more than a few of us to wince when he lunges into tackles?  Where was the Steve McMahon’s and Norman Whiteside’s of past encounters.  The Tommy Smith’s and Nobby Stiles?

I spent more time considering what a decent signing Heinze looks and wondering how his fellow Argentine, Pellegrino was able to communicate with the rest of the back four. 

I pondered how we both have ended up with two goalkeepers a piece that make David James look as safe as houses. 

I contemplated why we both have to trawl the planet to find decent players that know how to score goals and then wonder why neither can get a shot on target, except for a spotty teenager who grew up under our noses. 

I reflect why the same spotty teenager can so easily forget his roots and community and be so full of anger and attitude when he should be enjoying the fact that he has one of the best jobs in the country. 

I recall stories of George Best having to play in training without one of his boots so that he was able to develop his other foot to the same level of skill.  And I look at highly paid professional players that have to run around the ball because they don’t have the confidence to play it first time with their weaker foot.  And I ask how come they have played hundreds of games at this level and yet they still have the same weaknesses.  What do they do in the afternoons? 

I see players that shrug their shoulders when their little flicks and turns don’t come off and I wonder what Shanks would have made of them.  Or Busby.  As Tommy Docherty once said, “There are players out there that can trap a ball further than I can kick it”. 

I think of the media hype and how we are told these players are incredible and I despair at yet another millionaire hitting an inaccurate pass to a colleague 30 yards away.  And I shake my head at how many international caps this player has. 

Is this what it has become? 

That we accept mediocrity and the banal because we are fed the same bile repetitively that we begin to believe it.  We are told that these are the elite.  I even feel sorry for the managers and coaches who have been hoodwinked by these frauds. 

I feel even sorrier for the fans who have paid hard earned cash to support them and whose money is used to buy them and offer them cushy contracts.  And I consider the shipyard workers, the dockers and miners that once filled the terraces and wonder if they would be taken in by these conmen or would they see straight through them?  Would they give them the benefit of the doubt? 

And I come back again and look at the Kop.  And think of the Stretford End.  The Gallowgate.  The North Bank.  I hear, ’You’ll never walk alone’.  The din of ‘Glory, Glory Tottenham Hotspur’.  The Roker Roar.  The Pompey Chimes.  Blue Moon.  And we’ve been doing this for generations.  For over a century.  Of standing in shitty grounds.  Now being forced to sit in horrible, plastic, artificial concrete soulless bowls.  Being soaked to the skin.  Being served up crap food and treated as the lowest of the low.  Being ripped off ridiculously to watch 22 grown men kick a football around a grass pitch.  All because you love your sport.  You love the game.  And the comradeship.  And your team.  And I ask myself why do I keep doing this.  Is it a drug?  Is it some sort of compulsive disorder that I can’t stop?  Is there a self-help group out there for football fans? 

And yet we still label players as super stars and I wonder why?  They’re kicking a lump of plastic round a pitch, for pity’s sake.  I guess it comes down to the fact that you have to be a realist and understand your limitations.  And at the moment we are severely limited.  Not in the Exeter City or Doncaster Rovers type of way, but as one of the biggest clubs in Europe, we have ourselves in an awkward position with little money to spend, more debts than we care to admit and too many average players that shouldn’t be seen anywhere near a team with championship aspirations.  And you wonder why my enthusiasm was numb at the end of the game?  Maybe just a reality check. 

And yet despite all the hype and drivel spouted in the press and on the TV, I look at Rafa Benitez and Alex Ferguson and essentially I see two honest, driven men that have a competitive urge to be the best, to be successful, not tolerating second best.  I see their enthusiasm and passion and listen to Wenger and Mourinho and hear their intensity and I still believe it really does mean something to them.  That it isn’t all hype.  It isn’t about money and big contracts.  Or who has the biggest sponsorship deals.  Or has the most glamorous pre-season tours.  It’s about winning.  And medals and trophies.  It’s about Glory.  And as fans we all want to share in that experience. 

But sometimes I feel it’s the coaches and the fans that still have the passion and it’s the ones on the pitch that need the reality check and realise their responsibilities.  And it makes it harder to get excited in a positive way when you see someone that cost the equivalent of the GNP of a small central American country stroll through a game with a care-free attitude.  And I think of what Joe Fagan said to one of our scouts who had been watching a player and had reeled off an assessment of his various abilities, “No, no,” said Joe, “Forget about that.  We just want to know……… is he a fucking winner?”  And that is the bottom line.  You can have all the talent in the world and be technically gifted, but if you don’t have that attitude and confidence, if not arrogance, you won’t go far.  Next time you watch the team, look at each player and ask yourself, “Is he a winner?  Will this player help us win a championship?”

© Steve M 2005

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