Something For The Weekend (112)
By Steve Wade
I thought I'd stepped into some kind of time-warp this week, as a series of events began to give the distinct impression that I had woken up in the Eighties. There was Lord Tebbit on the box crying crocodile-tears over the poor and offering them relief by abolishing inheritance tax (sic). Then I got my Boden catalogue and there they were, selling my old wardrobe, at eye-watering prices, from cords with turn-ups, to floral-pattern shirts, with even some flowery stuff for the ladies which wasn't black. All this and an expression on my face I did not recognise and which had to be identified by a colleague (it was smug apparently) because Villa got a point at Chelsea, had me thinking I had gone back in time. It was only that I still have a face like a bag of spanners, and my mirror has the awful habit of telling the truth, which stood as certain proof that I was still in 2006. But obviously I couldn't resist playing a few tracks by The Cure, on one of those quaint old-fashioned cassette thingies.
I realised I wasn't alone in my confusion when Villa signed Chris Sutton this week and Stan Collymore said he was still as good as anyone and was ready to make a comeback.
I always thought Chris Sutton was underrated and never got the credit he deserved when he was Alan Shearer's partner at Blackburn. I even admired him, in my anti-authoritarian sort of way, when he refused to play for the England under-21's, which even I thought, was the manager (Hoddle?) taking the piss. Admittedly, he looked total shite at Chelsea but there are plenty on that casualty-list. His short career at Birmingham City, was not exactly brilliant and apart from him looking as stiff as an old man with a bad back in a cold wind, his ex-employers didn't have a good word to say about him - his refusal to attend the welcoming press conference, said to be typical of his bolshy attitude. Not to mention his high wages. He could be the new Peter Withe and he's not totally dissimilar but as much I admire Martin the maestro, I couldn't help but dwell ruefully on Lao Tsu's utterances on the benefits of inaction.
As for Stan, its all been said before and too many times. But watching that thing on the box the other week, with Stephen Fry, on the ups and downs of bi-polar disorder (a scuffle at a Cameron photo-opportunity?), I couldn't help but think of Stan the unhappy man and wonder if he was in some manic deluded state, as he dreamt of glorious comebacks. And, as this ambition seemed so coincidental with the arrival of Merlin O'Neill at Villa, I definitely saw it as a sure sign of further proof that marvellous Martin truly is the Messiah, and here was a guy who believed that he could not only pick up his bed and walk but he would could put his boots back on again and start kicking some bottom. A fully-functioning Stan Collymore would be a miracle well worth seeing.
Another thing which is a real throwback to former times, is the rather strange and unfamiliar feeling of actually looking forward to the games. And I was rather taken aback by the real irritation I felt at the thought of not only the prospect of another festival of national vanity and delusion, which every England game entails, but the slight dread of a possible replay of the famous halt to the season, which killed off the hot form of the Mercer minors many moons ago (I wasn't there but it is one of the great what-ifs of the last century). Last season, every single one of such breaks, had me hoping it would allow one of many injured players, to get fit and make a difference. Times have changed and now I dread some Dumbo in the back-four might drop his magic feather and come crashing to earth. Its being so cheerful, that keeps me going.
I am not sure, but surely there must be a chapter in that book, Is It Just Me Or Is Everything Shit?, on England. I know some people held a few grudges against the Swede but I just put that down to too many unhappy experiences with self-assembly furniture and perhaps he comes from a nation who treat their asylum-seekers rather too well for our liking but I still haven't bought the idea that McClaren is going to make a difference. And that trick of his, of taking the job and then sub-letting it to Venables, was a bit too much like buying half the Villa team off-the-peg and pretending he had created something. I am just not convinced. I can't say I am happy with the whole business of scapegoating Beckham either. It just seemed like it was the price the press had demanded for their co-operation in participating in the charade that things had really changed. Or perhaps more sinisterly perhaps it was the players he was appeasing? But there seems no logic to his total exclusion. I just see the same set of weaknesses, as are apparent with all the ex-coaches of Ferguson's, when they become managers. His choice just seemed like one of those expedient, politically convenient appointments, which the FA have burdened us with, time and time again over the years. They never liked Sir Alf and their choices have too often had very little to do with who is the most likely to bring success, ever since. I just see him as a puppet and it always seems likely that he will court the press and no matter how off form Rooney is, or how much of a liability he is, he is always going to pick him, rather the player in form. If you combine that with the pundits' and commentators' determination to make out that a team, which seems to demonstrate the exact same weaknesses it had a year ago, has somehow been transformed, then it is hard to regard the whole farrago with anything other than regretful bemusement.
But as long as Peter Crouch is in the squad - it will be compulsive viewing.