Something For The Weekend (146)
A tragic week for football, what with Derek Dougan dying and Thierry Henry
absconding with most of Arsenal's hopes. Excitement grew at Villa Park when Martin O'Neill asked for the cheque-book but it turned out he only needed it to pay the milkman. All rumours of him signing a German called Müller, renowned for his corners, proved to be false.
As for The Doog, he seems to prove that when it comes to leaving your mark on the game, having a big personality is what matters. You have to be pretty ancient to remember him as a Villa player (even older than me) and to most he will always be remembered as a very decent goal-scorer at Wolves and wherever he played, his stats show a remarkable consistency. Some say he even played with Martin O'Neill at some point. He was certainly a tough competitor of the old school, when it was said to be a man's game. The very image of Seventies bad hair and dodgy moustaches, with the sort of elbows
just perfect for tickling the ribs of apposing centre-halves and he loved a
The guy had character with a capital 'B', as in barmy.
I didn't know him at all but as I come from an era when it was almost
compulsory for a shop steward to be Irish and the joint site shop stewards
committee meeting minutes, read like a Shamrock Club tote card, I should
imagine young Derek upheld the tradition with enthusiasm. This might
explain his rather curtailed career at Villa Park and the fact that he went
on to become chairman of the PFA. Add in a few haircuts, rather more
remarkable, in their day, than anything Beckham has ever managed,
and you get the picture. It was not a time when such wilfulness was
appreciated by most employers, let alone bastions of football autocracy.
He was never prolific for Villa but always hovered around double-figures;
he was popular with the fans nonetheless.
Some might say that his greatest contribution to the Game was through his role as football ambassador, which he fulfilled with charm and typical
humour. His willingness to meet fans and share stories with them, is a
virtue which is totally underrated these days and in my view does more to
promote the real meaning of the game, than anything the FA or the
Premiership are likely to contrive. He will be sadly missed and I am sure
that when his passing is marked at Molineux, the applause will be long,
enthusiastic, sincere and fully deserved.
Sixty-nine seems young these days but to die suddenly with your dignity
still intact, and avoiding any excursions into the twilight-zone, is not a bad way to go, if you have to go.
The departure of Thierry Henry from Arsenal this week saw the Premiership
diminished. Without doubt Henry is one of the finest players ever to grace
the English game and he took that special black thing to an entirely
different level. He carried on the legacy of Regis, Barnes, Daley, Atkinson and even Yorke, with aplomb, panache and the sort of style, a white boy can only dream of - as cool as a Miles Davis track.
Grace, pace, power, poise and vision - he had them all and then some. A
couple of seasons ago, he was possibly the coolest dude on the planet and a
worthy role-model for any lad with aspirations to be the man. He was for a while the Michael Jordan of football. A certain Man United player who has recently acquired a few player-of-the-year trophies for his mantelpiece, must realise that he only got them in Henry's absence through injury. And who's going to punish United now, I keep asking.
Just like the arrival of Sol Campbell shifted the balance of power towards
Arsenal in the Premiership, the departure of Henry shifts it away. This changes everything for the chasing pack and should encourage the likes of Villa, as they attempt to accrue those few extra, hard-to-get, points, which are the difference between Europe and mid-table mediocrity. Arsenal's loss, in fact seems to make all the domestic cups slightly more winnable for the
teams on the up but sadly increases the security of the unassailable
duopoly, for the title.
The only consolation to Arsenal fans is that it wouldn't surprise the rest
of us, if Wenger transformed another rough diamond, into the jewel in the
crown, just as he did with Anelka et al. One thing which was apparent about
Henry last season was that he seemed severely damaged by his CL final
and World Cup final defeats and too many times he gave the impression
that his head had gone. Suddenly the coolest dude on the planet took
on the look of a recalcitrant schoolboy trying to fool his teacher. He was and is a great player but more and more, in the really big games, he
looked like he found the responsibility too much. Perhaps at Barcelona, with most of the flash-bulbs exploding in Ronaldinho's face, he will find a role that suits his personality better. There's absolutely no doubt that he will miss the father-figure he so obviously found in Wenger. The loss of Henry is a grave loss but the loss of Wenger would be a disaster. I have quite an affection for Arsenal, as not only do they play some of the most dynamic football in the Premiership but they are one of the three clubs with a swear-word in their name; the others being Scunthorpe and F**king Man United.
As we enter July, the season edges ever closer, to when Villa's combat with Birmingham City will resume. I understand that Oxo are bringing out a
special novelty blue and white cube to commemorate City's return, which
is to be marketed as the Laughing Stock. Meanwhile over at St Andrews,
the groundsman has a bit of a worry, as the turf on the pitch is not growing as well as hoped. Sources from inside the club are quoted as saying,
that it should be okay once the season has started, as they will be
putting a load of shit on it every fortnight.
Oh yeah, and Bernard Manning died too.
There was this fellah, and he gets a job at the zoo. After a few of weeks,
the header keeper approaches him and asks him if he would shag the gorilla
for two thousand quid. Okay, he says, but I have three stipulations - I
don't want to kiss it, I don't want my friends to find out and could I have
a couple of weeks to get the money together?