SAFETY - inevitable

Thanks to Iain Dowie, last season’s must-use word was “bouncebackability”. This years’ is “inevitability”. Of course Tim and Helen haven’t got a competition to see who can spot this word being used in broadcasts, phone-ins and local newspapers. The reason for that is that Soccer AM is only 3 hours long. They are unlikely to have enough time for both unfunny am-dram pastiches, and for Tim to lech over a 17 year old Watford fan in a mini skirt, if they dedicated a due amount of attention to the number of times this word may be used about the Premiership title and it’s destination. But I am always exercised by quasi-philosophical premises as they realte to football. I am now going to muse upon “inevitability”, fatalism, escapism and cultural paranoia. So some of you, who are old hands, may want to scan below for a pargraph beginning “So what the fuck does this have to do with football?” and skip straight there – see you in a minute. For the rest of us, lets hold hands a minute and contemplate why Chelsea’s late winner at Wigan filled us with dread and ask ourselves “Is there anything I can say to myself that will assuage this feeling of hopelessness at the very futility of existence?”

Last night on telly was another of those nostalgia list programmes. You know the one’s I mean? “20 greatest goalkeeping gaffs”, “The Top 100 Albums of all time ”, “The twenty greatest movie cars”, “Top 10 lesbian snogs” (Okay, I don’t think they have made that last one, but you get the idea). This one featured the top 20 number 1 singles of all time “as voted for by you, the public”.

I thought it was odd they addressed me, “the viewer”, in this way. I didn’t vote and I neither own, nor have I ever bought, any of the singles featured. In fact, I confess, I disliked all of them. OK I could live with Fugee’s version of “Killing me softly” – it’s a less painful way to go than being trapped in a room and skewered with rapiers whilst listening to “Do they know it’s Christmas?” on endless repeat. The Righteous Brothers moaning about how some bird has gone off them (entirely understandable when you look at them) might once have been a most dramatic demonstration of the power of Phil’s Spector’s production technique, I grant you. But Tom Cruise ruined it for everyone – it should hardly be a favourite anymore.  Elton Johns reworking of “Candle in the Wind” to commemorate the death of Princess Diana is apparently being trialled by a clinic in Bern as an emetic. And Stevie Wonder’s “I just called to say I love you” is perhaps a very fine example of what is wrong with “you, the great British public” (of which I do not count myself a part, for the above reasons). That this tepid croon, with its ploppy bassline, is the only time little Stevie ever got democratic recognition in these isles of his undoubted genius is a travesty ranking alongside Manchester United beating Bayern in the European Cup Final (yes, that big – listen to “Superstition” and tell me I’m wrong). 

Pop music, as we know, has disappeared so far up it’s own arse that it is capable of licking it’s own tonsils clean. That there is a program, celebrating the 20 greatest number ones, that has even a single cover version amongst its candidates, is a source for deep despair. The way pop has eaten itself, shat itself out, and eaten that as well, isn’t just a symptom of what is wrong with the record industry but what is wrong with us all. That we are starting to be just a little bit too nostalgic because we think we know we might see if we look forward.

These “list” programs evoke in me a fin de siecle feeling by their proliferation. It is almost like someone in the Government said, “The earth is about to be destroyed by aliens. There is nothing we can do about it. Those of you not inclined to drink and fornicate with reckless abandon should therefore grab on to some image or memento of whatever it is you thought was best about living in Britain and clutch it to your bosom because the end of the world is, no better word for it really…erm… NIGH!”. I don’t only cite nostalgia programmes and incestuous pop as evidence. Take mainstream movies. Spielberg’s alien of the 1980’s was ET – a grotesque scrotum with a glowing finger and strangled adenoids who made people feel better. Now he remakes War of the Worlds – the post war fantasy of our impending destruction by an indomitable enemy we can never hope to placate (which was also once set to some of the most evil music ever written). Or the literary world. Our fellow Gooner Nick Hornby did a clueless schoolteacher who couldn’t quite shake off an obsession for a football team that he found tricky to reconcile with his love for a pretty colleague until us improbably winning the league coincided with his realisation that he wasn’t a kid anymore (sorry if I spoiled it for you). Fast forward to 2005. Hornby offers four more such “Crouch End” types. This time they are involved a suicide pact. Not on the same plane. Louis de Bernieres has sequeled the feel-good Captain Corelli’s Mandolin … with the harrowing tale of a forced mass eviction (and ethnic cleansing) of native Greeks from barmy Ataturks war addled Turkey. A wife is banished to a whorehouse to die of syphilis. A brother stabs his pregnant sister out of shame. The trenches of Gallipoli are graphically reconstructed. Armenian families are raped and shot in the head. It’s a pretty good read actually, but that’s not the point.

I think there is evidence (more than I can be bothered to dig up just now to prove the point) for an inclination towards fatalism in popular culture right now that I find distinctly odd. Because, far from the siecle being finished, a new one actually started, with a fanfare and some rather crap fireworks, on January 1st 2000. Why is it, 5 and a bit years into a new millennium, we are kind of going around still saying our goodbyes to the good old days. Is the future so bleak I gotta wear night vision specs?

September 11th (and subsequent atrocities) may take some of the blame. People react quite badly to being blown up, and worse to being told that there will be plenty more blowing up unless they fix centuries-old intractable conflicts instantaneously in one particular groups’ favour. And the end of the world is truly more imminent than we think, according to most scientists, unless we all buy pedal vehicles and start to ration breathing out. You can see how fatalism and escapism into nostalgia can be attractive.

They become more attractive when they make someone look prescient. If Australia had gone 2-0 up in the Ashes, huge numbers of Britons would give up watching cricket saying “I told you so”; just as the number watching Wimbledon drops when Henman succumbs. Less people watched the third and final Lions test as well. And I turned off the telly in disgust when Crespo’s left footer hit the back of the Wigan net. Now there were zero seconds remaining so it actually made no difference. But you get my drift. It all seems so bloody inevitable.

Before the season started 20 odd journalists and pundits, asked in the previous Sunday’s papers for a preseason prediction, couldn’t put any other club but those vile blues in the number 1 spot. That’s extraordinary. That’s Ranger/Celtic territory for the Prem. Are we entering a period of unprecedented hegemony in English football. Is the contest all but over after day one? Should we now start declaring a preference for the frenetic, erratic and crazy unpredictable game they call “Cricket”?

There is some hope. Alongside these crappy list programs on Sky One is another one called The Premiership Years. Most of them of course feature a United cruise to the title. But a particular favourite was on the other day – The 2001/02 season. I’m sure you don’t have to try too hard to cast you mind back to the day you read that a Manchester bookie had paid out before the end of the season on United winning the league. February or something. Only an errant and arrogant fool starts to fold his program and look for the exit whilst Dame Kiri is still mid-aria.

Fact is that there will be a certain amount of inevitability in most of our games – shit, we’re so much better than some of the teams we share a division with it isn’t even funny. But that predictability is not as crucial to the overall title as it can appear. What we now know about the Premiership is that the destination of the trophy actually depends on a handful of absolutely vital encounters through the season between a couple of top clubs. It might be won in the end by the team with the most consistent form statistically. But psychologically the damage gets done in big bouts mano a mano. And they in turn affect form for the next few weeks. The memory of a defeat, or a narrow win, or a lucky draw, will be enough to give one team the lustre of champions-elect and another the tarnish of also-rans. And this lacquer will last both of them until the next encounter no matter what the result of games in between. I know this is to be the truth, thanks to a dark and rainy day in Old Trafford last term. You doubtless have your own epiphanies you can reference.

Rather joyfully our first such showdown is next week. I say joyfully because, even though Arsenal losing feels like a ruptured spleen, I’d still rather watch Arsenal win a game we’re not expected to win than watch any other performance by them. And despite a poor effort on Sunday Chelsea (who look to have itchy arses from the chafing of those laurel leaves they’re sitting on), we are underdogs. I can’t predict the result (although I’d hazard a guess at a low score draw). One thing I do know already though, is that next Sunday is probably our most important game of the season. If we don’t get a good result, you’ll find me down at HMV, wearing a solar-powered chemical warfare outfit, looking out a copy of “Arsenals 50 greatest goals” on DVD.


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