THE weekend was the fucked up world of modern football in miniature. It was like emptying a bucketful of Lego and watching a load of millionaire players, skint fans, selfish powerbrokers and clueless pundits tumble on to the carpet.
What is now the bastard son of the national sport went into bullshit overload – managing to serve up so much jaw-dropping madness in two days that it’s difficult to know where to start.
How about the FA Cup Final? Once upon a time, the showpiece – THE football match; the season curtain closer. At 3pm. On the last day of the season – when else?
Those old enough will remember the drill – a full day in front of the box watching the build up; the team coaches leaving the hotels, the players in their suits checking out the pitch, smiley-faced fans wearing over-sized rosettes and ex-players turned pundits all having a bit of a laugh.
Now? It’s just another match. Tucked away at 5.15 a couple of weeks before the end of the season to meet the whims of foreign TV and suited-up vol-au-vent munchers without a care for those that provide the colour, the noise, the atmosphere and the occasion – the supporters.
On paper it was Mission Impossible for Wigan Athletic. Nobody gave them a chance. These days it’s all about the money – even the analysis. How – went the wisdom – could Wigan possibly compete with Manchester City, the richest club in the world?
This, after all, was a club from a rugby town with the smallest wage bill in the Premier League – City’s salary pay-out is more than five times bigger than The Latics. It’s a club that can’t fill its own stadium, never mind half of Wembley.
Thankfully, Wigan don’t care about money or sniping from those outside of their Greater Manchester bubble. And why should they? Their fans didn’t ask to be housed in a 25,000-seater stadium every other week, so why are they criticised for it?
Their players displayed the same attitude on the Wembley pitch. They looked and acted like a team as opposed to City’s dispirited bunch of expensive individuals.
There was something heartwarming that in a game graced by global stars on eye-watering wages, it was Callum McManaman, a Scouse winger rejected by Everton, who was the stand-out performer.
And so it was Wigan that lifted the famous old trophy and climbed the Wembley steps, yet their triumph – the biggest shock in the final since 1988 (like we needed reminding) – was largely overshadowed by the latest spin of the managerial merry-go-round.
Is Roberto Mancini’s departure really big news? The Italian has been dragging his bottom lip around all season. No inside knowledge was required to see relationships at City were not what they should be. Wigan was the story to raise a smile yet the football world doesn’t want that. Conflict, outrage and breaking-fucking-news is the order of the day.
When you’ve gone dramatically backwards like Mancini had – eight points worse off, 26 fewer goals, goal difference down from plus 61 to plus 30 and the title all but lost in February – it’s not really a surprise that the axe arrives from a club aspiring to be the biggest in the world.
And why the cry-arsing about City approaching Manuel Pellegrini? It seems some feel the need to defend Mancini and decry City’s actions. But let’s not forget Mancini was recruited without Mark Hughes’ knowledge. And he was also happy to speak to Monaco last season. This is how modern football operates, a sign of the times.
So too, it seems are plastic flags. Not only – as now is the norm – were they dished out at Wembley before the FA Cup Final, but Manchester United also distributed them for Alex Ferguson’s Old Trafford farewell.
Have we really reached the point where atmospheres have to be generated; where fans have to prodded into action to show some form of support?
Ferguson’s goodbye seemed bizarre from the outside. Hardly a song aired featuring his name and a plea – almost a warning – that United’s fans must get behind David Moyes. Perhaps it’s a hangover from the Glazer ownership debacle. After all, many United fans – rightly in my book – still bear a grudge that Ferguson has refused to denounce the American’s debt-ridden reign.
Ferguson walked through a ‘guard of honour’ on the Old Trafford pitch, as did David Moyes at Goodison.
This too, was all a bit weird. The Toffees are nine times league champions, a club that has competed in the top division for a record 110 seasons.
And here they were, almost gleefully handing over their manager of 11 years to Manchester United. The club has endured an 18-year trophy drought but surely it’s proud history dictates that it shouldn’t be quite so reverential to a man who is leaving them in the lurch for a rival.
But again – such is modern football. Fans now celebrate fourth, or staying up. Even topping a city rival is presented as success. Genuine competition – or ambition – is seen as crazy talk by too many. It’s a shrug of the shoulders and carry on regardless.
So thank goodness for Wigan, even if they have now gone down….
I think getting relegated in a standalone league game three days after winning the FA cup final which was just the late kick off to a full day of fixtures just about sums up modern, English, top-flight football. But whatever you do fans respect traditions because there are broadcasters all over the world putting this on. Do as we say, not as we do.
Chelsea actually looked to have taken plastic flags away with them to another big European final last night a year after making history and winning the big one, which can only be described as cold/sad/other words in the Henry Winter lexicon.
Excellent as always Robbo!
“Their fans didn’t ask to be housed in a 25,000-seater stadium every other week, so why are they criticised for it?”
They are criticised Gareth for not filling it on a regular basis…
And that’s my point – why? Clearly the capacity of the stadium is disproportionate to the support. Wigan fans themselves didn’t want the ground.
It’s a damn sight better than Watford’s though!
You have to take your hat off to Wigan though, they are not and never will be a Premier League side. If you think of the teams that are languishing in the Championship, even dipping into the third tier (I’m talking Leeds, Wolves, Sheff Wed, Sheff Utd, Forest etc) and there was Wigan for EIGHT years!
I’m glad they’ve gone though, I hate Whelan and them and Hull would have given United a 12 point, 20 goal start before we’ve even kicked off the season!