(or Never Say Never Again)
I know, I know, I shouldn’t be here. I went out in a blaze of celebratory glory in May. A few parting shots dispensed, a few home truths told, a sprinkle of positivity to conclude and I was gone. If I’d been a character in EastEnders, that touching, syrupy version of the theme tune would have kicked in just as you read the final paragraph and I’d have been on my way to that far-flung outpost of Man-ches-ter where all folk who depart from the environs of Walford dwell.
To say I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of good will towards Dispatches since writing that ‘valedictory’ post would be an understatement. I never realised that so many people actually read it, let alone enjoyed it. However, I can’t say I’ve overly missed the weekly splurging of my thoughts on here, or football for that matter, since then. Life has just been too busy. Nina is at the ‘glowing’ stage of pregnancy which actually means she’s passed out snoring beautifully on the sofa halfway through episodes of Breaking Bad and Bonnie has sussed her parents out to such a degree that her bedtime is increasingly impinging into our evenings as we play the Sirens’ song from O Brother, Where Art Thou? over and over in a desperate attempt to induce sleep in the little monster.
So, with the mewling and puking of Junior Junior on the horizon, what exactly would compel me to inflict this weekly torment upon myself, my family and you for the next forty or so weeks?
If anyone’s to blame it’s my mate Pete White who has already featured on this blog before. Like me, he’s a Spurs fan but don’t hold that against him. He’s also a town planner. I repeat, don’t hold it against him. As a consequence of his job he inevitably likes things ordered, uniform, neat. Sadly, because of geography we don’t meet up as often as we’d like but whenever we do we inevitably end up talking animatedly about the great love of our lives – football. When the retirement of the blog came up, Pete pursed his lips and scowled. “You can’t give up now,” he said – he sounds like an intelligent Johnny Vaughan if you need a frame of reference for his actual voice. “You started it during a World Cup, so it stands to reason, you should finish on one. It’s all about the four-year cycle. All football fans know that.”
Pete, you see, is a cunning man. He knows I am afflicted with slight obsessive compulsive tendencies with regard to things like that. And although, I could just post occasionally over the course of a season and alleviate some of this ridiculous pressure I put myself under (all self-inflicted, I know), I’d come to look upon such a relaxed, sane venture in the same way as I still twitch involuntarily at the thought of my incomplete Football ’87 Panini sticker album. It would just bother me beyond distraction. I have itchy, sleepless nights over such inanities and I’m too emotionally attached with these idiosyncrasies at this stage in my life to try and eradicate them with a trip to the self-help section of my local Waterstone’s.
So, if you do have an issue with the return of Dispatches and feel aggrieved that you thought you’d seen the back of me, send me a message and I’d be happy to pass on Pete’s e-mail, mobile number and home address so you can lodge the appropriate complaint. He’s probably well-seasoned at deflecting this kind of anger in his job anyway.
So, moving on. I mentioned earlier that over the course of the summer I hadn’t really missed football. Did anybody for that matter? Because it seems to me that football hasn’t really allowed any of us to take a break from it. It’s been exhausting. I’m in no mood today to tackle the repugnant circus that has revolved around the phantom transfers of Rooney/Bale/Suarez as I’m sure you’re as weary of the whole lunacy as I am but the regular dissemination of non-stories by the mainstream press and the willingness of amateurs to further propagate this tittle-tattle has been irksome. And if it’s not that, it’s the rumbling shambles that parades itself as the Qatari World Cup. Or something of equal distaste that makes you want to shake your fist at the world like the weary teacher out of the Bash Street Kids. On the plus side though, Mark Lawrenson’s been given a lesser role on Match of the Day, so we should all be thankful for small mercies and victories against the machine.
I guess that paragraph neatly encapsulates why it is I’ve done a volte face. When I said I was happy to quietly watch matches from my sofa this season I genuinely meant it. I wanted to be the moving-contentedly-into-middle-age fan. I wanted crisps and slippers and low-level grumbling about the state of punditry on BT Sport. But I’ve also realised that the act of writing about football has become inexorably part of the way I personally engage with the game I love and hate so much. And as someone who struggles to articulate verbally what is in his head, this thing I do here every week, weirdly stops me from living too much within it. To make a specious analogy for the sake of paying tribute to one of my favourite actors, this blog is Dr Melfi to my Tony Soprano (may you rest in peace, James) – although I can categorically confirm that I have never been had a steak thrown at my head by a lover. You know, it’s my therapy. With football. And some politics. And Chas ‘n’ Dave on occasion. With or without readers. It’s also much cheaper.
So here I am proclaiming mea culpa. When I do actually retire from this again, it will be quietly. There will be no grand announcement. There will be no curtain call. And there will most certainly be no encore. It’ll be just like Paul Scholes. And that’s no bad thing.
Until then, I’ve got a few things I need to get off my chest. And I’ll be starting next week with you, stats fetishists. This is going to be fun, right? Right?
My name is Greg. I am a football blogger. I owe my wife ten pounds.
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