Something For The Weekend (237)
As the last day of the season approaches, when a few clubs will find out whether they are supposed to laugh or cry, the rest of us will be left to sift through the dross and the gold of the season and try and work out whether it was good, bad or indifferent. Most fans will have long ago put aside their dreams, come through their jeopardy unscathed, and just have to decide whether they love their team, any less or any more than last year.
Ever since this nation cast off its stiff upper-lip and stoicism, circa 1997, Super Sunday has been one of the great days in the football calendar, where we are expected to believe, that after ten months of seeing their team look totally rubbish, fans are reduced to tears by the shock and surprise of relegation. Suddenly, we are expected to a see fans who might have only seen their teams win, maybe half a dozen times, look inconsolable because they have lost again.
Personally, I don't believe it: relegation just wears you down and you get used to the idea. To the real fan, except when they are relegation virgins, they get used to the idea and I can't remember any fan of my acquaintance shedding a single tear, over any number of the relegations we've endured. Your team can be heroic losing a cup final but heroism and relegation do not go together. There might be a few heroes but over a season the guilty will be far too many to count. Money for nothing and kicks for free.
I've just been reading Adrian Chiles, who found himself snogging big Cyril Regis, when the Baggies made their unlikely great escape in 2005, and even he doesn't understand it. For the minnows, escape means they are celebrating the prospect of even more misery.
Even Blues fans, who this time last year were completely battered by their season of perpetual defeat, are wondering what there is really to cheer about promotion.
So even if the bloke on the telly does his best to turn someone's grief and misery into old fashioned entertainment, it will be just the usual artificial fluff and cack, which is a million miles away from the realities of the game and the experiences of the real fans. But what every fan knows, is that if they can give an Oscar-winning performance and look suitably grief-stricken, while thinking, 'My little doggy is dead', then they might just get on the telly, to the delight of their granny, and the haunting of their future lives.
This is the preferred image of football defeat, rather than kicking the heads in, of the opposition's tormentors, which at least has its compensations.
The true football fan does neither, and is a bit more like King Lear on the blasted heath, which for all those who find themselves allergic to Shakespearian quotes, roughly goes, 'Do your worst, you bastards, we'll be back'. As ever its the fans who turn out to be the real heroes and not the players, who will be reading their contracts carefully, to see if they have a relegation clause, which is a bit like a sanity clause.
But you can't fool me, there ain't no sanity clause, as the fans relegated on the last day, will come to realise.
If there was one, of course, it would be in the fans' contract not the players.
So come what may, on Sunday night, some fans will be looking forward to a season of invincibility, in the Championship next year, while the escapees will be wondering if next year's going to get any better.
By all stretches of the imagination and considering Villa's consoling aspiration to finish fifth, it would be a piss-poor result should they actually lose against Newcastle, the minimum result for the barcodes.
For reasons mostly to do with media-hype and unearned prestige, relegating Newcastle would offer further consolation to the Villa fans.
But, as proof that my faith has been slightly dented, I am not sure I would bet my own money, that Villa will reproduce the shock and awe of earlier in the season, even without the injury worries they have. No one needs reminding the manager and the players, that a win is essential, if Villa are to carry over this season's optimism and momentum into next season.
Whatever the result, the good ship Villa, will obviously be taken into dry-dock over the summer, for what looks like a much needed refit. The questions about Barry's future is still a problem and it sounds like Martin O'Neill will do everything he can to keep him but obviously, any indecision might get in the way of Villa finding a suitable quality replacement, if that is even possible. From Gareth's point of view, as suggested by O'Neill, it might be better for the lad, if he avoids too much upheaval while he attempts to help England confirm their place in the next World Cup.
This may be true but there's no hiding from the fact that Villa are going to find it hard to learn to play without Barry, no matter when he goes.
All the priorities surround whether Villa can improve their quality and whether the good players, they have, can be trusted not to take the piss, should, by the end of the season, they feel they are too good to be left out of crucial matches, when the power moves from the manager to the players, he needs to play. I think it is that factor which will decide who stays and goes, not the qualities the players are perceived to possess by the fans.
Its been a very decent season and one which looks difficult to improve on, considering the resources of other clubs.
In the meantime I'll just keep the faith and try to forget that it's also been a good year for the Noses.
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