A Season Opener (For Sale or Rent)
(with sincere apologies to Roger Miller)
I sat down to write this wondering whether to start with an almost painfully tortuous quip or just go with a plain workaday title and ease into matters with the insightful use of a scene from a major work of modern literature.
Well look above, you have your answer.
That’s football you see. From team selection to bloggage (that’s pronounced with an “arje” sound rather than an “idge” sound, thus attaining a suitable level of pretentiousness from which we won’t be deviating at any point in the ensuing drivel), it’s all about decisions.
At the fag end of last season, with internecine warfare once more sweeping the ranks of the Chelsea faithful, I resembled the distraught Mr Casey in James Joyce’s “Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man”, who sits with his head in his hands at the end of a Christmas Dinner riven by bitter argument over Irish politics and the Church (some things never change), mourning the passing of Parnell, former leader of the movement for Irish Home Rule, who has died at the age of 45, broken by scandal (his citing in the divorce of his long time mistress Kitty O’Shea) and ill health.
In my mind, so many of my fellow fans resembled the governess Dante, the ex-nun who is outraged by what some of those around the table have to say about her beloved Church and its role in the ousting of Parnell and who storms out crying, “Devil out of hell! We won! We crushed him to death! Fiend!”
There I sat, head in hands sobbing, “loudly and bitterly” like Mr Casey, “Poor Ancellotti! My dead king!”
Perhaps that’s over dramatizing the situation just a little and poor old James Joyce is now spinning like a turbine at into what service his art has been pressed, but in all honesty I was more than a tad fed up.
And so I retired to the darkened room of the summer break and applied the cooling towel of indifference to my fevered brow. I doubted whether I could summon up any enthusiasm for the coming season, which was then but a distant and unsavoury prospect, to be endured rather than celebrated. Like a prostate examination, really.
It wasn’t the lack of silverware that distressed me but rather the feeling that in a single season we had gone from the joy of Double Winning to gorging ourselves on the empty carbohydrates of instability and endless change. We seemed only happy when contemplating countless permutations and speculations in the feeding frenzy that accompanies the, by now almost biennial, hirings and firings.
We only relish the volatile. Our team’s fortunes balanced in the hazard that is 90 minutes of football is not excitement enough, or so it seems.
Well I for one had had enough and was thankful to turn away from the world of the beautiful game.
Not that other sports gave much succour to my careworn soul.
Watching the Canadiens lose in seventh game overtime to the Bruins, the living embodiment of everything that has gone wrong and ever will go wrong with humanity since Eve bit the apple, the very Bruins who somehow managed to both win the Stanley Cup and devalue the great prize while impersonating the deformed spawn of a secret coupling between the jolly Green Giant and Minnie the Midget that was then fed pure bile and testosterone in a darkened pit until the hour of its skating lessons, made me remove my eyes and place them in a large jar in the kitchen labelled “Break glass only in the event of needing to take a jaundiced view”.
By the time the yawn that is Cadel Evans won the Tour de France, which at least this year resembled a proper race, I was looking to abandon forever the age old pursuit of sporting endeavour.
So deep was I in the slough of despond that the muse entirely deserted me and to cries of relief from the mass of Chelserati, I didn’t even take up my pen to scrawl a few ill-rhyming verses on the passing of Carlo or the arrival of Andre Villas-Boas.
And yet, like those little, lovable, furry creatures on Springwatch (no, not Bill Oddie), who awaken from hibernation at the first scent of warming, I have poked my head out of my burrow and sniffed the air.
It still smells a bit stale and has the tang of a decaying wrestler’s armpit, but somewhere in there is just a little note of redemption on the finish, as Jilly Goulden might put it.
I can’t say that I’m brimming with excitement but I have started to feel a little curious about the coming months. So curious in fact that I signed up for the two year membership deal, which the wags amongst you will almost certainly say should see me through the entire reign of the new incumbent. For shame! Away with you and your cynicism. And Junior Bayou has been baptized into membership to boot.
For it’s a new dawn, surely? A time to look ahead and be positive.
And I’m going to be positive. Like a contestant on the Generation Game I shall watch each item come down the conveyor belt and commit it to memory, knowing that each is to be savoured. Perhaps Brucie has always known the fundamental truth that every game is a “Good game”. Because every “game” is a singular event. Be it a foot spa or a cuddly toy, it has meaning and some class of merit. But perhaps he also teaches us that in the grand scheme of things we have to approach it all with a sense of lightness, if not a moustache and a toothsome grin.
You see, lately I had grown into the habit of only looking at games as a stepping stone to some greater glory and according them true significance only in hindsight. And indeed the media-soaked atmosphere in which we now follow the game lends itself to encouraging this approach.
But I have seen the error of my ways. If beating United at the Bridge last year felt superb at the moment of the final whistle then that is the moment to savour, irrespective of the events that followed. But there is always a temptation to view a game relative to where it stands on progress to a higher prize, even if this will hollow out the enjoyment of the game itself.
The tendency to feel the team’s fortunes and status reflecting back on you and your feelings of personal worth seems to increase the more successful they become. It appears integral to being a fan.
But last season was the first time for some years that I managed to decouple this link. Perhaps it was the recent Double, perhaps a feeling that we were on a plateau and could thus approach success and failure with some equanimity? Maybe it was just getting damn old. Whatever, I was able to absorb the disappointments on the field with greater composure, only to be waylaid by my devotion to Carlo and undone by his untimely demise.
Am I somehow falling out of love with the club, with the game?
No. I’ve decided to remain more unmoved by the shrill nonsense and at times rather nasty and brutish exchanges that pass for football related conversation these days. There’s too much of it and like some insane addict I’ve allowed myself to wallow in something that thrives completely on negativity.
I’m going to concentrate on the game and its innate fascination. I’m purifying my football soul.
So what of the team and its chances?
The rather tired and battered outfit of last season has not undergone any radical change. I was sad to see Yuri go and it was disappointing to watch a boatload of youngsters head for Hamburg. But I have no control over these matters and therefore must bind myself to the current wearers of our ever-changing shirts.
The pre-season of which I’ve seen very limited highlights has passed without too much drama and perhaps there’s a new vigour brought by Villas-Boas, along with his ideas and methods. Whether by design or poor management, whether at Carlo’s behest or because it was thrust upon him, it seemed as though there were just too many disparate parts not pulling together. The medical situation being a good case in point. Perhaps this will change as the new man appears to be seen as a manager and not just first team coach.
The problem with looking forward to this season is that last year taught us a lesson about the unpredictability and cruelty of fate. If we’re honest, some of those early wins had patches within them where we looked very shaky and sensible fans were perhaps not surprised when the cracks appeared, aided and abetted by a poor run of injuries. That’s not to say all those games were as easy as the pundits tried to paint them. Some of our opponents went on to give our peers some tough games. But the seeds of our later destruction were there. Yet as despair set in we suddenly put a run together and finished second. So at what point in the coming season can we hope to have any real sense of where we are?
There seems little point in counselling caution. We’ll all get carried away with unrealistic hope or complete despair as soon as the whistle blows. That’s just they way we are. But I’m going to try and maintain some equilibrium, though not in the middle of a game itself of course. Hell no. I’ll be cursing the fates, the refs, the world, the universe, as per usual.
And Stoke is not any easy start. They’re tough and experienced enough in the Premier League now, with the added factor of being a little more game hardened due to an early start in Europe.
We just have to bear in mind that the League isn’t won in August. I mean for heaven’s sake I haven’t been away on holiday yet. How can you contemplate football when you’ve yet to gaze upon the Dordogne? The start of the season should be a signal that summer is drawing to a close, but when you’ve yet to engage in the annual pursuit of tailgating Belgians round the Peripherique on the basis that he/she seems to know where they’re going, it’s hard to take football seriously. It still seems like pre-season.
In the end though it’s all about the team. Our lovely boys. So many of them so familiar, several who we thought might be gone. Perhaps one or two who may still be leaving. And as for new arrivals?
Reading through their names is like reciting a tone poem; here’s my version to welcome in the coming season. Feel free to compose your own. There’s no prize for the best. I mean, look where a hankering for consumer goods has got us. Just live for the art man.
Bertrand, Bosingwa, Anelka
Malouda, Kakuta, Lakuka,
Lampard Essien Ferreira
Cech Alex Cole Drogba McEachran,
Terry Van Arnholt Ivanovic,
Kalou Romeu Luiz
Torres Benayoun Mikel
So away we go, eh! Let’s hope it’s a road to joy and not despair and that ol’ Johnny Cash was not being too prophetic when he penned “Home of the Blues”:
“Just around the corner there’s heartaches
Down the street that losers use
If you can wade in through the tear drops my friend
You’ll find me at the home of the blues”.
But then again if it does all go wrong we’ve still got each other because as the song says:
“Come along with me, misery loves company
You’re welcome at the home of the blues”.
Here’s good ol’ Dwight with a version just to cheer you on the way.