Archive for the ‘Diary of Love/Hate’ Category

Fans Gather For England's Opening Game Of The 2010 World Cup

By Andi Thomas and Alex Netherton

Premier League: Season 21 ★★

It is the curse of all successful, long-running entertainment franchises to be judged by what came before. Last season, the writers of Premier League threw everything they had at the ending. Obviously, the last-minute last-kick denouement stretched the credibility, but that didn’t matter: it was outstanding drama, carefully scripted to maximise the pleasure for Manchester City, the pain for Manchester United, and the entertainment for the viewing public.

But that comes with its own problem, which is that when it comes to the next season, you can’t just pull the same trick again. That Premier League was brave enough to try something different should be respected, but the peculiar decision to have the title race done by around January, and the relegation places all decided before the final episode, meant that the only point of any competitive interest on the final day was the end of the Race for Fourth, which took place across two dull, predictable 1-0 wins, only leavened slightly by the comedy stylings of Andre Marriner and his free-jazz interpretations of the penalty laws.

The Race for Fourth has never really caught the imagination of the viewing public, despite the best efforts of the writers, and this was another strained and faltering attempt. In footballing terms it provides one team — this time Arsenal rather than Tottenham — with the opportunity, next season, to go out of Europe earlier in a better competition as opposed to later in a worse one. In financial terms it’s terribly important, but great television is not born from such concerns. At least the writers were clever enough to retain an element of parochial cock-snooking through to the end, and we’d like to shout out the Arsenal fan in London Bridge who, moments before kick-off, decided to ask his friend to photograph him in front of the television, back to the camera, pointing with his thumbs at the customised name on his replica shirt. It’s the Arsenal fans that aren’t ‘Arsenal fans’ we feel sorry for.

The other consequence of the writers’ decision to remove much of the competitive edge from the season has been the attention expended on various ancillary plotlines. It was an inspired decision to bring the cross-season racism arc to an end with a room full of white journalists gasping at a black man using words that they wouldn’t be allowed to, and special mention must go to Roberto Mancini, for a delicate, gripping, and ultimately quite affecting portrayal of a preening man fatally undermined by his own tactical incontinence. The only downside of his descent into paranoid mediocrity is that we won’t get to enjoy it again next season.

Yet despite these moments of triumph — and we should also acknowledge the Luis Suarez Biting Incident, a scintillating moment of comic relief and a wonderful pay off for the years of groundwork that have gone into establishing his character — it’s hard to escape the conclusion that this season dragged terribly. By the time the John Terry: Full Kit jokes were being wheeled out for another airing, it was clear that Premier League has been stuck in a holding pattern for some time, and moments like the end of last season can only distract, temporarily, from the structural issues and lack of variety inherent in the setting.

Already, sweeping changes are being planned for next season. Along with the departing Mancini go Paul Scholes, for the second time, Rafael Benitez, after an unconvincing cameo that pleased some critics but never engaged the fans, and a triumphant Sir Alex Ferguson, whose final scene, sliding down a hill near West Bromwich in a bathtub, will live long in the memory. Producers have denied that Ferguson will return next season, but have hinted that notorious psychopath Jose Mourinho, last seen driving a people-wagon into a London canal, will make a shock return.

New faces; but, one suspects, the same old nonsense. The plotlines — Manchester United are victorious, Alan Pardew is unpopular, Liverpool are hilarious — are familiar and wearing thin; the performances are ranged for the most part between acceptable and risible; the relentless focus on off-field nonsense has stretched the patience of even the most avid viewer. Or at least, it should have. But ratings remain strong, proving once and for all that there is no audience so supine, so content to collaborate with its own cheapening, as viewers of Premier League, which will continue for ever and ever, shiny and loud and utterly relentless.

As a mark of the enjoyment we’ve had doing this in the last year, and as a mark of thanks to all of you, our fantastic audience, we would like to leave you with the following quote from Reginald D Hunter, ‘N–”[Richard Whittall interjects, grabs microphone from Andi and Alex, and screams, "That's it. That is it. You're done. Done. That's it for you at The Score. Never again! Your careers began elsewhere but they end here!"]

FBL-ENG-PR-MAN CITY-MAN UTD

By Andi Thomas and Alex Netherton

This weekend was about the reign of a man.  A hero to his fans for the unrivalled period of success he brought them.  At times at odds with his board, with a noted style of picking fights to settle scores.  On one of the biggest days in the history of his club, it was defined most notably by a sense of deep, deep sadness.  Now his tenure has come to its end, cruelly.  The club can still, though, expect more success to come. You have to ask, has Roberto Mancini ever been so badly treated before?

The answer, of course, is yes.  He’s been treated much worse – he indisputably deserves the sack at Manchester City.  Here’s why:

Working with Brian Marwood: A lot has been made of Marwood’s failures to deliver Mancini’s top transfer targets, but what kind of man would choose to work with Brian Marwood (and Garry Cook) anyway?  The man is denser than antimatter’s energy.  The man can barely talk about what he fancies for lunch without somebody stepping in to take him home before he hurts himself.  If you do a deal with the devil, you can expect to get burned.  If you trust your transfer dealings with a man only marginally clever than a stuffed toy, you then can’t complain when you get Scott Sinclair.

Working with a club that is owned by the Deputy Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates:  The United Arab Emirates has a history of vile human rights abuses.  This includes the death penalty for homosexuality, the fact that 80% of its population don’t really have any rights, and that relies on indentured servitude i.e. slavery as a mainstay of the local economy.  If you take a job working for these people, you can’t expect them to pause to get rid of you when you can’t even beat Wigan Athletic.

Not even beating Wigan Athletic:  You can enjoy the romance of the cup all you want, but Wigan Athletic are probably going to get relegated because the quality of their players is essentially not good enough for the Premier League, however pretty their passing looks.  If you have hundreds upon hundreds of millions of pounds of players and cannot beat Wigan Athletic, you don’t deserve a job – even if the players aren’t motivated, that isn’t an excuse with such a talent gap.

Not being able to motivate any players:  Samir Nasri, David Silva, Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure, Joe Hart, Mario Balotelli, Edin Dzeko, Sergio Aguero, and Gareth Barry are just a selection of the players who have underperformed compared to their peaks for Manchester City this season. The only player who has improved is James Milner, which comes with its own moral.  Perhaps unwisely, Mancini’s sole motivational technique was to try to abuse his players in press conferences.  For whatever unfathomable reason, this served only to exacerbate the situation, and City fell further and further behind in the title race.  We are not psychologists, and so we cannot possibly work out why world class players did not take kindly to being insulted and goaded by a plainly limited manager who had consistently failed in Europe.

Being a plainly limited manager: Playing three at the back doesn’t make you Pep Guardiola. Winning scudettos when every other club was handicapped doesn’t make you a winner.  Saying you’re the best manager in the country doesn’t make you Alex Ferguson.

Which brings us to:  There’s been enough written about Alex Ferguson this week, that to add to it beyond a brief passage would just be narcissism and wallowing.  He was a ridiculously good manager.  He was a properly hard bastard.  Even in his retirement speech he was managing for the future.  He reminded his players to never let themselves down and talked of what the club, players and fans meant to him.  So far, so glib.  Then, he confirmed, despite paper stories that Wayne Rooney had not asked for a transfer a few weeks back, that in fact Rooney had just done that.  Whether it is true or not doesn’t really matter – what is remarkable is that Wayne Rooney might want to leave and he might not, but that hasn’t affected Ferguson one bit.  He might be from a family of boxers, but Rooney just got sucker punched.  And that is the difference between Alex Ferguson and Roberto Mancini.  One of them is the best manager in England, and the other is Roberto Mancini.

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By Andi Thomas and Alex Netherton

Guys! Guys! Exciting news! Just below the Premier League is another league! You know relegation? This is where those teams go! Wolves are here! Well, they were; they’ve gone somewhere else now. It’s called ‘The Championship’, which is a bit weird, but then one of us calls his penis ‘Lord Toffingham’, so who are we to judge?

It turns out that this is also where promoted teams like ‘Reading’ (pronounced just like reading) come from, and this weekend was the conclusion of the annual race to get relegated from the Premier League next time around. And for those jaded souls that spend most of the season following the top-flight, like us, and you, this was like discovering that the entire season’s been played at the wrong speed, and that the lugubrious death march of a sport we’ve been enduring is supposed to be a jaunty little toe-tapper.

Watford are losing! No, hang on, they’ve got one back. But wait, Hull are winning! No, Hull are drawing, sorry, I got confused. Watford have got a mascot in goal! Somebody else’s mascot! Is that allowed? As it stands! Where even is Peterborough? Are those my trousers? Why are the Cardiff Reds wearing blue? Is Steve Bruce crying? Is Steve Bruce melting? Is Steve Bruce so distraught with tension that he’s smearing his own excrement on the walls of the dugout? No, no, that’s just Nutella. Why has he got Nutella? The Hull fans have invaded the pitch! The game isn’t over! As it stands! They’ve kidnapped the referee! No, he’s back, and he’s given both sides a penalty! Where are my trousers? What on earth is Huddersfield? Have Nottingham City pipped Leicester Forest? No! Yes! Leeds, eh? As it stands! How old is Kevin Phillips? Can I borrow your trousers? As it stands! As it stands! As it stands! Steve Bruce can’t see the wood for the trees, he’s just criticized the referee on the day he got promoted! What a tit-end!

And breathe.

You sort of hope that none of the celebrating Hull players found time over the weekend to actually sit and watch the league they’ve managed to clamber into. They might well have found themselves wondering what the point of it all was; why they’ve spent all season trying to escape a delirious mess for the sake of a tiresome farce. Apart from Reading (still pronounced reading)—a team who only got promoted by accident and have already been relegated—Saturday was thin, thin gruel. And by the time the soupiest of Super Sundays was limping to an inelegant close, the nation was faced with the very real prospect that the Premier League might not be the most exciting league in the country, let alone the universe.

Fortunately for the sake of us diarists all, David Luiz did a Bad Thing. Thanks, David! Thanks!

If you’d fallen asleep by that point, a brief recap. David Luiz and Rafael da Silva are tussling by the corner flag. Some Manchester United fans, lacking any purpose or dignity, have been swapping screenshots that purport to show something of an elbow from the hairier of the two Brazilians, which wouldn’t be out of character but isn’t really important. Rafael has a kick, Luiz falls on the floor, the sexier of the two Brazilians is shown a small, stiff, red rectangle, and he leaves. None of which is particularly interesting.

But! While Luiz was lying on the floor, he smiled. He grinned. He may even—oh, calumny!—have chuckled. The dirty foreign bastard.

Let’s be clear, it’s not that he was pretending to be hurt. People don’t care about that, because if they did, then there wouldn’t be a single game that didn’t end with most of the participants getting it in the neck from all plus sundry. Having got it in the neck, naturally they’d fall on the floor writhing around, grasping a part of their body close to but markedly different from that which had been hit, but hey: that’s football. One of us once attended a baseball game, and the sight of a batter smashing a fastball into his own foot was greeted by a hoot of derision from one of his own fans. “Get up! This isn’t a soccer game!” It later turned out that the foot was fractured in three places.

Football players pretend to be injured in the same way that fish live in water and bricks fall through the air. Whether they should or not is another argument, except it isn’t, because they shouldn’t. But Luiz’s crime, like all the truly media-friendly crimes, isn’t so much in the doing as in the manner of doing. By grinning rather than observing the forms—the agonised twitch, the careful wince, the gingerish rise supported by the physio, the marked-but-rapidly vanishing limp—he’s exposed that the problem isn’t with the cheating. They’re all cheats, all the time, and nobody cares. The problem is the failure to cheat with the appropriate seriousness. The problem is here that you simply are not allowed to break the fourth wall. We should not be reminded in such a Brechtian manner that what we’re watching really is a play.

There’s the sport—you know, the football with the goals—and then there’s also the circus. Most people care about the sport, and really care about the circus, they just don’t like to be reminded of it. We are all sullied by getting so involved in it, we don’t want to realize these players really do just see it as a game. The free-spirited, monied, regularly-sexed, happy-go-lucky scamps. Where has it all gone wrong for them? If that is moral failure, consider us tempted.

Roll that notion around your head for a bit. The Premier League, where even the stupid and the snide must be taken ultra-seriously, all the time. Check the small print, Hull. Consult some lawyers. Surely you don’t have to do this to yourselves.

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By Andi Thomas and Alex Netherton

Diminishing returns is a concept that we are all familiar with. However, we will now go on to describe it in some detail. There is, for example, this series, the Diary of Love and Hate. What was once a promising and original review of the week’s Premier League action quickly turned into a cemetery for jokes. Not only were we drunk and strung out when we wrote it, we were miserable and at our day jobs when we edited it. There it was—a mixture of incompetence and resentment, distilled into 800 or so words, fewer if it was possible to get away with it. Diminishing Returns—that’s what we’ll call it when we come back next season.

Diminishing returns is not just limited to football though, it plagues our everyday lives. You know why the rich are so protective of their money—because money loses its novelty value, especially when it’s something you have plenty of. Knowing that your surfeit of cash is not something that makes you happy is why rich people stow it away; at least they can stop people enjoying the novelty of being able to buy temporary happiness, and because they’re scared everyday people will have it in themselves to do something more constructive with it. Diminishing returns, the ability of human nature to turn something of value and use into something that actually pains the soul, we’re all aware of that.

Just look at divorce rates. They may have peaked but they’re far higher than a settled and content world would ever produce, and certainly one where true love really did exist. We are now not just a divorcing world, but one that has settled into a routine of serial monogamy. We find one relationship, we enjoy the high, and then diminishing return sets in. The sex peaks and then relents. The quality drops, the commitment to making the other person satisfied stops being the priority and becomes a bargaining tool to be exchanged for similar favours. The amount they talk is no longer a subject of amusement, it is that the very sound of their voice reminds you that as bad as being alone is, it’s at least better than being in a room with her anymore. She’s a nice person, yet she makes you unhappy. That’s diminishing returns. That the concept is so inescapable is what makes diminishing returns such an easy concept to grasp, and a memorable phrase to invoke.
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By Andi Thomas and Alex Netherton

No, we’re not going to talk about it.

Instead, we’re going to talk about Tottenham, and Manchester City, and Andre Villas-Boas. It turns out that the Iberian sexpot with a voice like a pepper-grinder is quite good at this management business: his substitutions changed first the shape of his team, then the dynamic of the entire game. Particular praise is due to Tom Huddlestone, who neatly demonstrated that moving your body around a lot is all well and good, Scott Parker, but it’s better to be able to move the ball.

His opposite number Roberto Mancini, meanwhile, brought on own-brand winger Scott Sinclair, then deployed Joleon Lescott up front, the first time a dirty protest has been broadcast on national television. It just goes to show that LUIS SUAREZ BIT BRANISLAV IVANOVIC! HE BIT HIM ON THE ARM! WITH HIS TEETH!

Ahem. Sorry. Anyway, Tottenham’s win, along with Arsenal’s win over Fulham and Chelsea’s draw against Liverpool—careful—mean that the Race For A Higher Level Of Television Income Next Season is tighter than the CLENCHED JAW OF A DERANGED SAVAGE USING THE TEETH IN HIS FACE TO WORRY THE ARM OF A FELLOW PROFESSIONAL, LIKE A SQUIRREL WITH A HEADACHE SAVAGING A WILLOW TREE!

Dammit. Down the bottom of the table, QPR are now so buggered that even Harry Redknapp has come to terms with the fact that his magical powers of escapology may not shield him from at least some of the responsibility. (Joke: of course they will.) But for a man who was once so keen to serve his country, his team’s failure to beat Stoke represents the very worst dereliction of duty. We’re trying to make the world a better place here, Harry, and it’s time you started pulling your weight. Or have you bitten off more than you can CHEW CHEW CHEW CHEW CHEW! ON IVANOVIC’S ARM! WITH THE TEETH IN HIS FACE! WHAT’S HE DOING? WHY IS HE DOING THAT?

Gah! Sorry! Right! Something else…Paolo di Canio did some celebrating, as Everton did some capitulating. If only Thatcher had dropped in a couple of knee slides towards the end, she could have gone to her grave in peace. Wigan are still in trouble, though such is the power of their reputation that should they go down, nobody will actually notice, and they’ll still end up in next season’s preview supplements. Andy Carroll, meanwhile, continues to refine his own brand of equine berzerkery to a sharp point, AS SHARP AS THE FROTHING INCISORS OF LUIS SUAREZ AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA HE BIT HIM! WHAT?

Er…

Um…

FOR THE SECOND TIME IN HIS CAREER!

Well…

Okay, okay, okay. We’ll talk about it. There is an odd dynamic to the outrage in which we are swimming, a kind of blanket insistence on the moralistic absolute. This would obviously be appropriate for something like, say, racial abuse, which is still getting caviled and caveated into irrelevance by the remarkably white world of football journalism. It’s been a good day for the words “claimed”, and “alleged” and “controversial”, and for the placing of scare quotes around the words “racial abuse”, and for neatly eliding or completely overlooking Suarez’s own admissions regarding the matter. Perhaps nobody likes being shouted at by Liverpool fans. Or perhaps nobody cares.

Everybody cares about this, though. Really and certainly cares, with a white-hot sense of righteousness that feel deeply incongruous. Because as well as being an act for for which he should have been sent off, and as well as being an act for which he will be banned, it was (and still is) very, very funny. Perhaps it shouldn’t be, but then, we don’t make the rules. The prevailing tone of fatally-twisted knickers is out of step with the honest response.

Part of the humour comes from the oddity of the thing. Biting is transgressive in a way that more straightforward and traditional forms of violence aren’t. It’s objectively worse to break somebody’s leg than chew on their bicep, but it’s a lot less peculiar. Kicking one another is what footballers do; biting is reserved for vampires in fairy stories, junkies in American news items, and Hannibal Lecter.

Another part comes from the fact that this is Suarez, for whom the second half—gorgeous assist, stupid handball, quick munch on an opponent, poached winner—was more-or-less a best-of, though thankfully he decided not to gob off at Ryan Bertrand. This is not to say it’s a good thing to be doing, or to argue that Suarez won’t deserve the lengthy ban that’s coming his way. It’s just to acknowledge that it’s possible to shake your head and laugh at the same time. Human beings are not binary creatures.

Things, as they are wont to do, are happening. Opinion pieces are falling out of the internet, most of them insisting Liverpool have to sell; this makes little to no sense considering that the last time he did this, they bought him. Graeme Souness is condemning onfield violence, apparently without irony. The PFA have offered him anger management counselling, which of course worked so well for Joey Barton. Suarez, for his part, apologized to Ivanovic immediately—well, no, he apologised later in the evening; his immediate reaction was to feign a limp—and then made sure his sponsors Twitter followers were aware that he was disgusted by his own behaviour. Patrice Evra is still waiting.

One question remains tantalisingly unanswered: How on earth did Ivanovic resist the urge to lamp him?

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By Alex Netherton and Andi Thomas

The two best sides in England played at the weekend, and the best two sides in England ended up on Sunday night being happy with their lot. If you like the success of the moneyed, overbearing and indulgent two teams of Manchester, then this weekend was all about you, the moneyed, overbearing, indulgent football fan. The two Manchester clubs were able to vanquish the greatest evils of the world: the disgracefully miserable philosophy of one of the most wretched philosophies in football, Stoke, and the disgracefully miserable philosophy of one of the most wretched philosophies in football, Rafael Benitez. Philosophy!

There’s a phony war going on right now, and both teams kept up their end of the bargain. Manchester United had to re-establish their lead at the top of the league to a ridiculous 15 points. After their minor bottle-job against City last Monday, it was an absolute requirement to win. Not because 12 points is a grim or enticing lead, but because football obeys well established narratives. ‘When it goes, it goes, and there’s nothing you can do about it,’ Alex Ferguson said about squeaky bum time. Had Manchester United lost to Stoke City, the lead could have conceivably been cut to 9 points if Manchester City had won their game in hand. The psychology of football is this:

‘OH MY GOD WE ARE UNDER PRESSURE WE CANNOT RESIST THIS PRESSURE IT IS A PRESSURED SITUATION LIKE BEING IN A PRESSURE COOKER I CANNOT CONCEIVABLY UNDERSTAND HOW WE CAN NOW PLAY TO THE MINIMUM OF OUR ABILITIES AND CLOSE OUT THE WIN. I’M GOING TO DO IT THIS TIME, I’M GOING TO JUMP OUT THE WINDOW. DAMN IT, THIS IS THE GROUND FLOOR’

And Manchester City would have gone on to win the Premier League.
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By Alex Netherton & Andi Thomas

This evening, Manchester United/City will lose in craven style, while Manchester City/United will win, and so instigate the most dramatic choke involving a brutal dictator since Attila the Hun/finally kill off a title race that’s been doing nothing but wasting a hospital bed for months. Or it’ll be a draw. Always cover your bases, kids!

But that’s for tonight. This weekend was all about trapdoors and mires, dogfights and six-pointers. Queen’s Park Rangers hosted Wigan, and handily demonstrated that while money can buy you most things, it can’t stop stupid people from being stupid. Loic Remy’s tap-in was all set to cover up Bobby Zamora’s inexplicable first-half decision to stand on Jordi Gomez’s head, but as injury time ticked around, and for reasons best known to themselves, first Stephane M’Bia decided to nudge Shaun Maloney, then Adel Taraabt decided that being part of a wall was more of an honorary position than any specific job of work. Po’ ‘Arry. But at least it wasn’t his fault.

Just a few miles away at Stamford Bridge, Sunderland rode the new manager bounce for 45 entertaining minutes against Chelsea, then got a nosebleed and slumped horribly in the second half. Just one point above the bottom three, and having played one game less (fewer?) than Wigan, at least the Black Cats were able to finally kill off the fuss about Paolo di Canio’s political indiscretions. No self-respecting fascist would ever have turned out for duty in a lavender-and-lilac Argyle pullover.

Out in the Home Counties, Nigel Adkins achieved the rare—no, we haven’t checked, shut up—distinction of having been home manager twice in the same pair of fixtures, as his new Reading faced his old Southampton. Sadly for him, Reading are dreadful and doomed, while Southampton were neat, well-organised, and effective in a manner that makes his dismissal look completely understandable. Not a great look, Nigel. Maybe you shouldn’t have left such an inspirational note behind you. When we leave somewhere, at best we leave a couple of stray pubes. Little tip for you, there.
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