In my pre match midweek blog I focussed on Aaron’s performance against Sunderland. I was able to do this because I had studied the game after the event with a particular eye for our Welsh Wonder and his contribution to the cause. I’ve long held the view that the heat of battle is not the time to asses either individual or team performances with too critical an eye, a fact emphasised by our very own Arsenal Andrew on Thursday morning after the Greek triumph.
Certainly there is nothing wrong with excited reactions to a moment of magic or a goal – shared joy is joy enhanced and shared pleasure is magnified and that surely is why we all come here. However if you were defending a castle against the besieging barbarian hordes in fear for your pigs, chickens and your husband’s life you probably wouldn’t be in the best frame of mind to judge how well your archers were aiming their bows. Every wasted arrow would seem like a disaster, each drop of hot tar which failed to land on the bonce of the bloke on the ladder a hugely wasted opportunity.
Only after the event could you see how, in the scheme of things, the flying arrows and the pouring pitch all helped to dissuade the enemy and actually a few of the defenders on the walls put in some fearless and life saving performances with both sword and shield.
Don’t rush to judgement when your blood is up. That’s all I’m saying. Wait until the result is known and the dust has settled and have a look in calm sober earnest at what actually happened. You’ll find that when you’re able to sit at the back of the armchair rather than the edge of it that perhaps we weren’t in quite as much danger as you originally thought. That maybe the lads were playing with steady professionalism and not a lack of verve, or that the luck we rode so perilously in fact amounted to no more than our opponents badly missing a couple of half chances.
If today Petr Čech makes a fine save after we are outflanked or a penetrating pass splits our defence, he’s doing his job so why not applaud him? Why bother wasting your breath saying how ‘a better team would have scored there’ why turn what is in effect a positive into a negative? All you do is show yourself up and waste your equanimity on unnecessary anxiety.
Please don’t misunderstand me I get just as jittery as the rest of you when the match is in full swing. I too exaggerate the importance of each missed pass or lack of control, each attack snuffed out by an opposition boot. I just don’t see the point in sharing that lack of faith or parading my mental weakness.
Imagine, if you will, our players shared such a tendency to rush to judge themselves. On Wednesday Mesut attempted several through balls which either fell short or were read by defenders. What if he’d let his head drop with disappointment, decided he just wasn’t up to the job because things hadn’t worked out for him. I am much happier that he just kept on doing his thing, knowing that over the entire game only good could come from his persistent harrying of the Olympiacos defence, continually testing them and pushing them onto the back foot.
I don’t know how the manager prepares his players to maintain their belief to the very last kick no matter what. Is it down to his work on the training ground or does he recognise mental strength in the players he buys and nurtures? Do they even care about the armchair managers and twitter experts? Do they hear the groans, read the bullshit? If so does it anger them or do they simply shrug it off as so much pointless white noise?
It is a human trait to believe we know more than the people actually doing the job. I’ve experienced this in my own life on more than one occasion as I’m sure have you. Back when I was a labourer mixing muck for a couple of stone masons, we’d sometimes have customers come onto the scaffolding making ill informed criticisms of the work in progress. One even picked up a spirit level and tested the upright on a door frame. It hadn’t even been secured in place but that didn’t stop this chinless buffoon from pontificating on the out of centre position of the bubble. I recall the builder I was labouring for, without hesitation, dead-panning a reply, “Oh that’s a broken level mate. We only use it as a straight edge.”
I learned then the best answer to theses so called experts is contempt. When I ran my own bar, which I’d done with varying degrees of success for thirteen years, I learned to cope with the ‘experts’ on the other side of the counter who loved to tell me where I was going wrong. In the early years any sentence beginning “You know what you ought to do Stew…” would drive me to fury. One night I even invited the bloke to come round behind the bar throwing my keys at him “Go on then, show me how it should be done” In time I just learned that it’s easy to sit on the outside and peer through a crack in the curtains seeing the flaws in a small part of the scene within. Better surely to accept we know so little of what goes on and simply revel in the good bits, non?
I intend to revel in everything that goes well today. Enjoy the adrenaline of the occasion and reserve deeper judgements for when the buzzards are feeding and the corpses are being robbed on the battlefield. Like everyone else I’m subject to the preconceptions that because Villa have had a poor start to their season and we have been flirting with the number one spot we ought to put them to the sword in no uncertain fashion. I am, on the other hand, fifty two years old and have seen enough football in those years to know that is bollocks.
There is no must, or ought, or should, or will about a sporting encounter. There is too much human nature involved when twenty two blokes (twenty five counting the all too significant officials) take to a rectangle of turf and play out a game of skill and chance. I’m happy to say we have enough to beat them. That seems uncontentious. We have enough players. We have enough experience. We have enough nous in the management team. We enough skill, talent, ability call it what you will. Then, we had enough of all that against West Brom. Bayern had enough of all that when they visited the Emirates and look how that worked out.
Let’s not allow ourselves to get hung up on predictions any more than knee jerk reactions during the game. Why not just enjoy the match as it unfolds? You don’t pick up a book and spout off to your mates how it’s bound to be a brilliant read with an exciting denouement and some great characters do you? You read the bloody thing first and then make up your mind.
Now, I know what you’re thinking . What the Sam Hill was George thinking of giving the match previews to a man who won’t make sweeping predictions? To someone who uses tea bags and cannot therefore even read the leaves in the bottom of his cup? Well, all I can say is we like to do things differently around here.
The closest I’ve been to prophesy in recent times was when I told you all how good I thought Joel Campbell might be and how concerned I was that he might not get enough games to show it. After his Bergkamp like cool in the Olympiacos area to bring down the high ball hold it up with quick feet as he waited for a runner and then slide rule a reverse pass of such sublime beauty that I dribbled my camomile tea down my frock shirt, I might have been excused for feeling a little smug. Of course I didn’t because predictions can just as easily go wrong as right.
The only man I listen to when it comes to reading the bones is Mel O’Reilly who has correctly intuited more final scores in advance of the match than he’s had celebrities in the back of his cab. The rest of us mere mortals are not possessed of his gifts and should content ourselves with gathering our chickens into their little wooden crates and cheering on the blokes on the battlements.