Are you familiar with the feeling, upon waking, of considering one state of affairs to be the case, and then remembering that indeed things are much better than was first considered? For those of you who toil, I would imagine that this sensation would be encapsulated by rousing oneself for another day at the soul-sucking grindstone, then suddenly becoming aware that it is in fact a Saturday. I woke up a few months back with the grim impression that on the previous evening, well lit-up from a fine brandy, I had murdered a Tottenham fan from the village with a spade. Then I remembered that a chum had intervened before any fatal blow could be administered, and the lad was carried off to the infirmary, unconscious but alive. Blessed morning!
This week a similarly jolly mood gripped me. I am talking of course of the veritable hara-kiri that Woolwich inflicted upon ourselves against Olympic of Athens this Tuesday last. It is an annual part of being an Arsenal fan. Much like the spitting out of one’s cornflakes when the announcement of cash reserves is detailed in the newspapers; St Totteringham’s Day; Vieira Saturday, which always comes some time in early September when a ridiculously avoidable defeat happens because we failed to control the midfield; or the end of August festival of Nostrika, when we are informed that no strikers were available to purchase with clockwork regularity.
This depressingly familiar loss ranks alongside such Arsenalesque classics that we recall with an almost wistful nostalgia such as losing to that team of Greek part timers, PAOK Salonika, whose initials stand for Perhaps Arsenal Ought to Kneel. Last season’s revolver-to-the-temple 3-1 loss to a Monaco side who were so poor they should not only be banned from all of that Principality’s wonderful card rooms but publicly hanged. PSV Eindhoven. The 0-3 reverse to Sciatica Prague. 2-0 away to Duisberg over 50s. 1-0 to Antwerp Ladies. 3-1 at home to Lippstadt Wednesday. I may have made some of those up but you get the point. Truly, we are the Stoke of European football; occasionally something comes off, but on the whole, a poor, dismissible, shabby, apologetic excuse of a team. Unless of course there are points for guineas in the bank. In which case we are world class.
We should not ponder on the multiple reasons for defeat. I do not even blame poor glove butler Dai Ramsden and his clownish goal-line clottery. He seems like a perfectly good chap, but is as much of a glove butler as David Cameron is a vegetarian. He reminds me of that holiday barman who keeps getting one’s drinks orders wrong. Quite why we purchased one of the greatest glove butlers the Premier League has ever known only to leave him on the family pew for a game in which cheap goals had to be avoided is beyond me. Perhaps the manager has come to accept that we cannot ever make a significant dent in Europe, and is merely saving our feelings by throwing the match? It truly is a puzzling conundrum.
Yet somehow we seem to make it through to the ‘knockout’ stages – most aptly named for us, because that is precisely what happens to us every year. So, ladies and gentlemen, I urge you to embrace our total incompetence in Europe, indeed to insist that our ineptitude deepens, that we lose home and away to Bayern, and we finish bottom of our group. This would be a merciful outcome. To be disabused of the notion that we can do anything other than flail hopelessly against greater opposition than Dynamo of Zagreb and Olympic of Athens before St. Andrew’s day would be most satisfactory. To be deposited into the medieval horror of mediocrity that is the Europa League would be worse. Chiefly, because our European ineptitude would remain, but also it would add further gnawing distraction.
We could then concentrate on the top division of English football, a competition that almost by default we seem to actually be in with a chance of winning this season. Chelsea are pleasantly imploding, like an empty can of cheap lager in a vacuum (which is essentially what they are) and the usual suspects – Newton Heath and the Abu Dhabi Vulgarians – looking ropier than a piece of rope in a rope emporium on national rope day. Our ramshackle, top-heavy, overbalanced team of pirouetting Fancy-Dans might just have enough to at least make things more interesting before Whit Monday especially as we hopefully will have jettisoned all delusional hopes of European success some five months previous.
So to the arrival of Herr Van Gaal’s league-leading half a billion pound’s worth of rotters on Sunday. Who knows which way that one will turn out? Will Mr. Windsor insist on the players wear dinner lady tabards and ballet shoes? Will we play a WM formation? Will Francis Jeffers rise, vampire-like, from his coffin to come on in the 70th minute? Will we play a glove butler at all? Who knows.
All I know is that I agree on this point with the UKIP wingnuts: We are better off out of Europe.