Football Blog: Tangerine Flavoured

Saturday, February 24, 2024

Ian Evatt's TANGERINE! : the Mighty vs Bolton Wanderers



For the first time since 2019 I went to a game of football this week and I didn't write about it. Why not? I didn't start this blog to slag people off and writing stuff like 'this lot are a bunch of uninspiring middle aged journeymen managed by a bloke who seems like he's the tutor of an adult college accountancy course abetted by a dim but well meaning youth club worker and a tubby coke smuggler in a puffer jacket' felt unappealing to me. 

I'm done with Critchball. Tell anyone. The guy is a fraud with a capital F. All the other letters can be capitals too. That makes it shouty and shouty is certain and telling it as it is heart on the sleeve stuff like they do on talksport and that. I will shout it out loud. Take me to the top of the tower and let me loose from there with a very big megaphone and some neon lights. I'm done with it. It's boring and it's predictable and it's not good enough. Call me Mr Certain and let my opinion be known. Fuck your process polo shirt boy.

Weirdly though and (I almost wish I didn't...) I fancy us today.


I don't know why. Actually, I do know why. It's because I've said the above. It's because, above everything else, the thing that most annoys me about Critchley is that we're stuck with him.

Forever.

It might feel like we're reaching the end of the line, but it's almost certain that we're not. It's never going to be this easy to get rid of the man. Every time I decide he's a broken robot, he goes into 4d chess tactical genius masterclass mode and makes me look a proper knobhead.

Oh, fucking hell. Critch. Why have you dropped Albie? Get in the bin and cover yourself with your body warmer then I don't have to look at you. Do you want to lose this game? Fuck's sake man. What are you thinking?


Evo is pointing at things like a very authoritative chap. Evo is lapping up the chanting. Evo is getting rapturous applause. I'm a bit jealous. I'm very jealous. Why can't we have Evo? Look at him. He's a big manly man doing manly man things and his football team are actually any good.

*Sigh*

---

We actually start quite well. I'm musing to myself that I might have jumped the gun on deciding Critchley is worse than Neil Macdonald and Lee Clark spliced with Nigel Worthington and Colin Hendry but then Bolton score. It's one of those shitty scrappy not cleared properly, stupid surely someone could have got a foot in or put their foot through it goals that we specialise in conceding and I actually do a little jump of fury as it hits the net. I am literally hopping mad.

I look at the dugout. There's Evo, all brawn and presence. He's like the model for some kind of super masculine product. A chainshaw or a beard trimmer. That sort of thing. Critchley looks haggard. Arms folded in his tight tracksuit. What's going through his head? Evo is thinking of steak and fighting bears. Critch is probably hoping Janine hasn't put too much pepper in the spaghetti bolognese as it made him sneeze last time she did that.

Jimmy Husband is creaking. The man looks so tired he could lie down on the pitch and just die right there. I reckon he had to have his shoelaces tied by Ian Brunskill (perhaps we've found out what he does?!) before being pushed out to play.

'Please can I have a game off one day?'
'No Jimmy. We need you'
'But everyone else gets a rest. I've got three broken toes and no hamstrings left'
'Be quiet Jimmy'


I wisely observe 'you can see how the fight has just drained from us can't you?' The ground was a throbbing mass of drumming, back and forth chanting and passion for the first 8 minutes but now it's just Bolton noise and possession. I can feel the second coming of Critchley ending here, the fizz in the kaliber has gone. The bottle is warm. It's undrinkable piss. They're going to batter us now.

Kaddy. A little wriggle and turn. The crowd lifts. He's good at least. He slides it to Beesley. I mean, I like Beesley in a 'nice to see an honest lad trying hard' kind of way but c'mon, he's not going to do it from that range...

YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!

He fucking has! He's dropped his shoulder and bought space and then sculpted the ball into the net, swerving it past the keeper, inside the post and down into the back of the goal after kissing the inside of the netting in a beautiful cushioned collision. That was fucking magic. Yes!

Football eh? What the fuck do any of us actually know about it?


We're back on. The fire beneath the cauldron is stoked again. Critchley is prowling. Byers is like a compilation of Kenny Dougall's best bits, all slide tackles and sticking to his man like a stretchy glue you can't break free from. He's all neat touches and intelligent work. Gabriel is up and down. He's winning those ball we loft to the flank. Coulson is looking surprisingly good. He's just done a high speed Cruyff turn. Who knew?

This is a battle. We're in it. Grimmy makes a fucking terrific stop at the near post. Marvin tidies things up. Pennington is all yeoman endeavour and shirehorse-like galloping forward with it. He's got a really good eye for what to do. If his feet were as good as his brain, he'd be incredible. Early on I bemoan Norburn getting caught on the ball, but he's threading it well and snarling into things.

Jimmy finds a burst of energy to overlap. A slide rule pass finds him. He digs out a perfect cross, Byers is on to it, he's headed it down, it must go in, but the keeper plunges and claws it out but there is Marvin and it's all a scramble and YESSSSSSSS!

The ball is over the line and it's manic. The players are running away, the Bolton defence have their hands on their hips. Their keeper, who looks oddly grizzled for a modern day player, like a new dad who loses his hair overnight with the shock of responsibility, is looking skyward. We're on fire in the stands. They've had their five minutes of glory. We're Blackpool FC and this is how it should feel to be us. Glorious.

We keep playing. Lavery makes some great diagonal runs and puts Santos under real pressure. He might be big, but Shane is the horsefly to his horse. The ball is up and down the pitch. The players are playing at their physical limits. It's tremendous to see.


Half time creeps up. Bolton lash a shot over. There's derision but it's not so far away. Bolton work it down the left. They fizz it over and it's met by a forward. Shit.. Somehow Grimmy comes out with the ball having kind of done the splits to try and throw any part of himself at it. He gets up, he's too far away to see for sure, but I imagine he's got that sleepy unfazed look on his face. I love Grimmy me.

---

A tremendous half. We've really more than matched them. We're playing extremely well. Committed, resourceful and dangerous. I couldn't pick out anyone to say they've struggled, I could pick out any number to praise. Coulson has particularly impressed me, decisive, direct and more skilful than I'd seen from him to date.

---

What? Two subs standing there. Waiflike Lyons and the King of The Seaside (Joseph) - has Critchley gone mad? I assume we've got injuries as Lavery and Coulson come off. Lyons hasn't had a great season and Beesley and Joseph looked like a confused pairing on Tuesday. I hope this isn't presaging a 2nd half collapse. Myself and my neighbour confide in each other. We admit to 'a bad feeling' about this upcoming half.


The bad feeling is almost immediately dispelled. We're on it again and far from tripping over Beesley, Joseph is haring about playing off him really well. Lyons is deceptively strong for a wee lad and he's soon up and down the left like a Jordan Gabriel tribute act. A ball in, Bolton scramble it away, Lyons nods it back in, a weighted touch that falls perfectly for Joseph who swivels and clips it, lifting it up and over the keeper who does brilliantly to get hands up and turn it on over the bar.

Everything that was happening in the first half is still happening. Bolton are moving the ball about, but they're not threatening as you'd imagine they might. They try the Holloway style switch and overload but we're equal to it. They do fizz one across the face of goal and it looks like it might catch us out, but Penno shephards the far post runner away. They slap a few more across the box but Marvin is sticking his leg out and blocking and it's not flying into the top corner.

We break. It's a lovely swift move, forward passes at 45 degree angles, the ball looking like a high speed move in a game of draughts until Kaddy (oh Kaddy, how I love thee) plays a simply gorgeous straight ball, weighted to perfection for Lyon to dissect the Bolton fullback and in turn, play a near post ball to Joseph for a tap in. The tap in doesn't happen. Joseph is sent flying up in the air and crashes down to the turf. The ref, who is an amenable looking slightly portly fellow trots calmly towards the spot and points at it. Delight! He then trundles across to the defender who made the challenge and shows a red. Double delight!

The place is absolutely shaking now. There's real belief. Score this and we're almost certainly home and dry. Jake Beesley stands. It seems to be an age before the Bolton lad drags himself off. The noise quitens in a way that symbolises the tension of the moment to come ramping up. Bees sets off. Smash! Straight down the middle. The keeper goes past it and dives at air. Beesley leaps and punches the air. The ground erupts


'I want another against these bastards' says someone around me. Why not I think? They keep trying but they're not making Grimmy work. We keep looking threatening. Jimmy spies a loose ball. So does a Bolton player. The formerly top-knotted somewhat jaded looking god does the knock needs pigeon toed painful looking hobble that passes for him running at the moment and crunches into the most solid tackle in the history of the world. The Bolton lad bounces off it like a piece of plastic in a spring loaded toddler toy. The ground roars its appreciation. It's not a song, but it'll do.

Talking of songs, the ironic chanting of Evatt's name is a curious thing of wonder. We love Evo. We're delighted to smash Evo. Bolton fans slink out. We implore Evo to give us a wave. He simmers. Critchley is thinking of the drive back, a cruising speed of 58.9 to maximise fuel efficiency and maybe he'll pop in to M+S at Knutsford services and get a garlic bread to go with the bolognese. Evo is thinking of grimly chewing an unpleasantly tough, leathery steak and being mauled by the bear. Perhaps getting bitten by a snake for good measure. He's simmering. Critch is giving off an air of confidence that wasn't there earlier as he points, shouts, implores players to push up, get tight, stay awake.   


Morgan is on to freshen things up. CJ on to add further pace on the break. Bolton have no choice but to go at us even if it's a fairly lost cause now. It's a matter of time before we spring on them. Albie Morgan is marauding, Kaddy is haring ahead of him. Morgan threads it perfectly. Kaddy is in rare form today, he's aware of Gabriel flying forward from the back in acres of space, so, instead of going on himself as you might imagine a player of his ilk would, he slams on the brakes and slices a pass that looks simple enough, but is actually ridiculous in terms of the angle he manages to play from the position he's in and has Gabriel clean through. I always think Gabriel's one flaw is in front of goal, but maybe that's another thing I'm wrong about because he draws the keeper and slots it into the bottom corner with a beautifully satisfying precision, tucking it away neatly and giving us time to appreciate that the ball is going in before it does.

YESSSS!


There's just time for Jimmy to finally collapse to the turf. The man has no more to give today. He needs a week in bed and another week by the pool. God love him. Casey comes on. That's 4 minutes rest for Jimmy. A rare luxury. 

There's the whistle. 

Fucking magic! 

---



The applause cascades down from the stands. They were all magnificent. Sometimes you just have to say it as it is, heart on the sleeve, honesty don't you? They were fucking brilliant. I look a knobhead. I don't give a fuck. We might not have quite played total football but we played brilliant league 1 football and mixed up fast and incisive passing with muscle and aerial fight. Beesley isn't an aesthetes choice but it makes such a difference having an outlet like him and his work rate is incredible. I doubted him at the beginning of the season but we generally look a stronger team for the option he gives.

Byers was also terrific, giving us a kind of skilful street fighting quality, making us tick in a way we sometimes don't. Gabriel looked at peak levels and that's some player for this league. I could go on. I could list the lot of them.

Critchley comes to the south. There's applause. He wanders up the pitch to the north. He lets the players take their moment. He approaches the fans massed behind the goal. They're singing and he claps them. He stands for a moment but there's no response. He turns and begins to walk away. As he does, it's like the stand can't do this to him. It's like we can't stay angry at him forever. We're stuck with him and maybe he's stuck with us. The noise rises, Critchley turns back, the pace at which he does betraying the fact that underneath the self proclaimed unshakeable belief in the process and behind the iPad screen and within all the data, he might just have been a bit worried before this match that *things had unravelled* and there's the 3 short explosive cheers and the drum banging away and we all walk out into the last dregs of late winter light and face the oncoming spring with just a bit more lightness of being and the Dembele chant going round in our heads.

We could still do this. Perhaps there's still a hint of the imp left in the man on the touchline after all. 

Fuck me. It's the hope that kills you isn't?


I'm walking down Bloomfield Road away from the ground. A couple of older fellas, maybe late 60s or early 70s are walking near to me. One of them tells the other... 

'I tell you what, it feels good when we win doesn't it?' 

...The way he says it to his mate, the sudden unaffected happiness in his voice, makes it seem as if the feeling has come upon him fresh. As if all the years and hundreds or thousands of games, all the ups and downs and highs and lows still haven't washed away the same sensations he had as a kid. I want to hug the man. His carefree observation makes me realise that I feel exactly the same as I did when I was 12, with my dad, walking back to the car after a big win. Lighter. As if the world is less sharp edged and a little more easy to cope with. It might be stupid or irrational or whatever it is, but it's undeniably how I feel. My team played well and we won. 

That, right there, is why we do it. Cos sometimes it's shit. Quite often it's neither here nor there. Sometimes though, it's fucking brilliant.

Whatever happens next and whatever went before, Critch 2.0 gave us today and today was tremendous. 

More please. 

Onward! 


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Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Not an interview with Critch (part 2)



Some years ago in the middle of a pandemic, I didn't interview Neil Critchley.

We didn't sit down for a (decaff) coffee at his favourite garden centre cafe somewhere on the outskirts of Warrington. He didn't greet me with a cheery 'how was the drive?' nor did he refer to roads by number alone, removing the usual prefix assuming a certain level of driving knowledge would allow you to differentiate your M's from your A's and B's - 'did you take the 56 or come down the 6?' 

None of this happened, though I'm convinced that the interview I didn't do was a turning point for the club.... (I did after all invent Gary Madine coming out of the sea which ultimately led to Roma's kit launch) ... what with Colin 'not Ian Brunskill' Calderwood appearing out of nowhere as if in response about 2 days later.

It's almost certainly a case of coincidence being mistaken for causality but if you're going to write nearly 400 episodes of a shit blog, then you've got to tell yourself that it's more than just shouting into the darkness cos if you don't make some meaning for what you do, no fucker else is going to. 

I still find Neil 'Critch' Critchley an enigma. He's a mystery wrapped up in a very mundane packaging. He's like a John Lewis delivery with no address label* I'd love to get into his head. I'd love to ask him what makes him tick. I'd love to ask him some more thought provoking questions than the usual ones he gets which generally amounts to: 

'A good/bad day at the office Neil. Your thoughts?' 
'What did you see in (insert name of ex Crewe player) that makes him a good fit for this squad?' 
'(Insert name of opposition) on Tuesday/Saturday Neil, how is the squad looking?' 
 

It must be boring as fuck being Critch in interviews. Being a lower league manager means you get to play at the press conference thing but with none of the scale and spectacle (and tricky questions) that comes with the big leagues. 

*I've never actually ordered anything from John Lewis - I imagine whatever it is they sell comes in a very sensible box though. 

To this end, I decided once again to not interview Critch. I didn't write to the clubs press officer, who didn't grant me permission and I didn't get in the car and drive back towards Cheshire and meet Critchley at a different location - a sports bar opposite a driving range that does paninis at lunchtime. 

I didn't shake Critch's hand as he strode over and said 'Nice to not see you again' and I didn't reply 'likewise Neil.' He wasn't wearing his body warmer over a light pink polo shirt and he didn't order a Kaliber. We didn't exchange small talk that amounted to me asking if he played golf here, to which he didn't reply 'No, I do find watching the repetitive practice kind of soothing though.' There didn't follow a short silence which I didn't break by not offering up the observation 'did you know Panino is actually the singular of the plural Panini' to which Critch never replied 'is that right' and I never responded with 'I think so, actually, I'm not 100% sure' 

Then, with the pleasantries not out of the way, we didn't start the interview. 

These are the questions I would have asked: 

---

Did you enjoy playing Neil? Do you think it's important for players to enjoy themselves? 

What did you learn from your first spell? What made you plump for a very different set up? Last time around wide players were crucial - Anderson, Kaikai and Bowler were all essential - why have you moved to a set up without out and out attacking wide men? 

What do you make of what seems to be a lack of real on pitch leadership? You've bemoaned the players' decision making at times and their inability to follow instructions - who are the real dressing room leaders and how do you go about transferring that on to the pitch? There's no Madine or Keogh types in the squad it seems. Players who will bang heads together on the pitch. Is that problematic? 

The most successful player this season was signed almost by accident. Did you think the squad you were taking over was better than it turned out to be? 

Again, returning to the first time around, a mark of the way you managed both the League One promotion and the relatively successful Championship season was tactical flexibility. This time round, it's been almost the opposite, with you sticking rigidly to a formation (with swapping a second 8 for a 10 being more or less the major change across the season.) - Was that an attempt to address the concern some had that we were successful but that it was difficult to recruit for a chameleonic side?  

Do the players get frustrated with setting up more or less the same way every week? After Wembley Jerry Yates hailed you as a 'tactical genius' on the pitch - but this year, it seems there's been a lot less innovation? It would be fascinating to know if there's any push back from the squad in playing the same way week in week out, especially when it's been going badly away from home?

On a similar note, there's been a real lack of impact from the bench this season. I think we've only won once from a position of not taking the lead in a game. I can only think of the second half vs Fleetwood and the early days of Dembele when he was a sub where there was a genuine impact from the bench. Is that down to 'like for like' changes or simply not having enough variety in the type of players we have? 

How do you deal with dissent? Do you listen to it? Do you adopt the Clough maxim of 'we have a conversation and then decide I'm right?' Do you just ignore it? 

The formation you've chosen relies on quality wing backs. We all know CJ brings searing pace but lacks the touch that would make him a real top level player if he had it. Why have you been so determined to make him first choice at RWB when we've got both Gabriel and Lyons - two players who most supporters rate highly who seem well suited to the role? Does his continual inclusion speak of a lack of pace in the squad? 

How much do we miss a quality target man? Jake Beesley has been injured more than not. Kouassi is sporadically unplayable but also then anonymous. You've been critical of us going long, but in the Championship, Grimshaw to Madine was the most hit pass by any keeper in the league - is there a reason you haven't sought a quality hold up player to supplement the squad? 

On paper, central midfield should be a strength. We've got numerous players who can play there, including some who held their own in the Championship. Why is it that baring a spell when Kenny Dougall was playing really well, we struggle to control the centre of the pitch? Is it the players or the shape? 

Similarly, last time round we had a ridiculous defence - it was a back 4 and you almost never played a 5 unless forced to. In fact, you were far more likely to play a midfield 5 than a defensive 5. Why do we never start with a 4 and perhaps even more tellingly, switch to a 4 mid game to release an extra player up to the pitch when we've got 3 players who were important elements (Gabriel, Husband and Ekpiteta) in last promotions campaigns' back 4 so it's not as if you'd be going with a totally unknown element is it? 

Kaddy is obviously a wonderful talent. Are you concerned that he's a marked man now? Do you look at the squad and see options for creativity if the other team are getting tight on him? How does leaving Apter at Tranmere and letting Dale go square with having cover for our main creative force? Do we have the players to interchange and play fluidly? Why don't we rotate attacking players more and ask more questions? 

You've brought in Ian Brunskill and Mike Garrity three times now (here, QPR and here again) - yet your management record is significantly better with an outsider on the staff. What do you see that they bring? 

Here's one that might be naive. I understand the short goal kicks business and the knocking about at the back is to invite and then break the press. That makes sense. Everyone more or less does that. What, for the life of me I can't understand is why we never take a quick throw. We always have the ball ready, then stop and wait for the right or left wing back to come and take a throw once the other team have reset. Why? 

Similarly, I don't grasp why we never leave a player out for corners. CJ, for example, is not good in the air, but he'd beat 99% of opposition players in a footrace. Why do we always do all 10 players back at every corner we defend? 

You're obviously steeped in youth coaching. You've spent the majority of your time in football preparing young players. No one has stepped up under your management to become even a semi regular player. We saw how Port Vale's youngsters (very raw players) did a job for them against us - why do you favour an experienced square peg sometimes to an inexperienced round one? 

How do you deal with players who don't give their all? Do you see it as a confidence issue, a sense of burnout, an attitude issue? Football is relentless and you can't take for granted that every player will put themselves and their career on the line for every tackle in every single game. How do you get that sort of commitment? 

Have you changed as a person following your experiences at Villa and QPR? Having such a rough year can't have been easy. You've worked mostly behind the scenes, then your time at Blackpool was spent firstly behind closed doors, then with a largely positive fan base backing you. To experience it turn twice on you in a short space of time can't have been enjoyable... Has it had an impact on the way you think about football? Do you spend the same amount of time on the details as once you did for example? Has it made you more pragmatic or more idealistic? 

What's the greatest football team you've ever seen? The one you dream of when you send your team onto the pitch? 

If you could only choose to tell a team one thing which was either 'Attack! score one more goal than them and we'll win' or 'keep it tight and we'll win more than we lose' which would you choose? 

How hard was it to make a transition from youth coach (focused on technique and compliance with a game plan above all) to being a manager (results are everything) - what's the biggest thing you've learned in the last 4 years? 

When you're coaching players, do you shape the players to the system or the system to the players? It feels a bit like you've taken two opposite approaches in your two spells. If I was taking over a football club tomorrow, which approach would you advise I take of those two? 

What's on the car stereo? 

With the questions out of the way, we don't shake hands again. I don't thank Critch for his time. He doesn't order a skimmed milk latte (double decaf) to takeaway and doesn't ask me if I want anything whilst he's getting his. He's a nice fella, so I resist saying 'some fucking substitutes that change things and a sense of urgency Neil for fucks sake' and just say 'no, thanks, I appreciate the offer though' and feel slightly guilty at giving him a hard time. 

With that, the interview that didn't happen isn't over.

After all it never got started did it? 

---

Then, in the real world, I read this and I felt sad. In the words of the music hall song, 'Things, ain't what they used to be' 

I didn't want Critch to go as he did and I didn't want him to come back when he did and I'm not enjoying the second coming as I made myself hope that I would. I've done my level best to put aside my doubts and try to believe but... 

Tuesday was as bad as we've been for a long time. There was no 'but they spend way more than us' get out clause. There was also no sense that 'it's just a blip' or 'it's early days' - it was the nadir of a series of rank bad performances against sides of a similar nature and Critchley doesn't seem to have the answer to stop them. If anything, we've got worse over time. Yes, we can beat a good side, but half this division aren't good sides and thus, it's going to be a struggle unless you have another way to play sometimes. 

The team look flat and languid. They look, with few exceptions, like they don't believe. This is a side where, Lyons aside, Critch has either signed or or given a significant contract extension to every single one of them. This isn't 'first season' stuff. He's been Blackpool manager for just about 3 years overall and whilst he can't be blamed directly for the shit show last year, he was picking up with a whole group of players who knew him and what he wanted and that's not a usual situation for a manager. 

It is, in my humble blogging wanker opinion, time for Critchley to start plotting the tactical masterclass to end all tactical masterclasses and to concoct a plan B,C,D and for good measure a plan E. Things really need a shake up and if he doesn't shake it up, then he'll need to be shaken up himself.

Such is football. 

Onward


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Saturday, February 10, 2024

Not enough - the Mighty vs Oxford United


Here we go again. Somehow the end of winter seems to have appeared from nowhere in the distance. The gold coast is endless blue sky. There's even a hint of warmth in the air. 


Neil 'thrills 'n' spills' Critchley has picked a team I like. It's got balance and pace. 


I've had a bit of a week. I could really do with a belting game of football and 3 points at the end of it. It's not that such a thing will make any material difference to anything, it's just that it's nice to get lost in something and life is better with a bit of joy in it than not. 

--- 


It's quite clear that we're quite well matched with Oxford. It's all hard pressing and snarling at each other. Albie Morgan looks really good early on. He's combining passing the ball about with doing tackling like a proper midfielder might. Cameron Brannagan is anonymous so far. I hate him. He's like the pivot on the seesaw - until his stupid pond based u-turn everything seemed on an upward trajectory and then as if somehow his rejection ate away at the very confidence of the club like acid, it's mostly been a bit shit since. 

Morgan hits a swerving shot that wobbles and spins wide. C'mon Pool. Lavery runs very hard and very fast at their defence. They don't like it. He has an effort turned over for a corner. The atmosphere is good. We're playing hard and we're taking it to them.

Kaddy cuts inside, fakes a shot, glides past a defender, shoots for real and somehow the ball doesn't go in. It seems to pass through the netting, to dematerialise and reappear the wrong side of the post.

Joseph shows lovely skill to back in and control the ball. Madine would have been proud of that. Joseph shows a pace and drive that Madine could only dream of as he squares it to Lavery. Another corner. It's swung right across the box. Norburn puts it back in with a tatty volley on the bounce. Suddenly space open up right at the heart of their defence and there's Pennington bundling the ball into the goal and we're in front! It's on... This is us now. A deserved goal against a decent team that we've pretty much dominated. So much for doom and gloom and the season being over. The ground is bouncing. YES! 


Oh, for fucks sake! Pool! Just fuck off. That lasted about a minute or something. Oxford just fucking score. It's one of those really fucking shit goals that concede all the time where they just do a thing that isn't particularly clever or even that dangerous seeming. The ball bounces about, they score and we all stand around shouting for offside looking hurt and upset. Brannagan is giving it big to the North after he was regaled with charming chants as he took the catalytic corner. I hate football. 

The game goes into a bit of a trough. Their pond lover smacks a good effort a tiny bit wide. We almost force a ridiculous own goal when Lavery, who has spooked their centre back without managing to break him, chases a lost cause, forces a header back to the keeper which is misjudged completely, loops up and over the goalie, everyone chases it back as if running after a pram that is rolling free down an embankment towards a busy road... Lavery looks favourite for a split second but in the collision that ensues, the keeper manages to extend his arms and dive forward to claim it. 

Marvin pulls off a ridiculous save to keep us level. By save, I do mean save as well, after Oxford piss about with it to a ludicrous extent, managing to fall over the ball and exchange three unhindered passes in our box, they look odds on to tap it home at the far post but Ekpiteta flings himself and appears from nowhere to block the ball at the near post with Grimmy stranded nowhere near the situation. 

---

It's deflating. We started pretty well but an equaliser knocked the strut out of our step and we lost the initial verve we played with. 

---


There's quite a lot of minutes in the second half that tick by with not a lot happening. Oxford don't seem that arsed about scoring but we don't seem too bothered either. Someone shoots down the throat of the keeper (possibly Coulson) and the fella behind me helpfully suggests he tries missing the goalie next time. 

We're in charge of the game but we don't make a whole lot of it. Norburn has a great chance to slide us in but chooses to chip the ball to nobody instead in a fit of needless elaboration. We're not getting much joy on the flanks and Lavery is tiring. Just as I'm starting to mutter a bit internally, Morgan swings in a free kick, Pennington rises and somehow the keeper dives and kind of pats the ball up in the air and manages to get to the falling ball before it drops over the line. It's a great stop. 

The North stand is belting out the songbook. Behind me, a tiny kid is at their first game and she's bouncing in time to the Dembele chant as it rings out over and over. Hooked for life it seems. Poor thing. 

We change things both in terms of shape and personnel. Wonder kid Rob Apter comes on and his dynamic feet and fearlessness make a real difference. As the energy and intent of the early part of the game fades, what a player to come on and really make an impact... It's such a joy to see us putting our faith in one of our kids to have an impact. Actually, as you know, that's literally never happened and today was of course, no exception.  

What does happen though is, the best Kylian bar none in world football, the best CJ I'm aware of in world football and the best George Byers on loan from Sheffield Wednesday in world football all come on. Byers looks quite tidy. He has a kind of Dougall-esque desire to get really close to the players he's tackling. CJ makes a bit of a difference, his pace posing a threat that Gabriel didn't, though his crosses don't really find anyone. 


The ref makes some seemingly random decisions. Nothing he does has any consistency at all other than he seems to like yellow more than tangerine. 

The best bit of the game comes when Kylian doesn't so much roll his man as steamroller him in slow motion, the defender reduced to a cartoon figure, flattened by a massive wheel, spun round and spat out in 2 dimensions as the big man heads for goal after recieving the ball with his back to it. It comes to nothing, but it's a joy to behold. 

Then Oxford almost score, a ball fizzed in from their right. Marvin clearly isn't keen on another own goal, Pennington has assumed Marv is going to deal with it and Grimmy is assuming either of them will. It's a horrifying moment as the ball inexplicably gets past 3 perfectly good candidates to stop it and an Oxford lad stoops at the far post but thankfully smacks it off the inside of the woodwork and away. 

We end the game with three corners. They're all decent balls in, hanging, in swinging but headed, punched and fought away and that final flurry is that. 

--- 


It was a decent game. It wasn't three points. I don't know what it is this season but we're definitely lacking something. One moment I noticed seemed to typify us. We had a break on the right. We didn't capitalise on it fully. We came back inside and once that moment had gone, we never really seemed likely to make another moment as everyone fell into a predictable pattern in terms of shape and the sequence of passing. The players executed the original intent well, but when the situation didn't run entirely to plan we didn't seem to have another bit of collective creativity within us.  

All too often we seem to dwell for a touch too long or to reject the simple pass. We play well for periods but we run out of steam. Not having Lavery to replace Lavery who can't play with the required intensity for long enough is problematic as is the fact that Dembele is the one player with real guile and craft (Morgan aside) and his magic feet alone aren't enough to do it every week. 

It isn't a performance such as today that is why we're not where we would want to be. We did ok. There were, however, enough elements in our failure to take three points to remind us of the overall issues. We had some shaky moments at the back, we had spells where we seemed hesitant and unable to move the ball at pace and we didn't make enough of our attacking situations. 

It's not over, but it's starting to feel a bit like whatever we do, it's not going to be enough. I liked this variation on the endlessly repeating theme of 532 and I think the fundamental strengths of the players involved aren't the main problem but our inability to change shape and adapt to games as we go is. Oxford 'game managed' us to a point relatively easily and it's not the first time I've left feeling as if we didn't necessarily leave it all out there. The basic effort wasn't in doubt, but perhaps the nous is questionable. 

We need an away week like we've not managed all year now... It would be typical of us to manage it and rekindle the agony of hope. 

Onward!


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Sunday, January 28, 2024

The gods did not smile upon us: the Mighty vs Charlton Athletic


There's a certain optimism in the air. The Mighty have won an away game, the Mighty have acquitted themselves very well on live TV against a Premier League team, the Mighty are in enviable form at home. The sky is a kind of washed out January blue that holds a hint of warmer days to come. 


Charlton Athletic by contrast have little cause for optimism, their main positive is that they are no longer managed by Michael Appleton, a fact bemoaned by one of my neighbours who gets a far away look of of bloodlust as he regales us with a vision of what we've missed out on... 'We'd be at him, they'd be at him... fantastic' 


It's not to be. Charlton have Curtis Fleming in the dugout and as far as I know, we've got no collective opinion on him at all. The team is kind of the one you expect Critch to pick. I'm not convinced I'd have picked them all in that order but it is what it is. 


--- 

Charlton look quite smart in their all black kits. I imagine if GCHQ have a football team they'd wear a kit like this. The keeper runs over and the mysterious vibe goes up a notch as it appears he's come in disguise, his face mask giving the game a surprising but welcome feel of a masquerade party. 

We're on it from the start. There's several 'Pool's this season. At one end of the scale there is 'hopeless and lethargic Pool that bang it aimlessly at the box and look a bit fed up' and at the other is 'clever, aggressive Pool who look like a decent Championship team and go at the other team with invention and intent' and we've clearly got out the right side of the bed today. 

Chances start to build up. An early corner. Coulson in on the keeper. Was he cleaned out? An early run from Morgan, Jimmy Husband, leaning back and lashing one across the box that somehow doesn't get a touch. Another corner. Coulson with a scrambling effort that is somehow scuffed away. Nearly... Nearly... Nearly. CJ gets in and slams it across the box. Almost. Not quite. 

A corner, Marvin leaps and wins it and the ball goes all across the face of goal like it's taunting us and past the far post, somehow not getting a touch from any of the flailing limbs. A ball across and Rhodes smashing into a defender gets a touch. The keeper grabs it off the line. That was over? No? It looked it! 

We're looking really good. Charlton look a bit dizzy, like a bunch of kids who've been playing on a roundabout and for whom the world is now spinning. Simple passes go out of play. Easy moves break down. That's perhaps the legacy of the sad eyed gravedigger. They're absolutely without confidence. We're full of it. 

Rhodes charges down the keeper. Perhaps the keeper's vision is impaired by wearing his Venice carnival gear and he slams the ball straight at Rhodes. Here we go. The goal robot sways with the impact, the ball allready heading towards goal. His spatial recognition circuits note that it requires a second touch. His ball dispatch system fires into life and he steadies himself and drives the ball... weakly at the keeper.  Rhodes stands there. He can't believe it. We can't believe it. Zorro can't believe it. The goal robot has malfunctioned. 

Dembele does a thing that is one of the best things I've ever seen anywhere. He's wide and he's losing a physical challenge. He's controlled the ball poorly and it's heading out of play. Then, it isn't. He's flicked out a boot, caught the ball at the nanosecond before it leaves the pitch and swerved it down the touchline, leaving his man staring at a space where he was, going one way round him as the ball goes the other... This boy is unreal

Kyle Joseph is also a fine player. This is becoming increasingly evident. He's galloped around showing skill and strength. He's linked, he's flicked, he's danced past defenders and now his taking it on an angle, his cushioned first touch and acceleration is taking him free. He draws the keeper, he lifts it past him and the ball is on it's way in. I'm in full pre-celebration mode, my fists clenched ready to punch the air, breath drawn in to scream acknowledgement of the moment, and just as I'm about to let go, the ball smacks against the post and instead of leaping high, I fall to my knees. How? Did? That? Not? Go? In? 

Then, the stuff of nightmares. Charlton score. Husband and Casey seem at odds as to who is going to shut the wide man down. The ball comes in and there it is. For fucks sake Pool.

Hang on though. IT was a nightmare. The linesman is there, his flag waking us from the horror and it's still, somehow, all square. 

--- 

We've played really well. It's 0-0. It really shouldn't be. It's not just the chances we've not put away, but the flow of the game has been almost entirely with us. We've nearly scored in multiple different ways. 

--- 

Charlton make a change and we replace Rhodes with Lavery (the goal robot having been involved in a nasty far post clash of heads in the first half) but it doesn't appear to make any difference. We're still dominant, we're still not scoring. A ball from the left finds Casey at the far post but his header is rushed and wide. 

Kyle Joseph again, another bit of magic and... fucking hell. For fucks sake! This game is becoming like a torture exercise! Joseph has lifted a placed and powerful shot beautifully but he's placed it against the bar. I'm actually kneeling in front of my seat now looking around with my arms outstretched, appealing for someone to explain to me how we've not scored yet. Heads are shaken, or hands are placed on them. Come on Pool! 

The atmosphere is good today. The ground feels fuller than perhaps it is. We're playing really well. We just can't score. They're hacking us down. The referee does a comedy run, a luminous bald headed fella with a just for men sculpted beard jogging with high knees, like he's riding an invisible unicycle to retrieve the ball and tell their keeper to get on with it. He doesn't book him. Why? He's quite amenable it seems as he also doesn't book them for twice nearly snapping Kaddy in two. A sketchy ref always adds to the noise though. 

Albie Morgan makes things happen. It's his tenacity that won't allow Charlton to get away with dallying at the back. All day he's carried the ball well, been neat and tidy with his passing and prompted our best work, but now he's snarling into a tackle and then poking the ball onto Kaddy. Dembele has the acceleration of an illegally tweaked electric scooter and he motors free, scrambles the keepers mind by faking to go for one corner then slashes it brutally into the other. 

A dam bursts and the relief pours from the stands. It was, in the end, an emphatic goal that broke the deadlock. It was more than well deserved. YESSSS! 

The noise goes up a notch. The songbook is revelled in and collectively, we begin to dream. We're finally playing consistently well, we're enjoying watching the team, it's all coming together at last. Charlton have a week shot that Grimmy pats down dismissively. We've played so well, I've barely noticed we've got a goal keeper. I've been more than a bit down on Critchball at times this year, but then perhaps all the shape work and stubborness is worth it, because today, we've looked really good, we've played with a confidence and a movement that will trouble anyone. The misses were freaks. Play this again, it would be 4-0 by now. A play off berth is inevitable. In fact, we've got a bunch of teams higher up to play. You never know. We might still be capable of better. We're hammering them. Marvin is up for a corner, he causes a bit of mayhem and Lavery nips in with his head... It's inches wide. We'll get another, maybe 2. Possibly 3. 

Nothing. Can. Go. Wrong. 

They clip it forward. Alfie May. CJ is wrong side but he gets tight. CJ stays tight. May isn't phased. He rolls CJ like a rizla and blindly hits the ball into an area. Marvin legs instinctively goes to block. 99 times that ball cannons away. This 1 time it bounces, skips up, hits Marvin's leg at the perfect angle to richochet into the bottom corner. 

Silence. 

I actually can't believe it. 

C'mon Pool. C'mon. 

We've given a lot today. We've played well. We don't deserve this. We are looking leggy. Charlton are buoyant now. There's a football team lurking under the shambles we've seen for the past 68 minutes. Suddenly they look more likely than us. 

Our midfield dominance has faded. Why isn't Critch freshening this up? Hamilton hasn't had an attacking impact for ages. Kaddy now looks peripheral. Norburn and Morgan aren't snapping into it like they were. Finally Gabriel comes on. For Coulson? Why? I don't get that. Virtue (whose combination of forward thinking and aggression I think we really need) warms up but then doesn't come on for about 10 minutes. Charlton break on us after some really dicey play. Marvin chases back and makes an outstanding challenge in the box. Charlton fizz one across the goal line. Alfie May takes one down, spins and fortunately gets under it and I'm really not enjoying this. 

There's comically little injury time given the amount of sluggishness from Charlton at every set piece and the number of stoppages for their fouls. It takes us till 91 minutes to try chucking Marvin up front. 

The whistle goes. 

---

That game was like being at a great party where a power cut turned out the lights and stopped the music. We all shuffle out a bit shell shocked. Charlton fans get a bit lairy. I can't be arsed even looking at them. It feels a bit like reading a great book and then finding the last few pages have been ripped out. I can't quite figure out why we didn't refresh the players on the pitch and have a good go at a side we'd dominated for 68 minutes when we conceded. I can't help but wonder if having a player like Dale or Apter on the bench might have been the second attacking wind we clearly needed. 

Today, though, is not why the playoff are still frustratingly far away. Today is not why we're seeing the number of games tick down and the points we need per match slowly tick up. Today is not why we're somehow behind Stevenage Borough. Stevenage tho. Stevenage. We played really well today for the most part. Things conspired against us. The universe was not kind. The universe was distinctly unkind.

We need to play this well again. Then again and then keep playing this well until there are no more games to play. 

There's very little margin for error. There's no room for fear. 

Onwards

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Thursday, January 18, 2024

All goals are great goals but a Gary Goalie goal would have been the greatest of them all: the Mighty vs Nottingham Forest


Ok, let's do this. You don't want flim flam. This is the FA Cup and it's here and now. So it's into the car and it's the almighty noise of the Membranes as loud as the car will play them. It's the tower, shining in shimmering multi colour glory against a coal black backdrop. It's 1953 (and all that.) We're on fucking telly and we're in tbe cup still and we're going to win the fucking thing. Then we'll win whatever European shit we get entered into afterwards. Promotion? Who needs that mundane crap? Death or Glory awaits. No formbook shite, no crappy tables and fucking goal difference accountant wank.


Even Critch looked a bit excited in his pre match interview and didn't bang on about tough games and respecting the opposition. Kind of like I imagine he looks when he's changed the screen wash and has popped a new air freshener (restrained scent to avoid distracting odours when driving) in the Volvo and is looking forward to checking the oil. 

Literally, what's not to love about this? Team full of right wing backs. Super Sonny at the ready. Let's smash them dodgy green jumper wearing, Josh Bowler stealing, play off semi final losing impending Premier League charge victims into next week.


---

It's like an actual football match. Two proper sets of fans trading songs. Ice on the touchlines. A rock hard pitch and a Pool side snarling out of the traps. Ok, not so much snarling as doing a slightly cross face and going 'grrrrr' in a flat voice but we're definitely the better side initially, forcing them to kick it out of play and generally look a bit rubbish. Albie Morgan has a shot. All is good.

'They don't want this' I wisely pronounce and then they almost score, Grimmy sprawling flat to the ground to claw away a downward header.

Then they do score. A corner, a flick and someone in an absolutely outrageous amount of space taps it home. I'm not a defensive coach, but I'd imagine someone who was would say 'didn't quite get that one right chaps' 

Forest have grown into the game as a whole and generally keep us at arms length. Hubby and Connolly have not only got boots on the wrong feet but have possibly got each others boots on the wrong feet. The marauding centre back tactic looks a bit more like a strategy to release a couple of clowns up the pitch as they trade increasingly hilarious wild attempted passes. 

It's stodgy and frustrating. We're not rubbish, but we're nowhere near good. Carey isn't on fire by any means but briefly flickers into life, spraying a lovely pass wide, sprinting and missing the glancing header on the return. His flame is doused. CJ is peripheral and can't get the space to accelerate. Morgan has another shot but it's never ever going in. We're kind of chasing shadows. I can hear Critch saying 'good areas but lacking quality' as he always does when we can't make anything really happen. There's Marvin at the far post though somehow. Here we go... but there's the shot and it's whistled across the goal getting no touch.


---

Forest look better than us basically. 

---


I'm not really concentrating. It's cold and I'm thinking about my feet when I suddenly tune in to see that where there was seemingly nothing happening, Grimmy is now throwing himself at the feet of one of them and making a fine stop but the ball is breaking and it's a low, hard effort, Grimmy is totally bypassed and Marv on the line can only wave a leg at it, like a cricketer trying to defend a ball on the stumps with a thin garden came and the ball deflects off him and into the net. I've still not watched it back, but I'm assuming someone fucked up somewhere whilst I was dreaming of something else but hey, this is a blog about a dickhead going to a game, not a court of law so I'm fucked if I'm checking whose fault it all was.

Game. Over.

Except it really isn't. It's kind of just the beginning. Grimmy waves to the bench. He's been injured making that earlier save, his pain all in vain. Gary Goalie is coming on. I used to think Gary Goalie was just a reliable and amiable lad from Rochdale who we got cos he would sit on the bench without complaining. My view now is that Gary Goalie is some kind of hitherto unacknowledged creative spark cos basically, he enters, all reassuring height, stubble and sleeve tattoos, and it all goes mad. The man has short sleeves on like he's playing for Mexico and it's about the same temperature as Siberia. Love it. 

We chase, we huff, we puff. Then though, just as it seems almost inevitable Forest will score again , the ball ricochets around in the box and Albie Morgan whistles it home beautifully, a perfect connection, the ball rising into the net and lighting a fire inside Bloomfield that will burn for the rest of the game. Another fine goal from a young lad who is looking like an increasingly fine player. That's only the beginning of it. 

Critch is ignited too. He makes more subs. Attacking ones at that. Rhodes, Sonny and CJ hasn't been the most effective attacking triangle so it's Dembele, Joseph and Lavery to see what they can do. 

Now we're in business. Where we looked hopeful and a bit leggy, we now look precision engineered for a specific purpose, breaking with pace, chasing with intent, dangerously charging at Forest with the ball and snapping at them without it. Lavery is a wasp. With Joseph beside him, the pair of them become a swarm, Lavery all hustle and acceleration and Joseph flitting across the front line, a combination of rangy physical presence with touch, pace, skill and desire. Their relentless pace is greater than the sum of their parts. 

The crowd is here too. It might be half empty but the noise is worthy of ten of this season's league games put together. Gabriel is battling. Hey! Heeeeeeey Babeeeeeey! One tackle from behind is man is worthy of a place in our hall of fame, such is the timing and determination.

It would be impossible to sum it up chance by chance. I'd be here for hours. We just keep going at them. The noise rises. Forest are shaking. The momentum is with us.

Nice interplay on the left. Lyon, surging, has he gone to far? He lifts the cross, it's hanging and there is Kyle Joseph bundling the ball in. We erupt. There's a sideways surge into the empty seats on my row and I'm ten seats away. Yes... ! Scream in delight. Take a moment to soak it in as the occupants of the stand opposite go wild, our collective delight embodied, framed by the extremities of the stand as a picture of joy. Go again. Scream again. YESSSSS!

By now, too much has happened for me to keep listing it. An impression will have to do. It's end to end. There's runs down the left. Jimmy finally warming up and starting to flow. There's Dembele not quite pulling of some moments of magic, There's Lavery spinning his man and haring away. There's tussles and clashes and bookings and chanting. Glorious noise. Allez, Allez. For the first time in ages, the game has me hoarse, drained and happy. SEASIDE! (Barmy Army!) 

There's 10 minutes of added time. There's so much Pool pressure. We can win this. We nearly do. There's head in hands from what I can't remember because it's all a blur of racing tangerine. There a save or two from Gary Goalkeeper, one a particular good close one on an angle and there's Dembele... 

Oh, Kaddy. I don't think I can relive it. He's breaking... He's done his man, he's in... The keeper is coming and it's all set for him to slide it, or maybe lift it, or maybe shimmy and put him on his arse and then juggle the ball over him because this is Karamoko Dembele and he's so fucking good that he's not going to fuck this up and we're in the next round and... he's taken it wide. Why's he done that? Kaddy? Oh no. The chance has gone. 

I need to lie down. Oh, fuck. There's more. 

---

Take a breath. Wow. Right. More please. 

---

We get more. Some of the below could have happened earlier. Or later. It doesn't matter. This isn't about cataloguing the game in a spreadsheet. It's a night for the raw feeling of football. The loosening of normality as you turn into a bating and swaying animal, howling in desperation as Gabriel tumbles in the box, screaming for a hand ball moments after. Roaring on Joseph as he twists and bursts forward, a hurly burly mixture of brawn and skill. For the first time in forever, I'm not yearning for Jerry Yates. 

Morgan hitting it first time. OLLIE NORBURN STOP APPEALING FOR SHIT YOU HAVEN'T GOT AND PLAY ON FOR FUCKS SAKE MAN!. Marvin is playing beautifully. I know he's a chaos engine but he's by about a million miles our best pure defender. Jimmy stops one by basically lying down in the way of the ball. Jimmy has a fight with one of them. I don't care if he's not had his best game ever, Jimmy transcends mere football competence. Jimmy tries to trip one of them and it's fucking brilliant the way their lad rides the contact. You see quality in little things like that at games that you can't see on TV.

---

It's a dream. I love football. All of it. The fuck ups and misplaced passes and the way tired players on a cold night are all out of position and it's unravelling into a playground battle that is 30000% more engaging than all the precision tactics of a 'perfect' game because you can see yourself in it. You can see the football you used to play, wild and ragged and desperate. 

---

They're a rule breakingly expensive squad that can piss Josh Bowler up the wall and we're really not. We're just a bit leggy now and Forest work it down the right. The bleach blonde haired lad gets it in the box. His feet are quick. Ours are heavy. He squares it. Chris Wood. Gary Goalie can't get near it. 

Oh. Blackpool. My heart breaks. We don't deserve that. So much given and that underwhelming tun of the mill goal is the reward? Football eh? 

There's more. We're so tired it's painful to watch. Even Morgan can't pass it now. Everything is under or over hit. We're dead on our feet, but we're still alive somehow. 

Oh my fucking life there's OUR KEEPER UP FRONT FOR A CORNER. THIS IS THE BEST GAME EVER IN THE WORLD AND THE BALL HAS COME TO HIM!!!

Even Gary Goalie with all his game changing presence can't turn the magic of tonight into a full blown miracle though and whilst he gets to hack at it, it's quickly robbed, they break and have a shot from the halfway line but it sails wide... Their miss is greeted like a goal. Exactly as it should be. 

A free kick. Last ditch. I'm actually praying I think. I'm not doing it deliberately. If we score this, it will make a wonderful game last longer. It will add icing to an already fabulous cake. C'mon Pool... 

It's not to be. 

--- 


All I can sum up with is that football is often shit. It's often boring or frustrating or unsatisfying. Sometimes though, it's like nothing else in the world. That's the deal. Put up with when it's rubbish and sometimes it's the best thing ever. We lost, but I feel like we won. We didn't and I'm not being all 'football was the real winner' but there was noise and fight and blood and thunder and we took them to the line and we gave everything and more. Maybe football is just some stuff that we should enjoy and have a good time at? I don't just mean the fans. I mean everyone in the game. Fuck the league with all it's seriousness and tiered payments and empty, joyless treadmill inevitability and precarious financial implications for failure. It's football. Play to win and fuck it. Sometimes you don't. Go again. Sing. Let go. C'MON YOU POOOOOOL. 

Cup football is pure soul cleansing magic. I was wrong in the intro though. Tonight was both death AND glory. 

We love you Blackpool. We do. 

(Should bring Gary Goalie on more often.)


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Sunday, January 14, 2024

Content machine


Part 45 in a series of pointless barely structured rants pissing into the bleak death rattle wind of modern football. There is no whimsical CJ Hamilton based slapstick capers in here. Clear? Ok. Lets go. Don't say I didn't give you fair warning. 

This season is conspiring against me. Home games are comfortable,slightly fuzzy ambles to straightforward victories. Every time I go away in search of the slightly more edgy, electricity charged buzz of a crowd on its toes, we're completely shite. 

The dwindling magic of the cup has offered itself up, a tempting drink of hedonistic football bliss sipped from the bowl of the trophy itself. 

Best Forest and get Wet Spam away. Lovely. A trip to savour. A trip to anticipate. A day in the metaphorical sunshine of a us against them, all together in the battle, forget everything else, pent up tension, death or glory, tangerine noise everywhere around me, under my skin and vibrating to the very core of my being. 

Fucking ITV. FUCKING TV. I cannot go. I cannot even watch it on telly. It is not an option. It is physically impossible. I hate this season. The Forest game now feels less exciting to me. I'm selfish. I know. But the prize is not mine any more. It belongs to others. Fuck you TV. Fuck you Winter Hill transmission tower. Fuck you Midsummer Murders and fuck you Lord Reith. 

The manner in which TV has stretched the times when you need to be aware that you might need to make space in your life to watch your football team to 'basically any time you aren't working and some times when you are' is shite. I'd hate to support a Premier League team. Having a season ticket is essentially akin to saying to your friends and family 'nah, I can't arrange anything ever more than about 4 weeks into the future' because I have to be free Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday. I've got Thursdays now, but we're in the Europa League qualifying positions so don't rely on that next year' 


That's not healthy. League 1 might be largely bobbins, but at least I can usually say 'yeah, lets do that on Monday' or 'Thursdays or Fridays are good for me' and 'Sunday? Definitely' and even 'Wednesday, more than likely' if I have the temerity to want to do something other than watch the Mighty Tangerine Wizards in action. 

No fan in their right mind can think it's good to have games kicking of on Friday, Saturday and Monday nights. Much has been said, fuck all has been done. We just moan a bit and move on. The money you see. It's all about the money. The content machine consumes football, the content machine churns up football culture and smashes habits, patterns and behaviours of fans and spits filthy cash out the other end like a giant king kong type thing with a TV in its belly, eating people and shitting out pound notes. 


Now. Let me get on to VAR. (That's a shift isn't it? No, not really. Let me explain...) The idea of moving cup games to Friday night is a clear example of how those that run the game don't really care in any way, shape or form about the experience  of legacy fans such as myself and, I presume you. The inconvenience to us is justifiable because a TV slot brings in income and that is that. It doesn't matter that I or anyone else now can't go - the draw of the TV money is more important than my ticket revenue. 

VAR is, I am increasingly convinced, all part of the same thing. 

I don't need to write loads paragraphs about how it's crap if you're at the game because the moment of a goal (the very point of being at the game) is spoiled. We all know that. Anyone who in anyway understands what it is to be at a game as a fan knows that the tumbling chaos of spontaneous release is infinitely preferable to a cautious, polite applause and a wait to see if it is or isn't a goal. Everyone knows that already. It's so obvious it's painful. Pissing about with video replays fucks up the atmosphere and the atmosphere is the best thing about football. Loads of sports have skills. Almost no sports have the spectacle of a football crowd. 

It's not about crowds though. We're just background. We built the game, but we no longer own the game. It's owned by TV companies and they give a platform to nation states washing their hands of blood and laundering their reputations, global financiers, oligarchs and mentalist egotists. They own the game and we're just huddled in the stands, happy not to have been barred yet for a transgression of whatever the latest ground rule they've dreamt up to ensure the 'matchday consumer experience' is 'on brand' and 'consistent with the values of the club/league/football family' 

I'm getting carried away a bit, so the essential point I want to make is that VAR is perfect for the TV machine. The outrage from within it about VAR is faux or superficial. Why do I think this? 


Most people watching at home aren't like you or I. They haven't given up a day to go to the game. They haven't got cold. They haven't spent hundreds of pounds to tramp across the country. That's ok. I'm not critical of them. I watch football on telly too sometimes. It's allowed. It's an important distinction though. You and them. The fan who only consumes the game via TV in the cosy warm of their own home and you, the idiot, locked in to punishing schedule of trudging about watching your (often shit) team in the rain, wind and cold. 

Your TV fan can switch off much more easily. Ok, you can leave the game too, but as you've spent a bunch of money getting there and getting in, it's not such an easy thing to do and besides, if you've bought your ticket and had your pre match pie/pint, it's no skin off football's nose if you do fuck off early. You'll turn up again next week though. It's a routine, you see mates, you get to chant, shout, moan, barrack and from time to time, feel a kind of collective joy and belonging that you don't really find anywhere else. 

Football is often boring. I've been bored in quite a few games this season but I'm an idiot so I don't care. It is what it is. Shovel more boring gruel in my mouth. Next week/season/decade will be better. For the more casual TV supporter though, we need *incident* and *narrative* to keep them engaged and we need it now. Football itself is not enough. They have none of the incidental benefits of attending the game to keep them hooked. If they switch off though, it's one less viewer seeing the adverts and a blow to 'the global reach' of the game. 


Think about TV. 99% of football is broadcast on commercial channels. Eyes on the channel means eyes on adverts. Adverts means money. Adverts mean lucrative TV deals. Are we getting there yet? This is a conspiracy theory. It's all the rage. Call me Joey Trump and get me a tinfoil hat. 

Think about how football is presented these days. Hours of pre and post match coverage. Post mortems later in the week. Previews from several days before kick off. All of this is part of the media machine and all of this costs money. All of this requires content to churn through and the quality (i.e. the spiciness) of that content dictates whether people watch it. 

This is where VAR comes in. The poorest of games can become the hottest of talking points. The moments that define the season can be those which happen at Stockley Park and it is the TV viewer who is the prime position to witness them. Take any famous game of a pre VAR era and you'd say being at the ground gave you a privileged insight - in the post VAR era we could say that the TV viewer is actually, in some meaningful way, closer to at least one element of the game than the spectator on the terrace as their view of a VAR decision, the juddering, rewinding analysis and the frantic interpretation by pundits, is closer to what is happening in the VAR van (I know it's not a van but it sounds good) than squinting at a big screen or more likely, standing there in mute confusion and just waiting. 

Football is boring sometimes. There's not much you can do about that. Unless you inject some kind of system of officiating into it that heightens otherwise routine moments by subjecting them to the kind of ridiculous scrutiny that is almost guaranteed to create some kind of 'incident' where there wasn't previously one.  


Then, once we've had the moment of controversy, there's the fuel it brings to the endless round of post match debate, discussion and analysis. There's the decision itself, the role of the various officials, comparing it to previous decisions, decrying standards, consistency, rules, rules changes and so on. Then there's the potential for the heated debate about VAR itself which can be repeated and infinitum whenever we're lacking a bit of content. 

In other words VAR plays the role of some villainous character in a narrative. It is there to shock. To create moments of controversy. To outrage and provoke. Far from 'accidentally' ruining the ebb and flow of a game, it is an opportunity to fuel the ever more hungry fire of media attention. It is the talk in the talk show. It is the clip in the social media post. It is the opinion in the pundits mouth. It is the shot in the arm that brings something new to the ever increasing, attention colonising impact of football on our airwaves. 

Football itself has only so much space for ad breaks. The more the game gives the media outlets to dissect, the more ads they can show. The more ads they show, the more valuable the product is to them, the more they'll pay the authorities for the rights to show it. Who cares if it results in a shit experience for the actual fans. They don't pay for the clubs any more. TV does. Who cares if the game is reshaped and defenders have to run like penguins to try and accommodate rule changes every 6 months. It's just another talking point. It's just another 'debate' and debate means another show, another sponsor, another set of packaged clips banged out to provoke debate. Who cares if VAR hasn't actually sorted anything out and in fact, created a culture where everyone is now paranoid and talking of 'Stockley Park conspiracy' because actually, every fucker knows that anger equals eyes, clicks and replies and if football becomes another platform for one eyed rants and wild polarised takes, then great!


It's all so much better for the money people if we spend every fucking day of the week on this shit and if we're angry whilst we're doing it. Who wants to go back to the days when you could shrug along with 5 minutes of post game analysis that said 'these things even themselves out' and 'probably too close to call Clive, you could give it either way' and then get on with your life?

Where's the social media metrics in that? Where's the hype? Where's the fucking CONTROVERSY? 

The VAR genie is a malevolent one. It won't go back into the bottle because it fuels the machine. 

In other words. Fuck TV. Fuck football authorities and fuck VAR. Fuck the world where the actual quality and experience of anything is secondary to it's 'marketability' and nothing has any value beyond some distant balance sheet. 

Everything is synthetic. Nothing is real. Reality is far too chaotic. Synthesised controversy orchestrated for attention. Piles of filthy cash.

Lets talk about it. Lets have a debate. Lets have some callers. Lets spin up some clips and see both sides. On the radio, Robbie Savage and Chris Sutton actually kill each other. Their pretended matey passive aggression turns into a violent hate fuelled fight. You can hear the sound of their skulls caving in as they beat each other with their microphones, fuelled by the whole pointless emptiness of everything they are. It's better than the usual 606 to be fair. 

In the TV studio Gary Neville is making noises but it's just a kind of scratching and honking, like the sound of a dying seal. He's trying to vomit out some kind of pseudo moral statement but he just can't cough out anything that sounds like a word. Micah Richards can't stop laughing. He really can't stop. He's laughing himself to death on life TV. Roy Keane looks unsympathetic. That's his job. He says it over and over and over, like a robot stuck on a setting as Micah gasps hopelessly for air. He's drowning in his own hilarity.

Everything is on fire. It's all melting. Robbie and Chris and Micah and the Garys and Roy and everything. Your TV is heating up, it's shimmering there, a haze of heat and you're just rooted to the spot and there's a giant flash of light and now... 

There's nothing. Just silence. Everything is gone. 

ONWARD

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Yet another bad owner. Where do they breed them?

This is Brooks Mileson. He owned Gretna FC. If you don't know who he is or what the score is with Gretna, it might be worth giving it ...