Tuesday, May 31, 2011


The weak sunlight was slanting in through the badly drawn curtains. Joey looked bleary-eyed as usual, as did Paulie and Little Jimmy Aprille. The office had a dishevelled air, with several near-empty spirits bottles on the desk, an overfull ashtray on the floor and a rolled up copy of FIFA News on the sofa alongside a promotional leaflet for Brazilian bikinis.The smell was of sweat and pizzas.

"How long you stay at the Bada Bing last night?" I asked. "We came straight over here", came the answer. "There was some trouble. One hairy punk tried to finger Imogen, the new girl on the poles. Got in a scrap with him and his redhead mate."

There was a sharp bang outside and the door swung open. Smudge Blattieri entered with Jez "Fickle" Falcko and Slash "The Cash" Warner. "What is thees?" he hissed in a low growl. "What was that?! What was that German schmuck trying to do in there? What in God's name? He will be sausage-meat before dawn, I am telling you. Wurst. Fleisch. Teewurst. A lack of respect, I am telling you. A complete lack of respect. I do hardly not believe it! Talking ven i was talking, asking ven I was asking, interrupting ven I was interrupting. Who do they think they are dealing with here. Mary Poppins?! Dame Judi Dench?! David Hasselhoff? The Bloody Fucking Appenzeller Brass band? Air horns. Bah! Respect, let me tell you, is an attitude. An attitude."

He sat down with a thud and poured himself a drink from the fridge. Ice Tea. Mango flavour. Paulie offered him a straw. There were some marmite pretzels on the desk in front of him. His flashing arm knocked them and the bowl they were in to the carpet. "Get me Wotsits!" he shouted. Paulie gestured to Big Pussy Bonpensiero to get the slightly crunchy, curly shaped cheesy snacks from the bar next door. The big man shrugged, got up and left, chuntering to himself about lightly salted tidbits.

"So we do him straight away, the German?" Carmine appeared impatient."I gotta gun, you gotta reason. We cite Statute 22 and just gun the blister down, hey boss?"

"Listen to me you piffling Blunderbus. Show me a little respect. If I delegate...I delegate, ok?" rasped Blattieri. "We hef to box clever now. We vill show some disrespect of our own first. That clown Treeman and the grisly bear, Chuck Brasser, we vill start wiz dem. He keeps parrots for Gods sakes! let us show him what a man with unruly facial hair and parrots gets from the Fifa family."

"We gonna Marvin Gaye dem, Boss?" shouted Paulie enthusiastically. "No, you cretino. Cristopher, cancel the American's FIFA.Com subscription! Take away his password. No better, change it to "delorean". This vill show him who is Der Boss. Ah yes. he may not love me, but he vill respect me". A clenched fist crashed down onto the table top, sending a number of Whotsits cartwheeling into the air. "Damn these cheesy snacks! Damn them!" he shouted, sweeping the bowl onto the floor. "Christopher! Those who want respect must show respect, nicht wahr? Ja, ja, ja, ja!" he repeated as he stumbled over to the curtains and, taking a deliberate grip, pulled them to the floor. "Listen to me you dumb asses of people. Once you are in this family of ours, you do not get out. No, no. There is no getting out!! It's like the van Trapps, the Disneys, The Royle family, you do not jast leave it". His voice trembled with passion, sweat lined his temples and the little fluffy, gelled portions of hair to the side of his bald dome seemed to send off crystalline rainbow-coloured sparks. He ran his fingers through his hair, then wiped them on his beige weekend-in-the-mountains casual slacks with front, side and back pockets. "If you can quote the rules, you can also obey the rules, no?"

"What about you, Falcko? Are you with us or not? I am beginning to not like you very much. You cross and you double cross, then you cross back again. I am going cross-eyed wiz all this toing and froing that you are doing."

"I'm with you, boss. I mean, at least until they mow you down. A wrong decision is better than indecision, after all." The tall man leant forward and kissed Blattieri's ring. "Get off me, you oaf," cursed the small, purple faced man. "One thing my father Neville taught me is that a pint of blood costs more than a gallon of gold, Ah yes, you can smile, you buffoons. A pint of blood, a gallon of gold. Try telling fucking Castrol and Visa that!"

He shot a glance around the room and was met by a row of uncomprehending faces. "Look, now we even ef trouble from this lapdog Bernstein schmuck as well. I am getting tired of all zis. Scotland and Wales will be next, then the Isle of Man for God's sakes. We cancel subscriptions, we stop the grassroots funding, we slash the Caribbean holiday allowances, what else? Ah yes, we stop sending the educational leaflets!"

"But, Boss, we can't stop the leaflets. We gotta good deal at the printers," added Paulie, looking shocked. "Look. This is time for action. No fussy-arsing around anymore. No fanny burps. No more good guys. No more hand-outs, you hear! Now we play hard ball with these cheeseheads. Now they vill see the real side of the Fifa family. No more smiles, no more handshakes, nor more task forces, no more gala dinners, no more sweaty Presse Konferenzen, no more prawn cocktails and NO MORE BLOODY PULSATING CONFEDERATIONS CUP!!!" He swayed a little and held onto what was left of the hanging drapery. Christopher went to hold his forearm but was rebuffed with the swing of a stocky, hairy leg. "They are not deserving! See how they survive wizout that!"

"But what about the womens beach football?" asked Silvio Dante finally, a whisp of cigarette smoke curling in front of his face. "Let them play in bra and panties! Suspenders, bra and panties! Peephole panties, if necessary! We vill get our message across to these people. Bras, panties, suspenders, do you hear me?!"

There was silence. Big Pussy Bonpensiero traipsed back in for a second time, sweating profusely, carrying two small bowls, one containing dried banana slices, the other unsalted pecan nuts. "What is this fuck!" shouted Blattieri, knocking the bowls high into the air. "What the fuck! Fucking pecan fucking nuts?!"
"We've run out of whotsits, boss"

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


"Manchester City are over-reliant on Carlos Tevez. Balotelli is a liability and Dzeko looks lost. Yaya knackered. Can see Spurs getting 4th place...."

Yet another lonely walk home for Alfred

With the words of the experts rattling around in my simpleton's head (these rather special bons mots were from the Mirror's spatial awareness and one foot in front of the other world champion David McDonnell) like a peanut in a barrel, I could be found at five-fifteen last Saturday - like many of my age and affliction - shedding a very public tear at what I had just witnessed. A Manchester City player, albeit a small man with too many ideas and too many teeth, holding aloft the FA Cup before 90,000 people at "the new" Wembley. And to think, as recently as only a month or so ago, the Men Who Know For a Living were queuing up to offer their advice on why the club-they-love-to-deride was on the slide.

Suddenly the only slide most of us could think of came from the ample posterior of mobile wharf Yaya Touré, after dispatching first the unsociable neighbours and then pliable Stoke City in successive rounds of the dear old Challenge Cup. But how much do we know, blinded by years of frothy bias and blue-tinted masochism. We, who have stood on the high moral step of continual failure, who must now try to adopt a different pose for all the flashbulbs suddenly exploding in our faces.

"Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit"

For Manchester City, it seems, it was about the right time (give or take a decade or two) to emerge into the light, blinking and shuddering, to wake up to the new reality and get on with things as best we can. We have, after all, been living a crumpled and disheveled existence for quite some time now. Our Wilderness Years, dating further than any right-minded individual would dare travel back to, have included moments of unbridled angst, disturbing seat of the trousers discomfort and a burdensome woe that seemed to wrap itself around us like it was here to stay.

The images of a sunny summer's day in 1997 keep flooding back; Stoke City the red-and-white striped opponents, as they have often been in the darkest moments. Despite City's valiant its-a-bit-late-now 5-2 demolition job on their hosts - we both headed off down to what I still understand to be Division Three. (It must have been Division Three, Bournemouth and Swindon and Tranmere were waiting for us). There was little Georgi Kinkladze blinking away a bewildered tear and Big Joe Potato Head waving magnanimously to us all as we taboganed comically into the dark depths. It was a well greased slope we found that year, to be sure. Off we went on our summer holidays with the shrieking of other people's delight chasing us away into the shadows.

It has been pretty much thus ever since. Howling ribaldry at our every collapse, every dumb shot to the foot. Even when we came back, we went away again just as quickly. We were turning into Crystal Palace for Christ's sake. But it was relatively easy to play the victim. It always is when you have Frank Clark and Phil Neal for company. There were no glory hunters, no carrier-bag nation of well-wishers and goggle-eyed autograph collectors, no swathe of suited sharks salivating over the sushi rolls and the long thin legs on the Chairman's daughter, no banks of empty corporate seats fifteen minutes into the second half. When you play at The Moss Rose, there are no seats, full stop. Neither full nor empty, pressed by bony Manc backsides nor plump corprate tail-ends. Turn left at Knutsford, leave the car in a field with your dignity and prepare for humiliation, win or lose. In fact, when you go to Macc with your tail planted firmly between your legs for a 1998 version of the "North West Derby", you'd better dump the bow tie for climbing boots.

Bernard hauls himself into corporate hospitality: Macclesfield 1998

The climbing boots have served us well these past years. From the scaffolding at Macclesfied, we emerged into the light under the gleaming arch of the New Wembley, a place so far removed from where City had been twelve years ago, it fair takes your breath away. But we take it in our stride, just as we did standing in the rain at Wrexham and waiting for the buses to remove us from Lincoln. We mustn't look too "where the heck are we'" or they will start to laugh at us again. This is where the pristine hordes who follow The Old Top Four, as we must call our limping brethren, don't really stand a chance of understanding. With their 19 titles, their unbroken top flight years, their Shankly Gates, their Kevin Pietersens and their Piers Morgans. When you sip from the silver spoon for so long, you begin to be convinced that you are indeed Little Lord Fauntleroy. Even Chelsea, relatively new Champions league's gatecrashers, have become giddy on their Roublecoaster Ride, unflinching at 50 million pounds for a Leaning Torres or the arrival of Kaká, blasé and bloated on too many rows of sturgeons eggs, too many Ashley Cole air shots, too many John Terry indignities. They have travelled from a Shed to a Tsar's Palace and somewhere along the line, lost all idea of perspective.   

City will be no different. One day soon. Already the incoming tide of euphoria is washing in far-flung members of the carrier bag nation up to our doorstep, sprouting bloggers who "used to be neutral" and players for whom Yates Wine Lodge might as well be a Californian pied-à-terre. We are breathing the rarified air of the Winners now and with that comes a hill of detritus that we are quite possibly not really fully prepared for..

"Make mine a pint of creme de menthe and go easy on the nuts"

"So this is the ship they say is unsinkable...?"

So, on we go, unsure whether to gloat or to blush, with a heavy head and a spirit caressed by a million and one cabbage butterflies. Every new image of shiny teeth and gleaming trophy-holders nestles in alongside those we have already stockpiled of Trevor Christie, Tony Cunningham and, yes, Steve Kinsey, blowing in the winds at Oakwell. In alongside Gary Mason and Lee Crooks we store Aleksandar Kolarov, 16 million pounds of red meat Serb full back who cannot tackle, of Yaya Touré, a human bulwark with the feet of Nuryev and the lungs of Kip Keino; of Mario Balotelli, a footballer with a grass allergy. There will obviously still be the chance to laugh a little... If Mr Mancini does, I'm sure we can too. let the hair down, smile, breathe in and out. He has been blowing his cheeks out a little of late, it must be said, after 17 months in our trying company. Imagine, Roberto, what the rest of us are doing after 35 years. We have blown out more than just our cheeks.

So, now we must drag ourselves on from the Blue Moon era, of self-harm and unrequited love, on past the vibrating delirium of the Poznan and into the bright lights of Centre Stage. Take a bow, City, for we have waited a long time to applaud you with such gusto and if we dwell in this sunny place for a moment longer, forgive us. We are thinking about the journey you have taken us on and wondering if we will ever see its like again.

The last time we were good: 1977

**The Potteries is fast becoming our watershed area: it was here we beat Stoke City to end up in our lowest ever league campaign. It was they we beat to start the resurrection a year later. And there they were again last Saturday to provide us with a lethargic, surprisingly supine opponent in our first Cup Final since the invention of the traction engine. Add to that memories of thrilling moments shared with Port Vale and the area begins to take on a deal of significance. Add to that again the area's history of producing fine POTS (and our new-found liking for same) and their manager's history at arch-rivals Gillingham and the whole thing takes on heavy undertones in the story of a comeback from Deadman's Gulch.

Those Potteries Glory Matches in full:

96-97 – Thur 26th Dec          City 0 Port Vale 1  (preceded by a 2-1 defeat at Oldham and followed by a 2-0 defeat at Barnsley)
97-98 –  Tues 4th Nov            City 2 Port Vale 3  (preceded by a 0-0 draw at Oxford and followed by a 1-1 at Sheffield Utd)
96-97 -  Sat 24th Aug                Stoke 2 City 1 (preceded by 1-0 defeat at Bolton, followed by Alan ball’s dismissal)
97-98  - Wed 22nd Oct              City 0 Stoke 1 (preceded by 0-0 draw with Reading, followed by 2-0 defeat at QPR)
97-98  - Sun 3rd May                 Stoke 2 City 5 (followed by relegation to Div 3 for 1st time in club’s history)
98-99 - Mon 28th Dec                City 2 Stoke 1 (preceded by 1-0 win at Wrexham, followed by upturn in form towards promotion)
98-99 - Fri 29th Jan                    Stoke 0 City 1 (preceded by 1-1 draw at Walsall, followed by 3-0 win over Millwall)

Thursday, May 12, 2011


Those pundits screaming from the rooftops about how Utd will steal City's thunder this weekend should take three minutes to run their eyes down this list. It is a list of all Cup Finals since the 1974-75 season, when West Ham's skeletal striker Alan Taylor bagged two to help the Hammers beat Fulham. Run your eyes down the columns and look for a final that does not contain the following words: "united", "Chelsea", "Arsenal", Everton", "Liverpool" or "Tottenham". Amazingly, you will find only one, 2007-08's Portsmouth-Cardiff, born of the strangest 4 semi-finalists seen for many a long decade. West Brom and Barnsley were the others in that merry band of four.

1974–75 West Ham United 2–0 Fulham Wembley Stadium (original) 100,000
1975–76 Southampton 1–0 Manchester United Wembley Stadium (original) 100,000
1976–77 Manchester United 2–1 Liverpool Wembley Stadium (original) 100,000
1977–78 Ipswich Town 1–0 Arsenal Wembley Stadium (original) 100,000
1978–79 Arsenal 3–2 Manchester United Wembley Stadium (original) 100,000
1979–80 West Ham United 1–0 Arsenal Wembley Stadium (original) 100,000
1980–81 Tottenham Hotspur  †1–1 * Manchester City Wembley Stadium (original) 100,000
(R) Tottenham Hotspur 3–2 Manchester City Wembley Stadium (original) 92,000
1981–82 Tottenham Hotspur  †1–1 * Queens Park Rangers Wembley Stadium (original) 100,000
(R) Tottenham Hotspur 1–0 Queens Park Rangers Wembley Stadium (original) 90,000
1982–83 Manchester United  †2–2 * Brighton & Hove Albion Wembley Stadium (original) 100,000
(R) Manchester United 4–0 Brighton & Hove Albion Wembley Stadium (original) 100,000
1983–84 Everton 2–0 Watford Wembley Stadium (original) 100,000
1984–85 Manchester United  †1–0 * Everton Wembley Stadium (original) 100,000
1985–86 Liverpool 3–1 Everton Wembley Stadium (original) 98,000
1986–87 Coventry City  †3–2 * Tottenham Hotspur Wembley Stadium (original) 98,000
1987–88 Wimbledon 1–0 Liverpool Wembley Stadium (original) 98,203
1988–89 Liverpool  †3–2 * Everton Wembley Stadium (original) 82,500
1989–90 Manchester United  †3–3 * Crystal Palace Wembley Stadium (original) 80,000
(R) Manchester United 1–0 Crystal Palace Wembley Stadium (original) 80,000
1990–91 Tottenham Hotspur  †2–1 * Nottingham Forest Wembley Stadium (original) 80,000
1991–92 Liverpool 2–0 Sunderland Wembley Stadium (original) 80,000
1992–93 Arsenal  †1–1 * Sheffield Wednesday Wembley Stadium (original) 79,347
(R) Arsenal  †2–1 * Sheffield Wednesday Wembley Stadium (original) 62,267
1993–94 Manchester United 4–0 Chelsea Wembley Stadium (original) 79,634
1994–95 Everton 1–0 Manchester United Wembley Stadium (original) 79,592
1995–96 Manchester United 1–0 Liverpool Wembley Stadium (original) 79,007
1996–97 Chelsea 2–0 Middlesbrough Wembley Stadium (original) 79,160
1997–98 Arsenal 2–0 Newcastle United Wembley Stadium (original) 79,183
1998–99 Manchester United 2–0 Newcastle United Wembley Stadium (original) 79,101
1999–2000 Chelsea 1–0 Aston Villa Wembley Stadium (original) 78,217
2000–01 Liverpool 2–1 Arsenal Millennium Stadium 72,500
2001–02 Arsenal 2–0 Chelsea Millennium Stadium 73,963
2002–03 Arsenal 1–0 Southampton Millennium Stadium 73,726
2003–04 Manchester United 3–0 Millwall Millennium Stadium 71,350
2004–05 Arsenal  †0–0 Manchester United Millennium Stadium 71,876
2005–06 Liverpool  †3–3 West Ham United Millennium Stadium 71,140
2006–07 Chelsea  †1–0 * Manchester United Wembley Stadium (new) 89,826
2007–08 Portsmouth England 1–0 WalesCardiff City Wembley Stadium (new) 89,874
2008–09 Chelsea 2–1 Everton Wembley Stadium (new) 89,391
2009–10 Chelsea 1–0 Portsmouth Wembley Stadium (new) 88,335

So, to those suggesting Salford Rangers are about steal anybody's thunder, I would counter that this final pairing is so fresh, so virgin white, that it cannot do anything but stand out quite nicely by itself. Manchester City, in their first final since 1981, versus Stoke City, in their first ever final. Now, if that's not an occasion to bring the colour back to the cheeks of the FA Cup, I don't know what is...

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


To all those who have shared the pain, shared the warm bubbly broth, the champagne, the spilled beer, the stale ale;
to those who hugged, bumped, shuddered and cried at Wembley 99, 
to those who giggled at Oldham when Big Andy flexed his neck; 
to those who got washed out at Oldham when Smith missed his pen in 84, who swore at Lincoln they'd never come again; 
to the bloke who ripped his season ticket book on the pitch v Bury,
to all those who have resorted to the sherry
to those that have run around dazed for days, 
to those that have laughed, cajoled, persisted and wished us on from afar; 
to all those that supported us, put up with us, slapped our backs, kept us sane, avoided eye contact, didn't say what they were thinking, left things unsaid; 
to all those that sang their hearts out, wrote, sympathised, phoned, reflected; 
to all those in the Oscar Wilde in Berlin when City played Blackburn and the Lord smiled on us;
to all those in Manchester, back home, in Amsterdam, in Alkmaar, in Dusseldorf, in Ballasalla, in Valencia, in Barcelona, in Lisbon, in Gonçal Bocas, in Porto, in Guarda, in Clermont Ferrand, in Haarlem, in Ponsacco; 
to all those sharing a moment at 3.00 every Saturday; 
to all those who doubted, poked fun, poured scorn, cried foul; 
to all those who believed, believed some more, hoped, lost sleep, threw up, fell out, jumped in; 
to all those who waxed lyrical, shouted from the rooftops, bellowed, cried and stood firm; 
to all those that went home and away; 
to all those in The Comfy Cushion, The Parkside, The Whitestone, The Broadfield, Terry Neil’s, Mary D's, The Blarney Stone, The Boardroom, Yate's, The Pumphouse; 
to all those that propped us up, put an arm around us, bought us a drink, put up with our moods, pretended to listen, spared us a thought; rubbed our hair; bought us a consolation pint of creme de menthe

to all those at Ewood Park, The Den, Saltergate, Bootham Crescent; 
to all those who tackled, blocked, saved, scored, headed, came on, came off, jumped, challenged and played out of their skins; 
to all those who sang long and hard deep into the night;
to all those who dared to dream;
to all those who still dream;
to Dickov and the Goat;
to all who cheered at Wrexham and Stoke;
to all who ran the gauntlet at Huddersfield and Wolverhampton;
to all those on the drink at Notts County;
to all those who sang louder the worse it got;
to all those on the InterCity to Newcastle;
to all those in Gelsenkirchen and Copenhagen, Liege and Bilbao, the Faroes and Lokeren;
to all those who empathise, sympathise, chastise;
to all those who tried to understand despite everything;
to all those who support United, Everton, Liverpool, Leeds but put up with us as mates on non-match days;
to all those who support MSV, Schalke, Sporting, Napoli, Benfica, AZ, Ajax, Belenenses but now support City a little bit too;
to all those who have caught the bug;
to all those who send text messages when we lose
to all those who have it in your hearts to say "come on Blues" just to make us happy
to all those writing, thinking, posting, tweeting;
to all those who were there and will be there
to all those who have watched our boys at Wembley
to all those who wish they could
to all those new to the throng
to all those wizened, cracked, broken and chastened
to all those for whom hope is the killer
to Tony Towers and Kevin Horlock
to Micky Horswill and Geoff Hammond
to the unsung heroes and the bottle washers
to the kitmen and the carpert cleaners;
to Thailand and Abu Dhabi
to Nigel de Jong, David Silva and Yaya Touré
to all those who have played like we dream
to all those who have dreamed
to all those who have had a nightmare
to all those for whom a Blue Moon rising sends a little shivver down the spine;
to all those who climbed the fences at Villa Park;
to all those who saw next to nothing at London Road;
to all those who saw six go into the Norwich net;
to all those who clapped Big Mal across the turf
to all those who flew with Steve Mackenzie;
to all those who sunk with Ricky Villa;
to Neil Young and Arthur Mann, to Malcolm Allison and John Benson;
to Roy Paul and Don Revie, to Genial Joe and Tommy Caton;
to Whitey, Quinny and Lakey;
to all those who waved a banana and sang Blue Moon;
to all those who sang in the rain in the Prater;
to all those who played on through the pain;
to all those who watched four goals go in on Tyneside;
to Stan Gibson and his pitchfork;
to Bert Trautmann and the never-say-die spirit;
to Buzzer, Franny and Colin the King;
to those who have walked Claremont Road;
to those who have raised a glass at the City Gates;
to Tommy Hutch and Kevin Reeves;
to Bill Taylor and Peter Swales;
to Bernard and Tony Book;
to all those who have risked food poisoning, drank too much and never regretted a moment;
to all those hemmed in at Bradford, on the hill at Blackburn, behind the wire at Millwall, in the sheeting rain at Huddersfield
to those who entered enemy territory;
to the guy who jumped on Keith Curle at old Trafford;
to quiet Mel and morose Ron; squeaky alan and confused phil;
to Uwe Rosler and ian Bishop;
to all those who played bit parts;
to all those who scored off the far post;
to those that put 5 in the United net;
to those that saw Dickov slide in the rain;
to those that stayed and those that left and those that turned back and came again
to Bondy, Jimmy Frizz and Big Seizure;
to Georgi Kinkladze;
to all those who watched van Blerk, Kernaghan, Beesley, McNaught, and still raised a cheer;
to the legendary 8,000;
to all those that sank 12 pints with Bobby Mac and Gerry Gow
to those that swayed on the Kippax, bawled in the Platt Lane, chanted in the North Stand and ate pies in the Main Stand;
to Prestwich & Whitefield
to the fella that threw his pie at referee Willis
to all those who craned their necks, asked who it was, smiled, tutted and shook their heads;
to all those who saw Dennis fly at Wembley;
to those who had a surreptitious leak;
to those who wet themselves;
to those who hung on and have hung on until now;
to those who never gave up;
to those who came back;
to those who can't take anymore;
to those who went away;
to those who are there in spirit;
to all those who will not see what happens next;
to all those who have seen enough already;
to those who will take what comes
to all those who packed the boozers at West Brom and Watford, Carlisle and Nottingham;
to those rubbing their hands at Gay Meadow and The Shay;
to all those for whom Górnik Zabrze means something;
to Peter Barnes and to Dennis Tueart;
to Denis and his heel;
to Barney Daniels;
to Gerald Sinstadt, David Coleman, Barry Davies, John Motson, Brian Moore and those who have put silken words to our dreams;
to Mike Doyle;
to all those with too many blue garments;
to all those already wearing their lucky underpants;
to those with their sleeves roled up
to those with a clenched fist
to all those who don't really know how to find Wembley;
to all those who don't understand why we do it;
to all those who have spent their last pound on a ticket;
to all those at the Full Members Cup and the Auto Windscreens;
to all those at Darlington and York;
to those who love not knowing what comes next;
to all those who dared believe one day we would come out into the summer sunshine;

Cross your fingers tight, huddle in close, think of us one more time, for we need you now

Monday, May 9, 2011


Dear Friends in the North of England,

Having failed miserably to solve my problems for me, by securing me a cup final ticket, please choose one of these appetizing solutions for my Cup Final viewing next Saturday, remembering that this is my first committed Cup Final since 1981 and that my enjoyment of said day has been almost terminally derailed by the FA's decision to have Blackburn v. you-know-who play an hour before the Cup Final kicks off.:

Bear in mind first of all, home is central Lisbon, a marvelous city of light and colour, but absolutely the wrong bloody place to be on Cup Final Saturday....

1)      A city supporting mate is playing in an annual football tournament in the Algarve. I joined him last year and we had a right royal time. 14 of us played football, watched the Cup Final in a semi-detached, semi-sober, semi-interested kind of way, whilst having a barbecue and a few tinnies. We then drank until 3 in the morning. So, I drive to the Algarve, am too nervous to play football, instead find a pub full of celebrating utd fans and try to watch the cup final. If we lose I have a night out in Albufeira with the streets full of plastic utd fans singing about 19 titles and more important Wembley finals of their own the following week. If we win, I make quite a lot of noise myself, then spoil my clothes in a fist fight with 23 celebrating utd supporters.
2)      I go the short distance to Cascais, a pleasant and accommodating little resort, and watch the build-up in The Beefeater, a cosy bar equipped with more tvs than Rumbelows, cheese and onion crisps and ice cool Heineken. This is interrupted at midday by a hoary flood of utd fans asking for said tvs to be switched over to Premier League coverage on Skysports. I go for a long walk wringing my hands and come back to watch the cup final in a pub full of celebrating utd fans. Aftermath, see 1)
3)     I stay at home. Not having Sky, I rely on Portuguese coverage, which, whilst good and even-handed, starts at 14:58 as the captains are eyeing each other up and stops about three seconds after the final whistle. I can curse and drink myself stupid in front of the kids but will miss the all-important Meet The Teams, Helicopter Chase and Cup Final Its a Knock-out (they do still have all these things on Cup Final day don't they?). I will also have to put up with the commentator saying things like "Ryan Show-cross", "Rory Dee-Lap" and "Micah Reesh Hard". When the camera pans to Mike Summerbee and Francis Lee in the stands, there will be unrecognising silence, but when it picks out guest of honour Mick Hucknall, there will be a brief eulogy on utd supporting celebrities. There will be another pregnant silence when the City support pay tribute to Big Mal and to Niel Young and, when the camera pans City fans doing the Poznan, there is a good chance the commentator will say something like (as he did during the semi-final) "The supporters of Stoke City really getting behind their team now". There is also a good chance, whilst i am wiping away a tear or two, preparing for a) City to lift the Cup or b) Stoke to lift the Cup (I am likely to be crying like a seal pup either way) that Sporttv will cut to a series of adverts about fast saloon cars and hair waxing for men, only to return some ten minutes later with "Futsal Live, anonymous short hairy blokes in yellow versus anonymous short hairy blokes in red".
4)      I travel 90 minutes north to a Liverpool supporting mate living in the country. By some odd quirk of fate, his satellite will only pick up ITV and BBC, meaning there is no Sky access, no Portuguese telly, no utd fans, just British terrestrial channels, birds tweeting and the smell of home cooking wafting through from his country kitchen. He is a school mate but I have only been reunited with him in the last 12 months. (ie he doesnt really know what I look or sound like after a cup final. He has a wife to protect and a nice new home with no signs of drippage, drainage, frottage or spoilage. I am not entirely sure I know what I will look or sound like either to be fair)
5)   I take one of my Brian Horton Elephant Pills and go to sleep until next July. 

View on entering pub for Cup Final

So this, my friends in the North, is what you have landed me with. You got me in this pickle, now you get me out of it.

Friday, May 6, 2011


If we are honest with ourselves, Everton come closer to how we see ourselves, or at least saw ourselves before recent unforeseeable developments, than most other top flight clubs. There has always been a kind of thinly stretched affinity with the Blues of Merseyside despite the scratchy accents and the omnipresent danger to the contents of your pockets. Living in the shadows of the local behemoth is a sad fate that befell both our clubs from the late 60s onwards, plus we have long shared both an instinctive hatred of the colour red and a hair-trigger, morose sense of humour born out of a million and a half wretched disappointments. As Liverpool and United have grown into all-consuming megaliths for the hordes of Sky neutrals, it is tough not to grow a little bitter and develop Rhinosaurus skin.

The curious thing about today's Everton is that their tag as one of the last bastions of reality, a "proper football club", is precisely what is holding them back from joining the ranks of Nike-clad gladiators in their oddly named superstadia, backed by thousands of carrier bag adorned day-trippers clapping nervously to the familiar beat of We Will Rock You and The Final Countdown. That wonderful, atmospheric stadium, the church in the corner, the heaving paddock, the swaying Glwadys Street, scene of a thousand and one hyperbolic Gerald Sinstadt commentaries ("...and Whittle's done it!!!!"..."Latchford at the far post, oh my word!"). Too hemmed in by the crumbly tenements of the Scottie Road, none of this can be redeveloped into glistening executive boxes and corporate lounges. The Z Cars theme that still blasts out on match days, the girls with baskets of toffees, the perimetre advertising shouting things like Hafnia and Pukka Pies. It is this quintessential "real football club" syndrome that is keeping Everton in the ranks of the slow-boil also-rans. This great historic giant lumbering along shoulder-to-shoulder with Fulham and West Brom, bemoaning its bad luck, bad timing, bad location. The very essence of what they stand for is what keeps them with their noses against the perspex in 7th place in the league, a backwater, a modern day euphemism for abject failure.

It can be done: Part One

The sensible transfer policy, the marvelously steadfast housekeeping that everyone applauds from a safe distance is also the sad, inevitable result of the drastic flattening out of their earning power in recent years.This remains a rather quaint land where VIPs are afforded seats with cushions, where the only tinted glass is found in the chairman's theatre goggles and the only "hummers" in the carpark have just fallen out of the back of a police horse. We admire Everton in that safe patronising way we liked our smaller brother for always being a willing but crap companion to our three-and-in games, despite the fact he had a clubfoot and prefered dominoes anyway. Everton are stuck in a time warp that they cannot escape and we feel fine admiring their cosmic struggle with a conundrum which we have been so blissfully relieved of.

Except that we don't, of course. The animosity clearly goes back a long way. To the 80s of studded golf balls and bricked coaches. To the massive away followings for the annual Manc-Mersey slugfests. If we were lucky there'd be a cup semi-final in one of the cities featuring one of the teams in question as an added bonus for the spear throwers and loin-cloth wearers. I well remember a United-Liverpool FA Cup semi-final replay in the late seventies when City's scallies spent a carnival evening lobbing bricks over the low walls into the corner terrace between the Kippax and the Platt Lane, much to the annoyance of the two sets of fans trying a) to watch their teams get to Wembley and b) concentrate on fighting each other. When Everton played Liverpool in the Maine Road semi in '77, City and Utd even teamed up to provide a welcome party. It was never quite as vile when it was just City against Everton, but the fixture has had its moments of gory glory.

It can be done: part two

As the years trickled by and football turned itself from sport into mass middle-class entertainment, so the rivalries cooled, simmered and fizzled out. A visit from Everton in recent times has been held in little more esteem than one from Sunderland or Newcastle. There is little or no edge, despite an attempt on their part at simmering resentment that City have landed royally on their feet whilst Everton have been knocked to their knees. All the Toffees have left is to mock us for our new-found wealth, berate us for stealing Joleon Lescott (some heist that, that leaves the robbers feeling like they were robbed) and occupy the high moral ground of those that have not changed.

It is this that seems to have stung Everton under Moyes into producing some of their best football against City. Moyes is a wily, mean-faced man. He stirs players' passions a bit like his red-nosed counterpart from Glasgow, a fellow Scot with a penchant for feeling hard-done-to. He possesses a singular ingenuity regarding when to push players' buttons, how to see red where there is only sky blue, how to produce resentment and anger at perceived disrespect and big-time-ism. They play the cards they have been given with the utmost skill. In a shallow sea of opportunity, Everton still manage to swim against the tide: Backs to the wall, them against us, the disenfranchised versus the giddy rich, dirty knees against guffawing idiots with double-barrelled surnames.

Losing to Everton not a new thing

The cherry on the cake is that - against City at least - this has of late worked with mechanical efficiency. Playing Everton has become a byword in recent years for having your nose rubbed through a trail of whatever the police horses left behind. We are surely still too comical in Scouse eyes to be their Bannockburn but the mists still descend and the results roll out in their favour, time after time. This is clearly a team that deserves more than just cautious respect in City's case, despite the threadbare offerings we get in return these days. They come bearing slingshots and though the likes of Big Niall, Gerry Gow & Paul Power, Shaun Goater, Paul Walsh and Anelka have all dented this blue-Scouse invincibility against us in the past, the stretch of relatively simple victories they can now count against us is becoming a little long, a little monotonous. With Champions League qualification just an arm's length away, now would be an ideal moment to knock this particular ghost back into its coffin.

addendum: 24th September 2011: "With Champions League qualification just an arm's length away...". Now it's reality and next week's trip to Bayern comes uncomfortably close on the tail of what is always a fixture which takes a lot out of the legs and lungs. Will City finally break the hoodoo? If they do, can they also reserve enough power to stave off the Bavarian giants in 4 days' time? It's the heart against the head, as usual, and in just over three hours time we will know which part of our body to trust more.

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Imbiber of Amantis 2005, cold water, black coffee. Victim of great Winona Ryder trouser theft; hapless dreamer, willing accomplice and crafty left sided midfielder.