Thursday, June 20, 2019


POSTFAC50 -2019

"Nearly Home" by Mark Nuttall ( )
The mood felt pinched and tired. People walked away slowly, all hunched shoulders and slack limbs. There were murmurs of discontent amongst knots of ragged-trousered youths and a robust woman with bleached hair was haranguing the crowd about unidentifiable this and that, her face reddening as her dress rode up on her ardent hips. It hadn’t meant to feel like this. Not at all like this. With the sun out and summer approaching, City had just won the treble, the unprecedented treble (quadruple if anyone could stretch themselves to actually consider the God-forsaken Community Shield as a bona fide trophy) and all anyone could think about was how the man from the New York Times was going to portray the scene. I turned in early, worried sick that the morning’s headlines would be about Sportswashing, Financial Doping and Abu Dhabi child camel racers and not a historic, sun-dappled 6-0 F.A. Cup Final victory over Watford. 

The next morning dawned damp and reassuringly grey. Gray, as the New York Times would probably call it. It felt better, more solid, less frivolous. The previous day’s achievements had happened after all and we had made it through the night with only the slightest pause to remember those that laid the great trans-Siberian oil pipelines across the Russian steppes (pray for Skovorodino). Kevin de Bruyne had stepped up and helped soothe any lingering thoughts of Financial Fair Play and what a proper response to the growing Yemeni civil war might be. Carol (name changed to avoid trolling) was waiting for me in the kitchen with a fragrant pot of coffee and some hastily scrambled eggs. “Have you seen the papers,” she asked, looking as sheepish as an intern at Michel Platini's offices on the third floor in Nyon. “You’re going to need to sit down…


Reel around the fountain. Cruise about the canalside. Fling your chips in the Rhodadendrons. Swear at the moon. Watch Eden Hazard do keepy-uppy before a crowd of 55,000 hanky-carrying Madridistas 
His hair is Harlow gold. His lips a sweet surprise. He's pure as Chadderton snow. And he's in the know. He'll expose you. He's ferocious. He's got Philip Green's hair. I could still hear the music now. Images of Monsieur Platini, a football man in a football job,  ricocheted around my mind, the man whose belief had brought us super-elastic Euros, Qatar World Cups and FFP, quite a night's work for a simple ex-midfield prompter from Nancy. 
Where to start?

I was nervous and, after pushing them to and fro a little, couldn’t eat much of the eggs. Their electric yellow hue reminded me of City's kit at Highbury that time, before the clouds drew over the sun and the temperatures dropped, when we could turn up in London and quietly watch a 4-0 thrashing in an embarrassing shirt and leave without anyone making the slightest point of it all, before everyone started reading up about net spends and other uninteresting football gimmickry, when standing up inside a football ground didn't get you shunted out by an over-zealous fat guy with bad breath in a florescent bib. It made me wonder what kind of teenager, in love with the sport, watching with awe how his heroes move and glide, collecting his stickers and plastic coins, avidly reading his magazines and gazing at his array of hastily hung bedroom posters, can end up feeling propulsion towards murky accountancy practices, profit and loss columns, transfer percentages and amortization issues. The coffee tasted bitter, just like last gasp victory always did to the vast rump of City’s bedraggled, argumentative support. Fanbase, as the people in the know like to call it in these enlightened times. Where to start on a morning like this? Samuel? Taylor? An easy introduction to the day. Or do you wade straight in up to your thighs and see if there is any forward momentum to be found? Herbert. Ladyman. McDonnell. one of the unhinged chaps in Brazil. Ogden even. Dominic King, that man with the side parting from Kicker Sportmagazin, Jamie Paradise and his ratings from Gomorra were all waiting for me. A phalanx of Mirror columnists were there too, breathing heavily through their open mouths. I could almost imagine their tiny lungs rasping in the cold morning air. Even Duncan Castles was a possibility if only you could locate his platform. Just where was the Highland Enigma transmitting from these days?
Well I wasn’t going to, but I made myself start with the coffee, bitter as it was, then the cold sad eggs, then a quick glance at Twitter. A thing called “Rob Pollard’s Beswick Troll Farm” was the talk of the town, an item sounding so glorious, so unfathomably beautiful, I dropped everything and glazed over, imagining how such an organisation might work, with its army of slightly scruffy-looking lank-haired interns pressing buttons and pulling levers, running around in circles and starting right back again, pointing and thumbing through dusty ledgers, answering bleeping handheld devices and looking pensive for hours on end; scouring Marca's web pages, getting into arguments with bright young men on Twitter called @MoSalahPickles and @JesseMoves, squinting at Google Translate's version of Der Spiegel's latest grande exposé. It would be something akin to the inner workings at Charlie’s well-known Chocolate Factory, but instead set by the Bridgewater Canal in a dark recess at Potato Wharf that smelt of spilt Boddingtons and hastily prepared gravy. A rabbit warren of profligate souls, who were hell bent on living forever. Truth on steroids. Storytelling through a kaleidoscope. Manchester City's very own hastily assembled Veritas Pipeline, held together with Prestwich rivets and little adhesive patches from the Wienerbergers in Denton.     

Political jingoism, tawdry pornography, paltry pop tunes, Talksportisms and BetFredery was all I had to look forward to as "Carol" tugged at my pyjamas and tutted, "They're on back to front again"
Knee jerks. Premature ejaculation. Evangelical story tellers. Bullshittery, badinage and bravado. Our team’s bigger than yours. The Comprehension Gulf, the banter valley, the memory holes and the truth dams. And now - with the occurrences in Madrid - we were preparing for a bewitching new front: the Parade Accountants, operating in their very own netherworld of whispered innuendo, wrapped in whisps of blood red pyro smoke.       

In our threadbare state, we unfasten our belts, breathe a little, bloated as we are on our everyday diet of plums and prunes. We stand on the brink of a dystopian future liberally bedecked with squadrons of fairy-tale weavers. An apocalyptical codex of half truths, massaged facts and a hundred and three shades of the very same colour. A whole country waiting to be led by Boris Johnson, sullying the earth with his cloven hooves and his white socks.  

How does one count the heads at a parade anyway? Do they count double if they are carrying lit pyro? As a half drunk superstar player, is it acceptable behaviour to carry on waving your medals when the bus has veered unexpectedly into one of those empty side streets that Sky News cannot film successfully? And where the hell’s that big bruiser of a press officer when you need her to get rid of all these cloying members of the public?
For those still harbouring enough energy to be involved in professional football, either employed in its vast, sprawling, burping and belching industry or following it semi-avidly through the prism of your ever-shrinking bank funds, a labyrinthine maze of moral questions and artfully flavoured junk food awaits you. Your social conscience travels with you, as does a vague smell of yesterday’s man. Can you reliably and immediately quote your club’s most recent financial results, net spillage of bodily fluids at the camel racing at the Al-Wathba weekend meet and how many entirely organic but ultimately futile crosses Arsenal put into the box against Burnley on Matchday Sixteen? Do you wisely and sensibly possess words to express Benjamin Mendy's transfer fee in real terms? Do you know how to assess John Stones' image rights and what kind of counterbalance in South Korean battery sales Ed Woodward needs to construct to pay Jesse Lingard's weekly purse? Can you extrapolate the likely number of Wan-Bissakas Manchester United would have to buy before someone hinted at market inflation or how many trillions Real Madrid would have to leak before it goes beyond the realms of "explosive buying power"? 

If your moral compass is spinning, it’s because there are no Stanley Bowles, no Robin Fridays to hang your thoughts on these days. No Bank of England Clubs in Islington, on Wearside and by the Mersey anymore, no Rio Ferdinand transfers to ogle at. Phil Thompson’s nose still protrudes into a number of avenues it hardly recognises the scent of and we have the crapulous remains of modern day savants like Dean Saunders to wonder at, but all in all, that day is done, that mule has bolted, those avenues closed, that little road barracaded off with a hand-written sign and a line of plastic tape. Frank Worthington’s lascivious half-grin down a young reporter’s cleavage is no longer. Frizzy-permed superstars kissing concrete-smile politicians no longer cut the mustard.
Stan Bowles wears Umbro.
The mere mention of Top of the Pops will have social services around to your flat with an Early Response Unit bearing tasers set to medium tan. Can we even utter the words Dave Lee Travis anymore without some sort of comeback? It might be wise to check. 

When Sammy Nelson pulled his shorts down and showed his bottom to the North Bank faithful in 1979, there was a giant burp of indifference in response. No Twitter witch-hunt took place and nobody combusted on the spot with righteous indignation. A photograph eventually surfaced of him arching his back for effect, a woman and a small child caught at the front of the terracing pointing at him while wide-mouthed and absolute glee playing across their faces. The contrite Irishman was banned for two games for bringing the game into disrepute. Today we are left with the dilemma of a man the Internet christened the Wank Buddha. 
I digress. There are more pressing matters to delve into than Sammy Nelson’s buttocks.

We are in the middle of a process to kill the game of football once and forever, reduce it to its lowest common denominator, rid it of upstarts and dreamers and repopulate it with comfortable certainties like Manchester United and AC Milan, Juventus and Bayern, institutions that don’t make you sit up in bed in the middle of the night wondering whether you closed all the windows downstairs. Permament reminders of how our grand game used to be, with its Van Bastens and Charltons and its throaty Kop roar of “Dugleesh!”. This is what poor beleagured Monsieur Platini was trying to save for posterity, for prosperity, a football man with a football plan. 

I mean where do Manchester City fit into all of this, with their paltry Cup Winners Cup from the back of beyond? The Cup Winners’ Cup, literally a cup for cup winners. Imagine that! You could draw Famagusta or Stromgodset or Valetta or Linfield, but just what was the point? It made for absolutely execrable tv (unless the good folk of Windsor Park rioted) and Heineken were not in the tiniest bit interested in forking out on a drink sensible message to wrap around dilapidated grounds populated by a few men and children from the banks of some detached village halfway up a storm-lashed fjord. Even worse, what if you drew Barcelona or Benfica in the first round? You were gone before the sponsor money kicked in and with no UEFA Cup or Europa League to “drop down into” once you’d failed your first examination. Those income streams just dried up there and then. An impetuous slight to all those big clubs who deserve to be at the top and to stay at the top because of their inherent bigness. Real Madrid at Cardiff. The indignity of losing in a place like that. It should never happen again. And if you did happen to win the Welsh Cup, then the twelfth qualifying round of the Intertoto should realistically have awaited you, not a crack at one of The Untouchables. Never again must we go back to those tawdry sights and sounds. Real, the upright Javier Tebas’s favourite team, attracting white hankies by the thousands if they lose two games on the trot, must be protected. Their explosive spending this summer already stands as grand testimony to all that is good and proper in this world. 

Franco's little gems still get bigger crowds to watch Eden Hazard sign a pretend contract than for Getafe in the Cup and that is exactly how it should be.
And then our beloved Independent press has been rubbing shoulders with the Saudis.

Will this have an effect on FFP and sportswashing? Will Arsene Wenger still be able to talk about Financial Doping © without the risk of legal action? Can the Greed is Good creed be maintained when City pay Bolton Wanderers for a teenage starlet who they could have swiped for free? And all this without sparing a thought for Venezuelans, for the confused folk in the Crimea and indeed the poor people of our own bejewelled islands, preparing for Boris to usher in the era of speaking tongues, where you can happily say nothing three times over by way of explaining yourself.  
Who would have guessed that the road to Barnhill, a soggy, peat-infused bog by all accounts, would lead through Fleet Street, Salford Quays, Plaza Maior and a number of other football industry outposts? Writers with putty pens, squadrons of soothsayers and naysayers, believers of the alternative fact and the unquestionable truth, the inalienable clarity of what we see to be true, are lining up to fill any gaps in our understanding with material neatly sourced, cleansed, buffed, rejigged, reassembled, rethought and counter-thought, polished, rinsed, shredded and reconstituted for maximum effect.

As Kellyanne Conway, Donald Trump’s plasticine-faced counsellor, might have told us, you believe what you want, but here’s what we’re putting out today and if enough people swallow it, it’s true. 

Oafish populism is all the rage and in the weird world of the web, a number of truths can come together in the battle for legitimacy. The football press is but a tiny, insignificant shard of the main story, a burgeoning market perhaps, but still just a machine for taking our dulled minds off the main course of how our lives are run and manipulated from above. Football is an entertainment industry now, as the affable Señor Tebas’s cheap peddling of his protectorate to the highest bidder capably illustrates.
It is an entertainment, our entertainment, built up into something that it isn’t: a megalith of power and lust, a world that matters so much people fight and lie and start wars; an arena that attracts oil barons, petro states, super- and supra-accountants and petty pilferers, liars and dreamers, dubiously dressed American hedgefunders, talk show hosts and royal princes, who support Aston Villa, We have been alive to witness a journey from Eddie Large to Usain Bolt.  

In between we have witnessed the gradual takeover of pseudo-football men like that shower at Newcastle, the
inert Derek Llambias (** "whose experience of the entertainment and bread industries – it says here - dates back literally decades") and his oily sidekick Dennis Wise, men who invariably know what's what.

To challenge this new status quo of sporting intelligentsia, who tackle the complex mental pipelines of the modern game so that we can avoid migraine, is to risk ridicule, be cast out, have spotlights shone in your eyes and water dripped up your nose. You are asked out to explain yourself, the literary version of an imbiber’s fist fight outside the Dog and Duck, to reveal your sources, to produce proper proof that your own doublespeak trumps theirs. It is only football, but you need linkage to doctorate levels of knowledge in race relations, Middle East history, the great human migrations of our times, the Portuguese slave trade, financial service regulatory measures, Russian militias, Lebanese civil wars, global warming, Humpback Whale breeding patterns and an intimate history of the influence of Beatrix Potter on Harry Redknapp’s Portsmouth spending policies and how Michel's FFP is just here to help.
Mind-blowing the tools you need to survive on the internet these days. But we are in luck. For all that we need is thus proffered. From whence we glean, more bursts forth. The very internet that trips and tugs and ensnares us also provides us with the answers, all the answers, seventeen answers to the same question and all are correct.

If the Man From the Independent is telling us that Manchester City Sportswashing is the major story on the day that the club completes an unprecedented treble, then so be it. Until the Man From The Guardian tells us it is not. And the Man From The Daily Record tells us that it is. And the man From The Mail on Sunday tells us it isn’t. And so on up the hellish hill of nettles and brambles, fog and mist, smoke and mirrors until we get to the top which is the bottom which is the middle. It is down to us simple folk to work it out for ourselves. We are the last and the least of men. As we rub elbows with the world, ashamed at our inability to express ourselves better, understand these niceties more clearly, argue our points more lucidly, we must realise our simple prosaic words often fall short, the workings of our troubled minds leave us with a less than complete picture, our idea of balance departs as soon as the first shout of Cheats! goes up. Our simple grasp of facts may serve, our fragile attempts to accept others' criticism may hold a while, but in the end, well, the flesh is weak and the facts are there for all to see and interpret. Our response, shallow and one-eyed, brings down the wrath of Hades, the judgement of the Gods, a swift editorial from the desks of the New York Times. Bias carries us away to the netherworld of internet trolls and the dank corner now knowingly labelled Man City Twitter.    
Trump’s assertion that “what you are seeing and what you are reading isn’t happening” fits the bill nicely. It could have been John Aldridge or Stan Collymore or The Honourable Member of Parliament for Tatton or Almost Anyone Else. It could even have been Me. Or You. Woe betide you say anything, however, from a dainty platform of 43 followers on Twitter. Or 445. Or 5466. Or from some obscure underdeveloped platform deep inside Facebook or Instagram. You need weight to have gravity and you need gravy, tons of it, to have weight. You need numbers to export your version of the truth. You cannot just Rusholme-waltz your way into the big boys’ cocktail party and simply spout off. You are weightless and almost soundless, the shrill yell of your issues making a vague hissing sound in people’s ears. Reject the evidence of your eyes and your ears and listen to this from our award-winning podcast instead. Close down your paltry speech bubble and lock into this, the widest-spreading banter broadcaster in the western hemisphere. It will make you feel both good and bad, both clean and dirty, but it will not leave you a disbeliever.

And maybe we are sponsored by a betting company, but be responsible like us and you won’t want for attention and nor will your views lack likes.
I could tell you at this point that Kenny Clements was my uncle or that I was brought up with Yaya Toure in the sun-cracked fields around Bondoukou or that Steve Daley is living in Minnesota as a six foot call girl named Rachel McMinn or that pep Guardiola is definitely still signing for Juventus even though some outlets are saying Sarri, some photos are saying Sarri and some people at Juventus are saying Sarri. Perhaps we should all say Sarri once in a while. I could expand quite happily on any of these threads until you go away from here thinking to yourself, “I learned something new and important today”. Or I could just be wasting your time, as I have been for the last ten minutes or so. Just words, stacked one after the other in an untidy order just coherent enough to follow, carrying just enough hope of logical conclusion and release at the end to persevere with. Phil Foden to Juventus, you heard it here first. Sarri is the hardest word. 

You still here? Incredible.

George Orwell’s demise, in the darkened living room of Robin and Margaret’s farmhouse on the northernmost tip of the Isle of Jura (at Barnhill), surrounded by a fug of cigarette smoke and paraffin fumes was not in vain. Out of that crunchy typewriter came words and thoughts that still resonate today, perhaps more than ever today, thanks to the Mountain of Disinformation that our institutions have now constructed. “In Versionland we can measure our power by the number of people who subscribe to our version of the truth”.
John Aldridge and Stan Collymore tweet irregularly and sometimes incoherently to a cumulative total of over one million people on Twitter. Likewise large chunks of Nick Copack’s amazing BBC Sports Website goes out to 8 million people. Trump himself, the real king of DoubleSpeak, is followed by 61 million. Even Orwell’s O’Brien would have had difficulty disguising his astonishment at what we have achieved. 

Has our mistrust of establishment sources reached levels that go beyond simply Orwellian? Should we all just listen to Quack News Broadcasts and be done with it? Saturation point is, like everything else in here, where you personally feel it. When those accused of peddling fake news then use the term against purveyors of actual news, who is there left to trust, where is there left to hide? Do we stick resolutely to the words of Edward Waxley-Arnold (even his name is fake for God’s sake) or of Khaldoon Al Mubarak or of Michael Gove or Martin Samuel? What of that podcast that inspired tears and recriminations? The book review full of recycled banalities? The 6 o’clock news happily juxta-positioning experts' straight talk about what the European Election results mean (good for us, bad for you, bad for them and good for them) with the death of the last known Orangutan in Madgeburg Zoo? Should a news programme be called the Kay Burley Show?

Maybe the Daily Star had it about right when it ignored the plight of the Yemeni homeless and instead posted a full page story on how much Caitlyn Jenner spent on sexbots last year. Only the Daily Star never mentioned that. I made it up. We are Nearly Home.  

BBC website celebrates the new season's fixtures with an image of last season's champions lifting the trophy.

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