Cormac and I enjoy wide ranging conversations on our evening dog walks. He’s nineteen now and in common with most chaps in their late teens is a wealth of fascinating knowledge and dubious facts. Spending his life at the hi-tech coal face of information technology and being a ‘stuff’ magnet he has learned and read up on loads of stuff. Much of this he likes to share with me whether I want to hear it or not. Sometimes his subject matter is about as grounded as the flat earthers and evolution deniers with whom I entertain myself on Twitter, but just occasionally my ears prick up as he drops an intellectual stone into the pond of my thoughts and I stand momentarily entranced by the ripples as they spread and dissipate across the still waters.
Yesterday evening he was telling me about one of his favourite e-sports which he abbreviates to ‘League’. He was discussing the rapid growth in the game’s popularity and the financial rewards available to the world’s best players. What made me sit up and take notice were the parallels between his world and my own. So often these seem simply not to exist. The very best players enjoy only a short career at the top, he said, because the mental strain and sheer hours of work involved in getting good enough to compete are not sustainable. Most of the top players have to earn their corn on streaming websites after retirement – the e-sports version of the pundit. The difference being that these guys are widely loved and respected.
The biggest similarity between our two sports however turned out to be the fans. He was bemoaning the change that has come over followers of ‘League’ since the big money rewards began to flood in. Whereas folk used to be content to cheer and applaud, commiserate and admire they are now far more likely to deride their favourite teams and individuals if they fail to perform. E-fans have, it appears, gone from open mouthed astonishment at the skill of the professionals, recognising that no one not engaged in serious daily training and a dedication beyond the reach of most mortals could hope to reach such heights, to a snide, overly critical complaint driven appreciation of their efforts.
What galls Cormac most of all is the stay at home gamers who come up with nonsense like ‘Why did he try that move? Ridiculous, he should have done x, y or z instead’. These people have no clue what it feels like to play outside of their own bedroom, or to perform in front of an audience and with huge amounts of money and prestige at stake. No idea of the different pressures involved and no understanding of how much work goes into being where the professionals are. In short they are armchair managers yelling at their betters.
When I said how uncannily familiar his words were he asked about this strange three dimensional, tactile sport of mine. I outlined the civil war between fans and idiots and explained the terms AKB and WOB to him. He looked confused especially after I’d said that there was a third body sitting painfully on a fence of their own making imagining the slight elevation in some way equated to the moral high ground. These people like to shout ‘A pox on both your houses’ and suggest that the AKBs and the WOBs are as bad as each other.
How, he asked, can people who’s main argument is that a professional football manager knows more than they do about managing a professional football team be as bad as amateurs who think they know more than the professional? How can someone with no experience of management possibly presume to tell a top manager with years in the game how to do his job? And how on earth can those two opposing views be ‘as bad as each other’?
How indeed my son, how indeed.
Well, I thanked him for his thoughts and especially for providing me with those first and most difficult 668 words of tomorrow’s blog and we went our separate ways. Today is a sad day for us on PA because today is the first match in a while where we shall be deprived of the company of Mike and Kelly who flew back in time or forwards or some weird Star Trek shit as they headed home to Alabama. The first team were unbeaten during their stay, two draws and a win not a bad return, hopefully when they come back next year it’ll be at least three wins.
I see Man City did their bit yesterday stuffing Stoke four none to keep the thrilling end to the season steaming forward. I don’t know about you but I love this pressure as three teams battle to secure that vital third place and avoid the play off rounds which so interrupt the flow of pre-season. It lends a real tension to final few fixtures and neither Manchester clubs show any signs of letting us stroll to that all important guaranteed qualifying spot. To continue the game of leapfrog we’ve been enjoying with the blue half of Manchester we need to bring three points home from an away trip to a northern club managed by ‘Fat’ Sam Allardyce.
Never a prospect for the weak of knee nor trembly of tummy it is nonetheless an achievable one. The form table does, however, provide interesting reading. While we have only lost one of our previous six away from home, we have drawn half of those six games. A draw really doesn’t feel like enough today. Which is of course why hard facts are so much better than feelings. A draw would put us level with City and we still have to play them, so wouldn’t be a disaster at all. Like you though I am more human than Vulcan and cannot operate on cold facts alone. I experience football viscerally and a win would make me very much happier.
Sunderland are in a real scrap to save their premiership skins. They’ve only lost one of their previous six and that to champions elect Leicester City. Say what you like about the tactical approach of their manager he has been around the block a few times and anyone who thinks this will be a walk in the park needs a serious word with themselves. This promises to be just as tough a game as any we’ve faced recently.
West Brom may have provided the perfect warm up but thanks to the malcontents staying away the atmosphere was far better on Thursday night and that must have helped the players. The home fans today will create a cauldron of noise. A ref baiting cacophony in which our boys will need to keep their heads, their belief and their composure. I don’t anticipate a fast paced thriller. We will need to keep the ball and kill the atmosphere. They will press and harass and look for the quick counter punch to which fools think only Arsenal are vulnerable.
I wonder if Per was picked to give Gabby a break on Thursday. Maybe it was to restore some much needed calm and nous to our rearguard. I’d love to see him play again today because calmness is the kind of quality the very best bring to a game whatever the sport. Winning or losing, they keep their heads and keep doing the right thing. We as fans can lose our shit, scream at the telly and hide behind the sofa, because nothing we say or do ever has to stand up to scrutiny. The professionals do not have such luxury. Whatever team Arsène chooses today, whatever the result you and I shall remain resolutely behind the manager and players. This season may still have a few surprises in store and I for one am looking forward to them all.