Supporters always seek a little more, from the simply greedy chant of “we want seven” within seconds of the sixth goal to the utterly ordinary wish to enjoy 90-odd minutes of action after investing time, money and emotional energy.
Which brings us to Big Fat Sham Allardyce.
When he arrived in May 2007 I thought: “OK, his teams tend to be well organised, give 100% and make life difficult for their opponents.” We rarely got any of that. And what I hadn’t bargained for was the small-team mentality, fielding only one up front and hoping to scrape a draw.
I saw the epitome of Sam Allardyce’s negative tactics in a League Cup tie at the Emirates when, facing a severely understrength Arsenal, we played 4-5-1, surrendering the initiative before kick-off. Arsenal were awful in the first half, like 11 players who hardly knew each other. Because they didn’t. But we couldn’t capitalise, thanks to the man who claims managing Real Madrid would be a doddle. He had picked a team to keep things tight.
We held out until Nicklas Bendtner (honestly) scored with seven minutes left. Obafemi Martins laboured long and hard up front as the lone striker and was running on empty when he twisted and turned inside the Arsenal box moments later. Off-balance, he scooped the ball towards the net with Lukasz Fabianski apparently halfway back to Poland.
But what seemed to be the equaliser was blocked on the line by Philippe Senderos, an alleged centre-half whose seven seasons under Wenger undermine that man’s nickname of The Professor. Unless we are talking Mad Professor and Monsieur Wenger has a secret second career as a Guyanese dub producer.
Needless to say, Arsenal clinched victory with a deflected second in the 89th minute. Small wonder that four months later Allardyce was on his bike, to the chant of: “We’re s*** and we’re sick of it” from our long-suffering supporters.
In keeping with this season of goodwill I sincerely hope he achieves something that remains missing from his pompously inflated CV, namely relegation. Stick that in your PowerPoint presentation on sports science, alongside all those reasons that no defeat is ever your fault, while every victory is a triumph of management. Funny old game, eh? The mackem factor would only add to my joy.
So that’s my second Christmas wish, the first being three points for us against Everton on Boxing Day, with an attempt to play attractive football, something we were never granted under Sam Allardyce. If feeble excuses were ten a penny he would still be a millionaire. As he undoubtedly is, partly thanks to the generosity of Mike Ashley, not a quality normally associated with our owner.
My third wish is for three points at The Hawthorns on bank holiday Monday. For Sam Allardyce read Tony Pulis, another manager who finds no need to include entertainment in his footballing lexicon. The Tramp in a Tracksuit is rarely short of self-praise, in contrast to the views of an awful lot of posts from disillusioned Stoke City fans in the final year or two of his tenure.
If you thought Newcastle’s away matches were often missing the fun factor, imagine watching month after month of negative tactics under Pulis. Life turns joyless for even the most patient and loyal supporter when survival is the summit of your manager’s ambitions. One of my happiest memories of recent seasons was our Halloween win at Stoke in 2011, when we stood up to their thuggish approach and stuffed it back down their ugly throats. Do I mean you, Robert Huth? And the rest? I surely do.
At least West Brom will be unable to field kung-fu exponent and ex-mackem provocateur James McClean, a typical Pulis recruit whose approach would no doubt be called wholehearted by Baggies while every other football follower wonders how McClean manages to avoid a red card most weeks. Did you see that tackle against Bournemouth? For once, the referee got it right. Christmas came early with that dismissal.
Talking of refs, another festive request: could Robert “Bobby” Madley please be demoted to the lowest tier of the football pyramid, never to return? He’s no Bobby Dazzler. Truly, Deeply Madley. What a plonker.
While in charitable mood, perhaps I should nominate my second and third relegation choices; the first being that small team in Co Durham, obviously.
Villa look down and out already, a prospect that leaves me unusually ambivalent. I cheered when they won the European Cup in 1982, mainly because their hero that night was ex-Mag Peter Withe. On the other hand, my experience of the famed Holte End in December 2002, when Shearer won the points in the 82nd minute with a powerful header that might have come off his shoulder, was almost spoilt by the miserable hordes of so-called Villa supporters, many of whom had left when the score was 0-0.
And remember, they were still awaiting the dubious pleasure of David O’Leary’s management. Did you know his nickname was Jack? That would be because he was a jack-of-all-trades, presumably. No. The moniker was coined by his Arsenal teammates during a glittering career . . . with his “I’m all right, Jack” attitude allegedly the reason. The Villa supporters’ banners have prompted plenty of unfavourable comments this month but hats off to the memorable one they directed at O’Leary, which read: “We’re not fickle — we just don’t like you.” There’s a lesson there for all managers. Treat fans contemptuously at your peril. They might not pay your wages but they still have a voice.
So who would I like to see drop into the old Second Division with Villa and the mackems. Sadly, the likelihood of Chelski sinking without trace is too remote for even the wildest imagination. Happily, Bournemouth show every sign of surviving. They play attractively, have withstood an appalling list of injuries and show what is possible by allying determination to good organisation.
Like Carlisle United in their only season in the top flight more than 40 years ago, the Cherries lack a prolific striker. Unlike the Cumbrians, Bournemouth look likely to prosper.Good luck to them.
So neither Chelski nor Bournemouth for the drop. How many are in peril? The way this season is going, no team in the lower half of the league at Christmas can feel safe. Norwich? I’d be a little unhappy if they fell, if only because Delia’s recipes are pretty tasty. Swansea? Well, they can be incredibly boring to watch with their possession-is-everything approach. Risk-free can become shot-free. Southampton? Stoke? Not bothered.
No, what I really want for Christmas is the relegation dream double of Big Fat Sham and the Tramp in a Tracksuit. Two managerial Neanderthals eating humble pie. West Brom and the mackems to do the turkey trot. That’s what I call a win-win situation.
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