Well it’s turning into a bloody dramatic climax to the football season, isn’t it? Tomorrow sees those magnificent men of Man Utd take on not-bad Barca in a mouth-watering gladiatorial Champions’ League final (more thoughts on my guest posting on http://www.ensland.blogspot.com) then a couple of teams in blue contest the FA Cup final on Saturday. But what about the last few days of intriguing action eh?
We were staying with our great friends L and S this last week-end. It was so good to catch up and we were a little stunned but also delighted to learn that their daughters D and L were both expecting their first babies. Talk about an amazing double celebration. After 7 years of listening to us blathering on about the joys of grand-parenthood, our good friends will be getting a double-dose of the GP infusion, putting an end to their tranquil week-ends possibly forever, though almost certainly happily. The week-end couldn’t have been more eventful, could it?
Well….. L’s a life-long Newcastle Utd fan and I’ve had a sneaking passion for Middlesbrough since sponsoring them on behalf of my company Cellnet back in the day when they played fantasy football with an Italian silver fox striker who could find the net and a Brazilian who really did play the beautiful game. The omens weren’t good for either team as we left the heavily maternal conversation and atmosphere and headed off to L’s heavy Yorkshire bloke-dominated local to watch Sky TV’s ‘Judgement Day’ coverage of the relegation fixtures. Newcastle Utd v Aston Villa was the featured match and it was painful viewing. Despite all the Saviour Shearer hoopla, they went down with a whimper. Middlesbrough needed a goal fest of a victory and lost meekly. Hull, despite having a manager more obsessed with his own image than Paris Hilton, and Sunderland, despite having a manager with a name that wouldn’t even be recognised on a Scrabble board, both lost but survived the drop. It was depressing stuff but the locals, who were all Leeds fans it seems, seemed very happy. Maybe it was an Alan Smith/Mark Viduka after-t’Elland Rd-it’s-all-downhill-tha’-knows kind of thing. Who knows but L and I found a quantum of solace in the outrageously cheap bar prices. Every cloud and all that.
We even took the opportunity to raise a glass (rather quietly) to my old friend JP whose Millwall team roasted the damned Leeds Utd in the league 1 play-off semis (hoorah), only to lose out to Scunthorpe – the team whose name spookily contains the four letter nickname for their most-celebrated former player Kevin Keegan. It’s ‘Thor’ of course and, equally spookily, yet another Toon Saviour; one of many this season who didn’t actually deliver on the S-word , unlike the very popular London-based Director of Football, Dennis Wise, who many fans believe bought a lot of it in the transfer window.
And what of Boro? Well they were 8th in the Premiership in September and Gareth Southgate was Manager of the Month. But he and they had one of those all-too-familiar ‘blips’ – a short-term loss of form which all teams suffer periodically. But not many teams survive one lasting from October to May. Especially when they cannot score. It’s not a recipe for Premiership success to be honest.
But what about Burnley eh? I used to play the local Grammar school as a kid and it was always a battle. Bear in mind I was brought up in leafy Hardhorn in Poulton-le-Fylde and these guys were brought up on the dank and gloomy moors, very close to the Yorkshire border. It was a bit like playing Royston Vasey GS (local lads only). I jest, but the games were always brutally physical as we were regarded as the choir boys in the Lancashire schools scene. Every team we played in the nether regions of the county used to taunt is with ‘the hardest thing in Blackpool is the rock’. Ooh funny. Whenever we beat them (a regular occurrence) we just left visiting cards saying ‘Another victory by the brains from Baines – we’re HARDhorn!’ Actually I made that up because we were all sons of Lancashire and there was mutual respect for our footballing traditions. I have a 7 year old grandson who collects Match Attak player cards. Well the very first card I ever collected at the same age was of Jimmy Adamson, Burnley’s captain of their most successful team in the early 60’s. His image and playing facts are etched on my mind even now. So I was delighted to see them win the play-off match for the final promotion spot into the Premiership especially as they beat Sheffield Utd – from Yorkshire dontcha know – in the process.
So there you go; some metaphorical tears and some smiles. And if Man Utd win tomorrow, when I’m watching with my grandson, there will probably be a few real tears from the older generation and, if not, at least a few glasses of the sauvignon blanc. Football eh, bloody marvellous!