Date: 21st December 2007 at 12:31pm
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Sympathy for footballers, Mr Creosote and Joey Ramone. What more do you need at Christmas?

There’s a light which never goes out.

As I dig out my collection of eating-trousers – my usual attire for the forthcoming fortnight of festive bingeing – and lay in a stock of bog-rolls, antacids and headache-pills, for the expected consequences, I start to think that it is actually one of the few times of the year, when it might be possible to feel a smidgen of sympathy for professional footballers. The modern player has an unimaginable capacity to fulfil an infinity of appetites but absolutely no license to do so. Just like Ricky Hatton, they must surely crave a binge now and again.

Caught, as they are, between the nagging demands of cravings, only known to those with rippling six-packs, and the tyranny of the weighing-room, they must either stick to their calorie-counted portions
of low-fat carbohydrate and protein, or face the year-long taunt of being unprofessional, should a blip be recorded in their personal fitness logs, as witness to their weakness for spuds roasted in duck-fat and the smell of turkey. So while the rest of us do our best impressions of Mr Creosote, our sporting heroes will be crying out for an extra protein bar and a top-up of their favourite mineral-water.

There’s a lot to be said for the pleasures of projectile-vomiting but what it really needs, is for someone like Heston Blumenthal, to develop a range of food and drink, which taste as good coming up, as it does going down – now that would be real progress and would make sensational TV. But in the meantime, lack of willpower notwithstanding, I shall be hoping to achieve some classic Christmas mellowness, rather than going for total crapulence and the possible risk of the stomach-pump, of previous years. Christmas is always best viewed from the gentle slopes of mellow alcoholic beatitude and you can’t beat that walk home from the pub or match, with just enough booze inside you, to give you a warm glow, and make the Christmas lights glister, like big Ron’s jewellery.

Occasionally there is a Christmas moment, when it is possible to love the whole world and wish it would last forever. Its quite possible to find yourself thinking – it will never be better than this – but I wouldn’t bank on it.

To achieve this however, will definitely require a substantial amount of cooperation from Villa and a win over Man City, will be a decent start. A loss or even a shabby draw, will go a long way to suggesting that Villa’s renaissance is not quite going to time-table and anything less than perceptible success will inspire jealous comparisons between Sven’s capacities as a re-builder of teams, and Martin O’Neill’s.

This time last year Villa were in the middle of a terrible slump. Right now Villa seem to be on the verge of something huge – huge possibilities of a return to a place amongst the very best, or huge disappointment. Saturday’s game will put under the spotlight, whether O’Neill’s faith in English players (Reo-Coker and Knight), is misplaced or not, and will offer plenty of evidence for the debate about whether, Sven’s preference for foreign players is the wiser option. You might say that Villa’s Englishmen, will be playing for the reputation of all English players.

The parading of Fabio Capello (Fab Hat) this week, has seen the start of the process of rebuilding national expectations of the England team. The gruff Italian provides the perfect distraction, from the main problem with the England squad; namely, the quality of the players, or even a huge deficit in certain positions like goalkeeper and goal-scorer. Fabio’s evident machismo, allows us to pretend that waving a big stick will turn ordinary players into world-beaters. Suddenly the Italian’s preference for strong defence, is being billed as a strength, where Eriksson’s preference was condemned as boring. Having slain the goose that at least laid the occasional golden egg and shot England’s Albatross, since hung around McClaren’s neck, we are now witnessing the less than subtle resurrection of our delusions. In May ’06 McClaren was recommended by Sven and described as ‘fantastic’ by Frank Lampard. Now virtually the same quotes are being reiterated about the new guy and we are expected to give them credence.

As expected, the root and branch reforms promised by the sinecurists of the FA have not materialized – bud and twig, more like. But there is no better person for dealing with the situation than Capello. It is a well known rule in business consultancy – the further consultants travel, the more seriously they are taken. Obviously, Scolari would have been even better because Brazil is further than Italy but Rome is certainly further away than Fulford, Yorkshire (McClaren). This means that Sir Trevor Brooking, who was born in London, has absolutely no chance of being listened to. In fact, Trevor was probably mad for even taking the job but he is from Barking.

Villa provide a very compelling example, for those who believe that too many foreigners, limit the chances of English players in the Premiership. Some might think that Gabriel Agbonlahor is lucky to find himself at a club who were willing and able to offer him the time to develop – a chance which might not have been automatically available at other clubs – and by the lad’s own admission, he has had to learn an incredible amount, to bring himself up to his present level. Plenty of fans would have opted to buy a ready-made replacement and would have denied the local lad his chance and England a future striker. Erdington’s very own.

If England do have a future, it looks like it won’t be rising Phoenix-like from the fields around Burton. Having already spent £20m on the project (‘England’s Fields Of Dreams’), it is almost certainly going to
be scrapped. Too far from Wembley they say, which actually means ‘too far for the FA sinecurists to travel’. This kind of proves what we knew all along, that no matter how many times Man United win the
treble, or how many times Liverpool bring home the Champions League trophy, the North, to the blaggers in blazers, still represents an uncharted wilderness of Dickensian bleakness. The main de(tractors) include David Sheepshanks, who, as a reward for bankrupting Ipswich Town, was handed the keys to the FA treasury and has been flaunting his lordly ermine robes ever since. Having business interests in the south-east (Suffolk Foods), obviously makes travelling to the depths of Staffordshire too inconvenient. With the future of English football being dictated by such base selfishness and naked self-interest, they’ll need more than a cultured, thick-skinned Italian to put it right. But we knew that already.

Where’s Doug Ellis when you really need him?

But forget all that, lets get back to being mellow.

Merry Christmas (I don’t want to fight tonight).

Sing it Joey!


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