I grew up immersed in radio. Probably as a result of being brought up by parents who in their turn were raised during the medium’s golden age. As with many people of my generation I swiftly tired of the feeble and inane antics of the gormless, coiffured imbeciles who polluted the airwaves from the studios of Radio 1. It wasn’t so much their crushing insincerity which so turned me off as their obvious lack of discernment, knowledge of and love for music. The very stuff on which their careers depended.
There were always exceptions, usually shunted to the graveyard shifts and all of whom no matter how dedicated and worthy slid into the shadow of one truly remarkable man. John Peel wasn’t just ahead of the curve, John Peel often decided what shape the curve ought to be. He was also honest, unfeigned in his enthusiasms and scathing in his dismissal of the worst excesses of the industry he had graced with his presence long before I became aware of his work.
I am in fact listening to one of his broadcasts from 1981 as I write this and he has just effortlessly and with delicious, well judged perversity segued from Scientist Meets Roots Radics into The Birthday Party as only he could. This is courtesy of a rather splendid blog called The Perfumed Garden and if you’re a fan I suggest you have a gander.
I’m almost embarrassed to admit this but I often didn’t bother to listen to his shows in the later years. I would sometimes catch him on Radio 4 on a Saturday morning when he presented Home Truths but oftentimes was stupidly casual where his music show was concerned. I assumed, well, I suppose I just assumed he’d always be around and I could dip in and out like a kleptomaniac at a Wilko’s pick ‘n’ mix stand.
Of course Peely upped and died on us in October 2004 and I was bereft in a way no ‘celebrity’ death has affected me before or since. It was a salutary lesson. Nothing is forever, no one will be a permanent fixture in our lives. That which we enjoy today will soon be the stuff of fading memory. Much, much sooner than we ever imagine. Who, for example, could have envisaged that watching Tomáš Rosický as he pirouetted through and around a hapless opposition midfield and defence would already be just so much nostalgia?
Football is an especially transient business with individuals and indeed entire squads seeming to evaporate into the ether. Given that we have all experienced this time and again and given that we have therefore a sense of the impermanence of the component elements of that which gives us so much joy, doesn’t it strike you as crazy that we spend so much of our precious time arguing, haranguing one another and worrying about what the irredeemably irrelevant such as Piers Morgan might or might not have been saying lately?
Just because Arsène Wenger has been around since the Pleistocene I fear that many people may make the mistake I made with John Peel and simply take the great man for granted. Those of us who revere him, those who for their own tangled, deranged and unhappy reasons detest him, both like to indulge in heated debate about what will happen when he’s gone. This and most other silly disputes are simply distractions and if we spend too long down such rabbit holes we may pop our bewildered heads back above ground one day to find the Wenger era is suddenly no more and instead of enjoying every single last second of it we were down the pub when we might have been sitting at home with the radio on.
The current Arsenal squad is a case in point. Already we have witnessed passages of play and goals to rank with the very best that Wengerball has had to offer. That we might be witnessing something special is transparently obvious and worrying about whether the run can last or whether Aaron can regain his place or if Jack’s loan is a precursor to his exit or if Hector will ‘do a Cesc’ is the most idiotic waste of the moment I can image.
Now don’t panic I’m not going to give you any Mindfulness psychobabble about ‘living in the now’ I’ll leave that to the next David Brent impersonator you end up trapped with on a professional development seminar at work. I’m simply aware that we live in age of multiple distractions and it is all too easy to spread the jam a little too thinly. Often I hear people say they can’t enjoy the game for fear of losing and the resultant fall out with mates and colleagues. I myself have missed goals while furiously typing to nobody at all my thoughts on some irrelevant detail during the build up.
If we don’t enjoy every single second of Mesut Özil, every moment of a resurgent Theo Walcott because we’re too busy fuming at the brainless questions some semi literate hack spewed at Arsène in the recent presser then we will regret it. Trust me.
And so to today’s feast of football fun. Swansea have, lately, been like the head of a Playmobil figure trodden on by the bare foot of a hungover divorcee the day after his kids went back to their mother and Brian. In our last five meetings we’ve only beaten them once and in the last three home fixtures they’ve beaten us twice and drawn once. If you want to go right back to our first Premier league encounter with the chaps from Dylan’s ‘ugly, lovely town’ the stats show an absolute balance. A perfect tie, with both sides winning and losing seven and drawing two.
Can we tilt the see-saw our way this afternoon? Hell yes. Of course we can. Can they frustrate us once again? Well, it’s sport, everything is possible, no matter how apparently unlikely. I say unlikely simply because no matter how well Swansea have faired against us historically, this season they are on a dismal run of form. Taken over the previous six matches the form table shows us at the top and our visitors anchored to the bottom.
I have no clue what to expect from Swansea today. Their manager is untested in the Premier League but early indications suggest that he feels a lack of fitness to be at the root of their travails thus far. If so it seems unlikely such a concern can have already been addressed – these things take time. Also a side like Arsenal which often increases the intensity of their game the longer the match goes on is probably the last opponent Bob Bradley would have chosen to meet.
Performances following the hated international break can be patchy but are usually successful. Either way I intend to enjoy every moment. Each beautifully timed interception from Kos or Mustafi, each rapier thrust from Hector, every astonishing piece of control from Santi or Mesut. All of it, I will be watching as if it’s my last match, I refuse to be that guy who looks around in astonishment one day as he realises that the Wenger era passed him by. As good and as inspirational as this vintage John Peel show might be, watching highlights of an old game is no substitute for the visceral thrill of the real thing.