(Or The Loneliness Of The Inveterate Football Blogger)
Hindsight, so the saying goes, is a wonderful thing. I find that too kind a sentiment. I liken it more to being the last refuge of the smugly-inclined*. The erstwhile dispenser of opinion cannot predict the future and armed only with the facts can only make a judgment call within the parameters of the here and now. It’s much easier to pick holes in a theory after the event, once time has passed and matters have irrevocably proved you wrong. It is then and then only, that the commentator must exercise humility and acknowledge one’s short-sightedness, free of the braying of those who declined to put their proverbial money where their mouth is in the first place.
With that in mind, my criticism of Southampton for their seemingly insane sacking of Nigel Adkins in January was perfectly valid at the time. It did appear as if the club had genuinely joined the asylum. Mauricio Pochettino’s subsequent work however, has emphatically proven this particular naysayer wrong. And I couldn’t be happier with that fact. With each passing week, the club that were once famed for miraculous feats of relegation escapology refuse to accept their place in the Premier League pecking order with a style of play that rests solely on the implementation of Pochettino’s footballing outlook. They’ve already scalped Liverpool, drained Manchester United to within an inch of a famous victory and if they continue this form, who’s to say that some ‘big’ names won’t have to settle for Europa League football, or worse, come May.
The Law of Modern Football suggests that resources and wealth will dictate otherwise, but I’ve already been proven wrong once before and I can safely assume that there will be many a football fan across the land that will be rooting for Southampton if their position remains dizzyingly lofty as the season approaches its climax. I’m surely not the only one who is fed up with the League perennially being carved up between the moneyed few, with their waxed superstars and their geo-economic marketing deals.
Once upon a time, clubs from small towns did win things on a semi-regular basis. Wigan’s FA Cup triumph would not have been received with half as much consternation and jubilation, if it had happened before the Premier League Era. Undoubtedly, the triumph of this provincial underdog would have entered football lore regardless, but we live in a time when teams from the same division are so stratified that Wigan were written off even before a ball had been kicked. We’re not talking about Chesterfield here. We’re talking about a then-Premier League club. But the disparity nowadays is so marked that in some respects, healthy competition is thus rendered redundant. Are Crystal Palace really enjoying their return to the Premier League if all it will result in is nine months of abject humiliation?
I sometimes wonder if the Premier League would have been a more egalitarian place if Norwich City had not fallen at the final hurdle in the league’s inaugural season consequently paving the way for Manchester United’s epoch-defining dominance. Probably not, but a roll-call of champions as diverse as Newcastle, Liverpool, Nottingham Forest and Ipswich seems a much more exciting hypothetical prospect than the same names year upon year.
These are clearly the musings of a fantasist. The world, as we know, does not function in this way. Football apes the mores of the free market and presidential elections are often won on the back of the vast sums donated by supporters of a particular campaign.
A moment of self-indulgence – it happens so rarely in these Dispatches that I’m sure I’ll be forgiven this one time.
On Monday, I surrendered myself to the deadly sin of vanity and I have been castigating myself because of it ever since. It was then that the shortlist for the Football Blogging Awards were announced and I found myself inwardly seething for having failed to make it, despite having given up my time and energy to pen a thousand words of content for their website in an attempt to garner votes. Stupid, vainglorious conceited man am I.
Have I not realised after all these years, that these kinds of awards are not judged solely for the quality of work produced but are decided by how many votes one can garner on social networking sites? It stands to reason that those with a larger following on Twitter will always receive the accolades and exposure over those who toil regularly with rare recognition and are read by a devoted few. I’m predominantly angry with myself though, for actually allowing myself to cravenly lobby for votes that I really shouldn’t care less about. After all, when I decided to come back for another season, it was because I genuinely love writing these posts and however arrogant this may seem, I wholeheartedly believe in the quality and variety of what I put out there. It doesn’t matter if they reach five or five thousand people. And I’m thirty-five years old, for heaven’s sake. Grow up, Theoharis. Just grow up.
Self-pitying digression now ends.
It’s only fair however, that the underrated, overlooked or just plain ignored are allowed their moment to bask from time to time. It’s heartening for instance, that the late Lou Reed’s departure was discussed in relation to his long-lasting influence on music rather than the units he never quite managed to shift in the world’s megastores.
With so many factors stacked against the underdog, it’s hard to therefore sympathise with Andre Villas-Boas when he chooses to blame Spurs fans when his side put in patchy home performances seeing as he has the combined total of over one hundred million pounds’ worth of talent at his disposal or when Jose Mourinho once again implies a conspiracy is in place to thwart him at every turn. Remember, these are the Masters of the Football Universe whining here. It’s like a Greek islander moaning that the temperature hasn’t risen above thirty-five degrees all summer long. What about all those tireless coaches, scouts and fans of ‘lesser’ clubs who carry on season upon season for little reward? And while the silverware more often than not is divvied up by a cosseted cartel of clubs at the end of the season, the influence of those unsung heroes is what remains the lifeblood of the game and the stories that deserve to be told every now and then.
So let’s hope Southampton continue to confound the experts and bloody the noses of the privileged in the process. Even if it’s just for the sight of Matthew Le Tissier reduced to schoolboy tears of joy on Soccer Saturday. And should I ever again ask you to vote in a poll that is so skewed in favour of the ‘popular’, remind me that that’s how films like Iron Man 3 or Harry Potter 7 will always triumph over films like The Shawshank Redemption or dare I say it, Citizen Kane in audience awards. And which of those have had a more enduring influence on cinematic history?
Now imagine, how different this week’s post would have been if I’d actually made the shortlist. I am an insufferable man, at the best of times.
* This rule does not apply to Piers Morgan’s campaign to have Arsene Wenger ousted before the season began. We must remind him of his folly often and with glee.
Further reading: Closed Shop: Why Big Nations Should Only Compete At The World Cup
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