There is nothing worse than a rude awakening. There I was, quietly browsing the morning papers with both tabloids and broadsheets declaring that despite the pervading sense of doom and gloom they had hysterically constructed — sorry, reported upon in a sensible and unbiased manner, the clouds had finally lifted and the sun was once again shining upon our beautiful game; after forty league games the Evil Empire had finally been defeated. Just as I was getting used to the idea, the phone rang. Who is calling at this time, I asked myself? Double glazing salesman? The bank? Some other irritant telling me that I am paying too much for my house and contents insurance?
After a relatively gloomy week by our standards, the entertaining if slightly nervy win over Blackburn was a welcome boost and a poke in the eye for the circling vultures who were eagerly awaiting the demise of our thirty-nine game unbeaten league run. The highlights of the weekend’s other games provided further entertainment; great goals including superb efforts from Portsmouth’s Matthew Taylor and a rejuvenated Michael Owen being the pick of the bunch. Amusement came courtesy of some truly hilarious defending; Sunderland’s Alan Stubbs assuming the character of a Sunday league player still feeling the effects of a heavy Saturday night, Paul Robinson’s generous assist for Robert Pires in the North London derby and most amusingly Rio Ferdinand’s own personal Groundhog Day at the Riverside (ably supported by the usually reliable Edwin van der Sar) as the wheels spectacularly fell off the already stuttering United bandwagon. Ronnie Barker may no longer be with us but great comedy is alive and well and living in many Premiership defences.
If a week is a long time in politics then the equivalent period in football could be measured in dog years. Just a week ago Alan Shearer was “justifiably aggrieved” at his legitimate goal being ruled out against Wigan; today Jose is “sore” and “moaning” that Drogba’s strike against Everton went the same way along with two points and European football’s only one hundred percent record. If nothing else the media have something to be happy about for a change, yesterday’s result proving that we are apparently human after the cold and ruthless manner in which Liverpool, Bolton and Real Betis were dispatched.
They say that every dog has its day and frankly, Sepp Blatter has had his and is long overdue a final trip to the boneyard. Football’s maddest dog and one of the few men capable of making George Dubya look the epitome of sanity and reason has been spouting off again. This week, the FIFA president aimed a thinly-veiled scattergun attack at greedy footballers, new money and, well, Chelsea. He littered his diatribe with sinister prose and dubious metaphors — slavery, nuclear warheads and ‘pornographic’ money all rearing their ugly heads. Just how can money be pornographic, by the way? A large pile of £50 notes with a bushy moustache and an impressive roll of £1 coins stuffed down its dungarees, arriving at a scantily clad Swedish au-pair’s residence to “fix her plumbing” accompanied by a jazz-funk soundtrack? Suggestions (within reason and the boundaries of common decency) to this site please.
Having spent last week grinning like Cheshire cats after an easy win against Liverpool, the momentum gathered after eight successive league victories has dropped as we find ourselves halfway through that time-consuming and most frustrating of beasts; the international week when Sven and his attendant media circus hog the headlines.
“When he was good he was very very good, but when he was bad he was horrid.”
I’d speculate that the author of this nursery-rhyme couplet had spent a week watching Didier Drogba in a Chelsea shirt. There I was, about to climb down from the fence after his performance last Wednesday to suggest that my two-year-old niece stays on her feet more than young Didier (and possibly has a better first touch too) when yesterday afternoon the big man proceeded to thunder around Anfield like a man possessed, taking great pleasure in screwing up newspapers detailing Rafael Benitez’s spectacularly inaccurate proclamations of superiority and feeding them to him with a large side order of humble pie. Now all I’m prepared to suggest is that the big man is as enigmatic and unpredictable as we football fans are fickle.
Champions League match day two. I presumed that I would wake up this morning with nerves jangling, great expectations and an unquenchable thirst for revenge over Liverpool for denying us a trip to Istanbul last season. However the over-hyped build up I’ve seen and heard so far has unfortunately done little to stir my interest. Beating the Red Scousers is always highly enjoyable and putting one over on them tonight would leave me with a grin as wide as the chips on their fans shoulders are large, but knowing that such a result could mean absolutely squat in the big scheme of things is slightly disappointing to say the least.
As autumn arrives and the Premier League finds its stride, a quick look at last weekend’s games suggests that despite reports to the contrary drama, subplots and, whisper it quietly, entertainment are all alive and well in England’s top flight despite Chelsea’s best efforts to destroy them and the nation’s favourite game by selfishly winning all the time. Luke Moore is pondering which worthy cause should benefit from his well-earned £10,000 bounty for finally breaching the Blues’ terribly unsporting and miserly defence. Mick McCarthy woke up on Monday to find that the monkey he’d been carrying on his back had upped and left clutching a first class ticket to Goodison Park. Kevin Nolan pulled off the kind of acrobatic feat that generally results in a bruised arse/ego and 30,000 people chuckling into their post-game pint, and Alain Perrin dispensed with Le Plot, treating us all to his finest Wayne Rooney impression. But best of all, Sparky’s Blackburn proved they could play football as well as kick people by humbling his former mentor up at Old Trafford to a chorus of booing and general disquiet from the Soccertainment consumers. The opening exchanges this season may not have been of the finest vintage, but dull? Not a bit of it.