I didn’t say “Football, bloody hell?”, it was “Bloody football is hell”

31 12 2018

Sudden changes of heart are nature’s way of reminding one that one is an insignificant carbon-based unit, and therefore whatever thoughts momentarily pass through one’s conscious mind do not really matter in the vast span of space and time.

For example, the sight of footballers limbering up in Glan Conwy’s brilliant October sunshine convinced me that I missed the simple joy you feel when playing football.

Anyone that has played football knows football’s wonderful sensations. The fresh air, the verdant grass, the sense of satisfaction when foot and ball connect perfectly.

I remember my memorable goals and mazy dribbles, my penalty saves and reaction saves. I can remember how my application of delicately graceful force once encouraged a self-opinionated winger to switch wings and the occasions when I felt like an unbeatable goalie for our six-a-side side. Football joy stays with you.

The pursuit of wonderful sensations kept me playing football, like the feeling when you find a teammate with a slightly difficult to see through ball, the feeling of curling the ball past a keeper or performing a wonderful save. There was also the esoteric happiness in blocking shots, cleanly dispossessing opponents and playing the ball out of defence with calm assurance (Not my words!).

It’s funny how the memories appear to you in a splurge when you are reminded of something. The sight of two groups of males receiving expert coaching was my gateway this time; Glan Conwy were doing the one touch piggy-in-the-middle thing beloved of Barcelona and Llandudno Albion were doing speed drills.

I felt the heady rush of knowledge. I could have done something at this level! Yes I could have played on a Saturday, had I felt like it. I was capable of playing the ball out of defence with a calm assurance (Not my opinion remember), I also had a keen sense of positioning.

I’m sure that I would have found a level, any kind of level. My memory tells me that I could curl a football like John Barnes, mark like Baresi and turn like Darcey Bussell and who am I to argue with that assessment? I am not the sort of person that gives out praise willy-nilly.

Within minutes of the kick-off a character-building change of heart happened. I was glad that I no longer played football. What does the fresh air and verdant grass matter when football still contains the process that turns yesterday’s joy into today’s aches; ankle pain, aching knees, sore back and nagging pains in my hand when it’s cold.

My feelings changed as soon as it became clear the technically advanced warm up hadn’t signalled the Welsh Alliance’s move to a more technical plain. Both sides still demanded that “big heads” were needed “on this”. I visualised my ankle giving way in the sticky mud and my hamstring going twang as I was outpaced by one of them tricky wingers.

I soon progressed to feeling rather glad about never playing on any Saturday. I just couldn’t imagine feeling any joy, I mean where’s the pleasure in giving up the leisure possibilities presented by the end of a working week so you can hoof a football clear or narrowly dodge a juicy whack to your shins?

My football career may have been helped if I could have been bothered with organised football but enjoyment seemed to be elsewhere. I didn’t fall through any metaphorical net, I was interrailing through Europe when the talent trawler visited.

I was already feeling like Proust before I saw the players warming up. The smallest details near Glan Conwy’s club house, the pungent smell of deep heat in the ether and the clumps of mud that fall from football boots, placed me inside that changing room of yore.

I could see the sunlight thorough the frosted Perspex slits at the top of the wall and the marks the door had made on the marble effect floor tiles, I could see the Sellotape on wall’s wood effect panelling and the jagged edges of the hole two thirds of the way down the door.

The smell of deep heat is the memory that connects me to past happenings most quickly; the crap banter, the unspoken competition about boot quality, the feeling of not feeling my legs after a hailstorm, the harsh cold gripping me after the first slide tackle in the rain.

I’d never really seen eye to eye with organised football. Two of my more palatable memories are the pitch I took to be a normal grass pitch in Bethesda, my foot sank into the liquefied soil and reemerged with a film of shiny brown liquid. There was also a school match on a day of heavy rain, a couple of us thought it would be a good idea to get used to the conditions by warming up early, obviously the rain stopped before the match and I ended up with a heavy cold.

I’ve always hated playing on teams with people I don’t know. I was usually sat quietly, trying to change quietly, as my more confident teammates treated us to a tirade of “humour”. I wish I had been able to affect an air of confident diffidence but I was quaking at becoming their target.

I must have been blessed with a little skill because I was playing for the side but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I didn’t belong. I had not received the subtle schooling of north Wales’ elite junior football so I failed to develop a cocksure air or taste for humiliation based humour.

My feelings have remained. Organised football is ill-fitting boots pinching your Achilles tendon, mud splattered cuts and omnipresent scapegoating, it’s a nebulous sense of honour that convinces someone to propel a fellow human through the air with casual violence.

Organised football is listening to an opposing captain’s passive-aggressive support of his side of thugs, it’s listening to opposition wind up merchants, the sour grapes of the defeated and “Oh it’s like that is it?” from an entitled nobody.

Organised football is the pointless effort to impress disparate people thrown together by the same colour polyester and  helping cocksure humiliation experts, it’s about protecting the honour of a group you can’t abide and risking injuries for people you can’t stand.

This thinking even seeped into my lowly level of recreational football. I once twisted my spine playing in goal one Friday after school, I have countless scars from sand infected grazes after years on north Wales’ heartless all-weather football scene. Social pressure eh!

In a cosmic sense, everything is balanced, I have coped without football and football has coped without me. I know that I feel more contented as “football watcher” than “football player”. 

This is what I love about football, it allows once the space to think contentedly about the world.

By the way, I don’t know whether Glan Conwy or Llandudno Albion won, I left for the bus stop at some point in the second half.

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Everybody’s welcome

17 12 2018

Technology provides a vast ocean of entertainment for our amusement and we respect the artistic process by deleting entertainment content from our devices in a matter of seconds, even Hollyoaks requires the careful channelling of creative energy to come into being.

There’s no point in complaining about our decadent arrogance because of the inevitable reply; “Mate, mate, maaaate it’s always been like this. There have always been trends, different fashions, different styles of music, different lengths of football shorts etcetera”. They can say all that but they can’t deny that there was a time when you were allowed to keep vinyl albums.

When Stewart Lee complained about “youngsters these days” in Content Provider his words resonated. When I was younger you couldn’t find the collected works of blah blah blah with a search engine, you had to make an effort, and have the right sort of friends with arcane knowledge, to get involved in a musical subculture. I could pity the youngsters these days for missing out on a sense of gratification that took years to mature.

I happened across a football-related example whilst luxuriating on an August pavement outside Llandudno’s luxurious hipster micro pub. I sipped a luxurious drink under clouds of the deepest north Walian summer grey (Pantone 1118) and life felt alright, then three of them modern youngsters turned up to discuss their fantasy league teams with an assured air of authority.

Questions fulminated as I was forced to listen to people discuss the economic value of other people like slave owners. Did these experts know the feel of an icy blast from the Urals in the 64th minute of a humdrum league match? Did they know the stress of arriving 15 minutes into a match because a supposed two hour journey took six hours? Why is it so easy to look and sound like a proper mad football fan these days? Thankfully I had a train to catch.

To return to my salad days, the 1990s were a simpler time of unlocked doors, cheery neighbours and the ERM fiasco. Nobody wanted vulgar displays of ostentatious football analysis so nobody “curated” a “luxury football opinion”. We may not have been able to conceptualise gegenpressing or source artisan retro shirts from the internet but oh how we revelled in the joy of the moment like troglodytes.

Imagine not caring how far Marco van Basten ran in a match, imagine not being able to cash out, imagine not hearing someone add ”mate, mate, maaaaaate” to every tenth sentence. Imagine not taking football quite as seriously.

The beautiful game’s true beauty is that everyone can interact with it in their own way. Take the ex-Brazilian international Adriano. Some of us recognise him from a past world cup, some watched him a lot, some have appreciated his goals on you tube and some would need wikipedia to find out who he is. If we go by his bare statistics (played professionally for 16 years, won titles in Italy and Brazil, 50 international caps) we could conclude that he wasn’t bad, if we could be bothered to have an opinion of course.

In the luxury opinion curation game one simply has to be judgemental so Adriano is lambasted because he wasn’t as good as his avatar on a computer game, and Andrei Shevcheko (17 year international career, over 120 goals in Serie A, European Cup winner) is breezily dismissed as an elite striker whose powers slipped away in a single moment

Decline is it? If I may be permitted to wear my “freelance sociologist in trainers” hat for a moment, my informal research into the pressing issue of “football decline” indicates that most players suffer a relative decline in speed, power or skill as time passes, it’s usually called “getting old”.

I will say one positive thing about the luxury opinion curators, at least they don’t stride around grounds brandishing Stone Thailand armpits as they parrot the inane ditties of you tube.

If I may be permitted to tilt my “freelance sociologist in trainers” hat to a jaunty angle, my research process has discovered that lots of annoyed people watch football. For example last season a Bangor fan loudly complained that Bangor were “too pedestrian”, after four hours of careful consideration I filed it under “Reflex comments that angry fans use as proof that they care more than we do”.

My next piece of freelance sociology will see me attempt to discover the identity of the group that the shouters are trying to impress.

It is gratifying to know that I am not the only one that has noticed that some people are trying too hard. A wonderful article entitled SUPPORT AS PERFORMANCE – NOT EVERYTHING IS A ‘MENTAL’ has been written. Is there anything more tedious than the knowing LOOK AT ME!!! behaviour of the fan park drink throwers and IKEA store invaders?

I don’t understand the appeal of those “fan parks”? You are already sharing an enclosed public space with people that normally give “the footy” a swerve but went along with “the vibe” because “we’ve sooooo got this mate” then some legend throws the contents of a plastic cup in your general direction.

Fan parks are the epitome of sponsored cynicism, little more than insipid communal experiences for the atomised citizens of market economies. What’s wrong with staying at home or going to a pub?

When I see people displaying knowing LOOK AT ME!!! behaviour I can’t help wondering how they developed an interest in football. In theory sports marketing provides a plausible explanation, football’s original punters fell into decrepit obsolesce years ago and Fabulous Football needs new punters to buy, literally buy, into its world.

The recent history of the Ricoh Arena could be used as a good example of sports marketing’s ability to create demand. Basically speaking cold hard business logic took a dispute with landlords, coupled it to a perceived demand for the rugby product in the midlands, and consequently Coventry City, a relatively big football club with a long history, became the tenants of Wasps, a rugby club that hails from London.

On the surface the Ricoh Arena still seems to be Coventry’s home ground; Coventry play there in front of sky blue seats and there’s a statue of Jimmy Hill and a Coventry City memorial garden outside the ground. If you look more closely you can spot the subtle signs of takeover; the stadium’s superstore only stocks Wasps merchandise and Wasps take credit for organising pre-takeover events.

Sports marketing seems to have worked here; the sporting midlands now has another set of big crowds with lovely disposable incomes and few people seem to mind that Wasps have moved to a more receptive market.

There is a caveat. This is an example drawn from rugby not football and it’s well-known that rugby fans and football fans have differing concerns; rugby fans focus on freshly ironed gilets and getting to the pub for Banter o’clock whereas football fans generally prefer coats. Football is definitely different from rugby, they say that the “build it and they will come” idea would never be tolerated by football fans.

The fact that MK Dons has fans may slightly contradict that stereotype but the concept of franchising is anathema to most fans, MK Dons are an aberration. Whilst franchising lacks widespread support too many football fans tolerate the thin end of the corporate wedge. The gentrification of half-time haute cuisine and £1000 season tickets is accepted, pay TV subscriptions are renewed and plans are made to meet down “The Etihad”, “The Tony Macaroni” and “The Emirates”.

Sports Marketing could be the cause of this acceptance because it seems to be everywhere. I certainly see the beautiful game’s version of sports marketing whenever I wear my “freelance sociologist in trainers” hat. For example I came across Sky’s football advert whilst undertaking informal participant observation as a commuter this summer.

The televisual part of the campaign featured people with excited little faces rushing to fill sofas in a gianto-stadium, as soon as I saw it I suspected that it was just the sort of froth that encouraged a certain sort of person to have a go at the old footy.

I developed similar observations after Easter Monday’s unexpected field trip to Macclesfield. To cut a long story short I ended up in Macclesfield because FC United v York was postponed whilst I was in Manchester. Only two local matches had survived the rain; Crewe v Port Vale and Macclesfield v Chester, Crewe’s match was all-ticket so Hobson’s choice sent me to Macclesfield.

Whilst there I encountered a Carling advert that claimed “Football is never just 11 v 11”.

Even non-“freelance sociologists in trainers” would be able to spot the common tone of the two adverts; “SEE YOU, YOU’RE DEAD IMPORTANT, FOOTBALL IS YOUR SPORT, SO GET INVOLVED WITH THE FOOTBALL AND GIVE US ALL YOUR MONEY”.

Sports marketing seems to encourage people to act in a certain way so it’s tempting to blame it for the behaviour of the easily led, before we join two and two together it is worth bearing in mind that people are never just willing dupes.

The adverts contain such ridiculous stereotypes that it’s difficult to see how people would use them as behavioural advice. Who actually watches football in this sort of ecstatic state?

HE’S HOLDING A BLOODY TEAPOT.

It is amazing that twenty-six years have passed since Sky invented football and they have still to work out how the fans of their sport behave. Fans are not continually on the verge of beatific ecstasy or volcanic rage, nor are we gibbering morons hooked on the buzz of watching televised football in pubs. sadly the stereotyping appears to be contagious.

Simple ideas undermine sports marketing. Firstly, repeatedly saying something is great does not make that something great. The esteem with which the sports marketing industry coats itself isn’t matched by reality. Sports marketing may motivate someone to consider something, or spread the awareness of an event, but it cannot force people to pay attention, or attend something, if people don’t want to do something, they won’t.

Secondly, a carefully crafted image isn’t always a true reflection of reality. Free market propagandists tell us that a free market is the best way of organising society because it “democratises opportunity” but you cannot access the free market if you have insufficient resources. Similarly sports marketing has created an inclusive image for premier league football but poorer fans are unable access the premier league dream.

Sports marketing cannot eradicate football’s earthier qualities. On my way back from Easter Monday’s excursion to Macclesfield I noticed an A4 piece of paper on the door of a Crewe station buffet;

The football world painted by that piece of paper is a place beyond the ken of the sports marketers, a place that smells of the petty regulation of fun, League Two aggression and “No Football Colours Allowed”, 

They can market the glossy premier league jamboree all they like but football is about more than 22 sweaty millionaires, it’s about local affiliation, long coach journeys, sharing stories in the pub, trains with standing room only and other heady things. Some people are actually drawn to football by these earthier qualities, odd no?

So why do some people take an interest in football? I haven’t got a clue but here’s my best speculation. Perhaps some of their workmates only talk about football. Perhaps their friends discovered the japes one can have at the footy. Perhaps they’re following stereotypical behaviour patterns because they adore the intoxicating personalities of alpha males.

Perhaps it’s fashion. Perhaps it’s You Tube. Perhaps they once followed a crowd to see where it was heading. Perhaps they like polyester clothing. Perhaps the world is merely a stage and people are merely playing the role of “football fan”.

If the last point was true I could become north Wales’ very own Lee Strassberg with a downbeat football actor’s studio; “Luke Darling! That was wonderful! But where is your sense of realism? Where’s your true sense of self? Try to be the bored football fan, not act like a bored football fan!”

I realise that you read “everyone can interact with it (football) in their own way” some time ago so most of this post may sound a little illogical (people are only interacting with football in their own way) or misanthropic (none of these people directly impinge upon my life) but I can assure that I am neither illogical nor a full-time misanthrope.

To be honest I don’t really care why other people like football, or how they interact with the sport, because it’s none of my business.  It’s just that I prefer to interpret football’s culture in my own way and I’ve lost count of the occasions when tedious behaviour has shaken me out of a carefully constructed reverie.

For me it’s like the concept of free speech; anybody can speak but nobody is compelled to listen. I wish that other people would stick to their part of the deal that I have just implied. I am only asking for ignorance of irritating details and a bit of peace, is that asking too much?





What do you do when you’ve nowhere to go?

2 11 2018

I haven’t really been going to watch Bangor City this season. I’ve been to the odd away game in grounds I’ve never visited but I have failed to yield to the selective appeal of home matches.

Other fans have also developed similar viewpoints, For example John and Joe have offered two fantastically evocative expressions of despair.

So here we all are, a football team in blue continues to play but we no longer care. How does one cope when one feels one’s club has left them?

In my case you make threads of tweets written in the purest sarcasm. My shattered peace of mind wasn’t my only inspiration. there was also the more official social media sources.

With gaps between the tweets and the date on the left, what follows is an illustration of the first four months of the footballing season.

 

In truth the removal of the obligation to care has been quite liberating.

 

 

Now is the season of our Discontent (Part One)

 

JULY

 

July 17th (Some twitter user had claimed any critics of the present regime should bugger off to be Caernarfon fans)

– It would seem that I am now no longer a true Bangor City fan, I imagine that my wife will be delighted.

 

July 19th (The Telford match had already been called off and I was indulging in sarcasm)

– To prove that I’m not as much of a false Bangor fan as I claimed I shall go to the home friendly with Telford a week on Saturday. I’m looking forward to it immensely. Can’t wait!!!!

 

July 22nd – I can’t believe it’s less than a week until Bangor City host Telford, I cannot wait.

 

July 24th – I didn’t leave Welsh football, it left me.

 

July 28th (Football PR babble masquerading as #ClumsyHashtags began to appear in official social media output) 

– On my way to the station to get the train to Bangor. It’s just like Christmas Day! #cantbeatmatchday #youjustthatcrackleofpreseasonexcitement

Train delay, oh no. I’ll have to wait a little bit longer to to feel that crackle of preseason excitement course through me as I walk past Morrison’s. #matchdayexcitementboilingtofeverpitch #delayscantbluntthegloriouscrackleofpreseasonexcitement

We’re on our way, after a delay, it’s gonna be a great preseason day! #cantbeatmatchday #cantbeatthecrackleofpreseasonmatchesinpreseasonbeforetheseasonstarts #excitement #anotherhashtag

Off the train, on the way to my first pre-season match of the pre-season and the excitement is crackling away. Walking down the Holyhead Rd to see the pre-season! #cantbeatthecrackleofpreseasoninpreseasonbeforetheseasonstarts

So I got to the ground and what do I find? The turnstiles are shut, that’s what. The main door was locked too. It’s like there is no game or something. Why weren’t we informed. I’m too disappointed for words.  #thecrackleofpreseasondissappointmentisthebestkindofdissapointment

On the upside if I rush I might make it to St Mirren v Dumbarton now  #youhavetotaketheroughwiththesmoothinpreseasonbeforetheseasonstart

Made it just in time for kick off! #dontstopbelievinginpreseasonexcitement





Amusing yourself at the football part 176

31 05 2018

I’ve started taking pictures of books at the football,

Schneider at Altrincham

Bradbury at Bangor

Marx at Macclesfield

CLR James at Rhyl

Le Carré at Connah’s Quay

Levi at Alfreton Town,

Welsh at Coventry City

Zizek et al at Betws-Y-Coed

Hawking at Llanfairfechan

Joyce at Prestatyn Sports

Welsh at Old Colwyn

 

For what it’s worth I blame Nick Hornby.





Just get behind the lads, go on, just get behind the lads

30 05 2018

Get behind the lads, get behind the lads.

That’s our job, we have to get behind the lads, that’s what fans do!

Just get behind the lads.

“But one of our strikers has been cautioned by the police for tweeting racial abuse”

Look, just get behind the lads. That’s our job as fans.

“But our captain is the biggest buy-to-let landlord in the north.”

Just get behind the lads.

“But our left back abuses our fans on team bonding sessions in town.”

Just get behind the lads.

“But our manager is an insufferable bore.”

Just get behind the lads.

“But our left winger diverts his wages through the Isle of Man, Liechtenstein and the Cayman Islands in the name of tax efficiency.”

Just get behind the lads

“But one of our midfielders spoke in support of Tommy Robinson whilst he was on Question Time.”

Just Get behind the lads.

“But our vice-captain has been dubbed as “the worst landlord since Rachman”.”

Just get behind the lads.

“But our right back co-wrote an episode of Mrs. Brown’s Boys”

Just get behind the lads.

“But our reserve keeper founded a company to deal in conflict diamonds.”

Just get behind the lads.

“But one of our midfielders still likes Morrissey.”

Just get behind the lads.

“But our reserve full back like speaks like a university student…….and stuff”

Just get behind the lads.

“But one of our midfielder wears a Make America Great Again cap in post-match interviews.”

Just get behind the lads.

“But one of our strikers is a part-time DJ in a local pub but tells people, via his own you tube channel, that he curates a cultural happening that highlights the synergy between cool people, cool places and cool times.”

Just get behind the lads.

“But one of our defenders has launched his own right-wing populist party and they’ve staged a coup in Peru.”

Just get behind the lads,

“But our board members are nothing more than a plague of goodwill locusts that have already ruined nearly a dozen clubs.”

Just get behind the lads.

“But the football world is now little more than a cynical homage to Thatcherite logic. It’s two millionaires arguing over a throw in, it’s match tickets with prices in three figures, it’s imperialistic giganto-clubs replacing the alienated fans from their local communities with tourists that offer strident opinions on trains, it’s a media that won’t let you think about anything else, it’s an industry continually expectorating PR flim-flam. Football is now a moral vacuum where the only measure of worth is the illusion of success.”

Just get behind the lads.

“But what about the morally relative jargon that’s employed to obscure the pandemic cheating?”

Just get behind the lads.

“But what about our well known internet fans? One of them says that we can’t doubt him because he has an moral MA in the Sociology of the false number 7, an apparent MPhil in Football Analyticalness and a virtual Phd about Franco Baresi’s running gait whilst wearing asics boots. Needless to say he will have already had the last laugh at least 96 hours before you’ve heard the question you worthless cretin.”

Just Get behind the lads.

“Right then, I’m Offski.”

Just get behind the lads.

Just get behind the lads.

Just get behind the lads.

Just get behind the lads.

Just get behind the lads.

Just get behind the lads.

Just get behind the lads.

Just get behind the lads.

Just get behind the lads.

Just get behind the lads.

Just get behind the lads.

Just get behind the lads.

Just Get behind the lads.

Blah,

Blah,

Blah,

Blah,

Blah,

Blah,,

Blah.

Blah.

In other words, never silence them analytical sensibilities.





You’ve got to sell yourself at the end of the day mate

4 02 2018

Football had never provided a stable employment sector and those working in the sport perpetually carry this cultural baggage. John Jenkins had known its weight for twenty two years.

If you’re lucky to have a career in professional football you get used to a lack of stability. It’s there when you start out as the system that appears to offer glory and riches sheds hundreds if not thousands of doe-eyed hopefuls to the anonymity of real life without a second thought.

When you’re playing there’s an omnipresent sense of fear, fear of injury, fear of reduction to bit-part status, fear of not gaining a new contract. It’s there when a manager’s honeymoon period ends, it’s there when youth coaches realise they can be relieved of their roles almost without notice.

JJ thought he knew where he was with football but it only took a couple of days as player-manager to realise that the pressures he now faced had a totally different feel. Within a couple of weeks he had noticed that the pressure was omnipresent. No sooner had one challenge been bested than another hoved into view. Summers were now a mixture of phonecalls and thwarted plans, even when he was on holiday, especially when he was on holiday.

Today’s problem was just another layer of worry, another part of the managerial tapestry; it was the end of November and his United side were on a bad run. There was absolutely no way of denying that things looked bad, or that the sense of pressure had increased, JJ hadn’t woken up with a sunny disposition for six weeks.

When people talk about “them that work in football being so astronomically rich they don’t worry about the day to day grind any more” they are only giving a partial story. Abundant riches may exist and they may have cushioned people from real life pressures to an extent, and even cushioned football’s pressure to an extent, but they have also exacerbated the sense of pressure.

How can you truly enjoy financial security without job security?

A lack of wins quickly becomes “a major slump” and a virtual scandal.

We must win.

We must entertain.

WE SIMPLY MUST NOT LOSE!!!

At times the premium income didn’t feel worth everything that went with it, JJ was still amazed that football had become so short-termist.

When JJ began his managerial role some of the older coves from football’s fraternity offered him candid advice. Some of the advice was useful; it was better to remain aloof from the players, shouting did lose its impact after the first time, he always asked advice but stuck to his decision in the end and he wasn’t afraid to change.

But other parts of the advice sounded like it came from a different time. The memory of someone else’s words cannot prepare you for the sensory onslaught of “a major slump”, it’s something that you have to feel to understand. You have to actually live through a six week period where you veer from thinking about next season’s European logistics to reading tweets that label you as a fraud.

JJ’s experience had provided a fast eye for detail so he had been the first person to notice that things were going astray. He could have offered his opinion to the public weeks ago, if anybody had bothered to ask, but he didn’t for two very good reasons.

Firstly, he remembered how he felt whenever his manager had publicly criticised his team. Teams rely on confidence and negative public interventions do not help, confidence has to be sustained not dissipated.

Secondly, he remembered the wise advice about being careful around journalists lest they chip away at everything you’re trying to do. Everybody remembers public managerial meltdowns and that’s not how he wanted to be remembered.

When strident questions began to fill JJ’s football landscape he knew that people had finally caught up with his analysis. The idea that people appeared to think that managers were unable to understand football was once a source of private amusement but the terrace critics, radio show callers and tiresome journalists were no longer amusing.

JJ detested the constant need to justify himself when his side lost and loathed the overly fulsome praise when his side won, he hated expressing the same sentiment ten times.

Losing because a couple of details in a match slightly eluded your side is bad enough but being forced to listen to other peoples’ opinions was probably the worst part of the job. His trusted coaching staff were the only opinion he needed and they only needed to express their opinions once.

Everybody else’s input was less than worthless in terms of winning football matches, yet these opinions were everywhere. Even when he wanted to switch off from football the opinions were still everywhere. He used to say half-jokingly say to his friends “Could you still read that newspaper if you knew it also contained a less than flattering public opinion about you?”

He could say with sincerity that people were entitled to their opinion, they paid his wages blah blah blah, but why did everyone try to sound like an expert, anybody can look like an expert in hindsight but why does everybody try to sound like an expert before the matches as well? It’s very annoying when you have to humour the people that don’t appear to know that it’s very easy to think when you aren’t under the pressure of judgement by end results.

Fans still came to speak to JJ as he entered the ground on a matchday, or when they saw him in Tesco, and they were always supportive. Hearing a small example of simple human warmth  like “Come on JJ, we know you can turn this around.” could always pick his spirits up.

JJ always came across as an optimist but he could see a hundred well-wishers and only remember the harsh words of the single critic.

His uncanny ability to pinpoint individual voices in the crowd didn’t help. He hated that split-second of nervous tension when he actually caught a critic’s eye, he hated seeing the shameful face, he hated seeing someone that had been caught doing something they didn’t want to be judged upon. It was pointless behaviour on every conceivable level.

It’s amazing that people think they can say anything within the anonymity of a group, but them it’s equally amazing that people don’t seem to realise that the twelfth row isn’t very far away.

Good natured patience was out these days but anger was very fashionable in your “modern football” . The good will that automatically came with the status of authentic club legend was clearly no longer limitless. Last week JJ had made the mistake of searching for his name on twitter and it was almost soul-destroying, all of the goals he scored and trophies he won were faint apparitions, the latest defeat was all that mattered.

JJ really disliked the judgemental way in which some people thought about football. Hair-trigger emotions do nothing but create pressure. Don’t we all want the same thing? Don’t we all crave the same success?

Everyone knew JJ’s place within United’s history. He was in second place on the highest goalscorers’ list and fourth on the list of appearances makers. Everyone knew his part in the titles, cups and European nights. These past glories, memories that had made everyone so happy, had been placed in the dustbin of history by some people because United had gone weeks without a victory.

Fans might be amazed to learn that managers don’t entirely trust fans with fickle attitudes because it’s like dealing with spoilt teenagers. How can people move so easily from clichés about temporary form and permanent class to the judgemental “He’s lost the dressing room he has”? How can people not realise that they sound ridiculous? It helped that JJ was always perfectly aware that patient fans still existed.

Those that work in football view their sport with an unsentimental air. There are few grey areas when it comes to results and United’s recent record was stark by the end of November; depending on your point of view United had either failed to win for six matches or only registered a single win in the ten matches since the middle of September.

JJ knew that these results weren’t good enough but he was still an optimist, he tried to spin the situation by saying that because seven of those defeats had been by a single goal things could change quickly. He knew things could change quickly, he had seen that happen plenty of times, including three or four of United’s seasons.

There were too many unreasonable expectations.

For example JJ once asked a fans forum whether they would accept a judgement about themselves if that opinion was based on things they were unable to control? While most seemed to agree with this fair point a few of the more confident fans provided answers that were variations of “Yeah, but….”.

JJ responded to those people by asking whether they thought a manager could actually control everything. When a few responded with “Yeah but” again JJ let fly;

“I’m sorry some of you feel like that but you haven’t seen went we do in training. You don’t see how hard we work every day to get things right. You don’t see how the coaching team tries to think about issues and problems. You don’t see how some of our training drills are based on the analysis of opposition’s weaknesses. You lot just saw the misplaced pass, the mishit shot and the opposition goal go in.

You don’t seem to understand that we can work all week on something, and that this approach can work perfectly for ninety nine percent of a match, but the tinniest of details, the most insignificant of small details, can still go wrong and ruin all of that work.

You can analyse and find weaknesses, you can try to work on things to instil confidence but Smithy can still slip and the cross can still arrive at their striker’s feet, or they can still score the winner against the run of play because Damo was five yards out of position when the ball was halfway inside our half.

So tell me, how is a manager supposed to deal with that?”

Nobody answered with “Yeah, but” that time but this was the judgemental environment that managers have to deal with.

When JJ answered his board’s call for help three and a half years ago he became United’s first player-manager for a quarter of a century. The speed with which the decision was made, and the situation progressed, naturally led to a feeling of dislocation. It wasn’t just his new responsibilities there was a new style of human interaction.

One of his old managers advised him that he had to put distance between himself and the lads in the dressing room. On the most basic level this isn’t difficult because you can just stop using the dressing room, however it is more difficult situation on the emotional level.

You have to change from the person that’s in the middle of dressing room humour, the person that started most of the dressing room jokes in JJ’s case, to the person that has to drop his mates, and you have make this change almost immediately.

Until this forked road in his journey coaching certificates had been curiosity that involved vague ideas about post-playing career options but now he had to actually use them. Would his mates listen to him? Would they play for him?

Those worries were without foundation because his quiet sort of charisma was sufficient. The players wanted to win for him and the fans. JJ wouldn’t let them forget the fans. It helped that his golden touch meant that he could still weigh in with his share of goals, admittedly he didn’t score the quantity of goals he used to but he was the most senior member of the squad.

The first season was a great success because it produced the first cup triumph for twelve years. JJ had been not only been able to combine managing and playing, he had made a telling contribution in many matches like the late semi-final winner and the explosive derby winner.

The second season had been good as well as European football had been achieved again. He may not have contributed as much as the first season but he had still scored three or four important goals. The third season was much the same.

The fourth season was very different. The positive results were slower to come, the cup matches were closer as the side seemed to win thanks to luck rather than skill. European football was achieved by the slimmest of slim margins.

JJ knew football was like that. He had always thought that United’s fans lived up to their reputation as patient and knowledgeable people but it turns out that some of their fans were just like everybody else when they thought success wasn’t coming their way.

In this particular autumn JJ knew that he hadn’t been quite doing it on the pitch over the last eighteen months. He had been the first to know, it was his body.

He was slightly slower to react to everything, some passes moved slightly too quickly and some crosses were slightly too high. He was still in the right areas of the pitch but you don’t lose that special awareness.

JJ wasn’t particularly worried that the passing of time was reducing his effectiveness, it happened to every player and you cannot hide from the progress of time. He wanted to keep playing and he thought he was good enough, his general recption as he warmed up and the crowd murmur when he was about to come on told him that.

The barbed dressing room comments told him that his teammates had also noticed; “It looks like you’ll have to drop yourself gaffer.” And he’d return the badinage but behind it he knew they knew, you can’t hide in a team of highly tuned professional sportsman.

Then he started to hear the comments from the frustrated crowd “You’re too old Jenkins.” He knew that they were just frustrated and taking it out on a passing target but it didn’t make it any easier to hear. Twitter was full of harsh words and the phone in shows spoke about the tarnishing of memories. He still scored a couple here and there but it wasn’t quite the same.

Alas, you cannot hide from the passage of time.

A general sense of pressure was building, if only people looked at the game as he did, then they could see that we weren’t far from where we should be, or could be. Injuries hadn’t helped but the absence of that elusive quality called confidence had been more important.

JJ knew that fans paid good money to come and watch us but some fans didn’t seem to understand that shouting at “their” players until their veins were popping out of your neck didn’t make the players play any better, or concentrate more, or score more, or stop the other side from scoring.

JJ pinned his hopes on January, he knew that a new sense of urgency from a few new faces could help.

He wasn’t sure if he had enough resources to tempt the kind of players he needed, he wasn’t sure if they’d come anyway if truth be told. United still had a pull, and to judge from past conversations with people so did he, but would it be enough? Money was too tight to mention, as Simply Red once said.

So how would JJ freshen things up when money was tight? How could he get his squad to think about things and adapt?

He thought about varying training, but they already did that. He thought about slackening and increasing the tempo but they’d done that as well. Different tactics might work but what if they didn’t? If only he could put his finger on the missing ingredient.

THE EUREKA MOMENT ARRIVES!!!!!!

In the middle of December a cartoon light bulb illuminated above JJ’s head. The answer had been staring him in the face all along. He was going to put himself on the transfer list, he was going to sell himself.

He knew the side had been relying on his reputation a little bit too much, he could still produce a brilliant flash of inspiration but United needed a more regular supply of inspiration.

He knew he could do a job for someone, he knew that he could get a good price for himself and the move would impress the chairman as it would be one of his efficiency savings; his contract contained a special premium if he played.

The brilliance of the decision was in its simplicity, with JJ the player gone JJ the manager had one less problem to think about. The other players could thrive without the added pressure of his presence in the team.

He tried to explain his idea to his family and they said that they could understand what was going to happen, although he could see the doubt in their eyes, especially his wife.

He tried to explain further; “The idea came to me as I watched Superman 3 the other Sunday. You know that scene with the Bad Superman?” He son looked at him with amazement but his daughter wasn’t sure.

He was still wondering about the best way to broach the subject with the players on the next day’s drive to the training ground, would they think he was mad? After JJ’s announcement the squad looked at the decision from two perspectives.

From a football perspective the players wondered if this was a wise move. They knew they needed JJ’s skill and calmness, or even just his mere presence.

On a more fundamental level they wondered if JJ had lost his mind, how could he create two people by separating the player from the manager? How could he sell himself and remain as manager? JJ assured them all that it would not be a problem. ”I’ll explain all at the press conference” he said, and with that he was gone.

JJ spoke to the board, they were also incredulous but again he assured them that there would be no problems. The chairman perked up when he heard the bit about efficiency savings. JJ assured the board that there would be no problems. ”I’ll explain all at the press conference” he said, and with that he was gone.

The club’s PR department called a press conference for the next day with a statement that contained enigmatic phrases “GROUND-BREAKING DEVELOPMENT!!!!” and “WORLD’S FIRST!!!”.

After the press release social media was alive with rumours, questions and incredulity. “How can a manager sell themselves and remain in post? The guy’s lost it!!! #lostit” being one tweet.

Social media rumour-mongering turned the press conference into the biggest media event the club had ever hosted. The nationals were there, international journalists were there, twice as many television cameras were there.

JJ began by carefully explaining how he would become the first Player Manager to remain as a manager and sell themselves as a player. As soon as he started speaking there was a noticeable hum in the room. JJ then introduced the philosophical underpinnings of his idea. He started with Cartesian dualism…

“I believe that there are two kinds of foundation: mind and body. The mind can exist outside of the body but the body cannot think. This theory has been called substance dualism and it’s compatible with every type of outlook, whether that’s scientific, philosophical or religious.

For example from a religious point of view immortal souls are said to occupy an independent realm of existence that’s distinct from the physical world. Therefore in effect it is possible to separate one’s mind from one’s body.”

…continued with concepts..

“The idea of non-reductive physicalism tells us that while mental states are physical they are not reducible to physical states, therefore we can separate the mind and the body.

Here I am talking about an idea like anomalous monism that was first proposed by Donald Davidson in his 1970 paper Mental events. In the paper Davidson stated that descriptions these so-called “mental events” are not regulated by strict physical laws.”

…moved on to Chalmers…

“David Chalmers, in his idea of naturalistic dualism, outlined the explanatory gap between objective and subjective experience that cannot be bridged by reductionism.

For Chalmers consciousness is, at least, logically autonomous of the physical properties and requires a new fundamental category of properties described by new laws of supervenience, but we don’t need to detain ourselves with the full implications of that here. It is enough to say that like other philosophers Chalmers sees his work as naturalistic because he believes that mental states are different from, and cannot be reduced to, physical states.”

… then Jackson…

“…Another philosopher to bare in mind here is Frank Jackson. When he revived a theory of epiphenomenalism he revived something that tells us that mental states do not play a role in physical states.

For Jackson there are two kinds of dualism. The first is that body and soul are two different substances. The second is that body and soul can be different properties of the same body.

He goes on to states that the mind/soul are internal, very private sphere that are not accessible to observation by others. For example we can know everything about a dog’s ability to follow a scent but we will never know how a dog experiences the following of a scent.”

The press knew that this was no ordinary press conference. How many press conferences made you question metaphysics? JJ continued..

“..While I appreciate that the reason for calling this press conference may sound a little “different”, and I may invite ridicule, I believe that I have just established my idea’s sound philosophical grounding.

I realise that I may be the first manager ever to quote philosophy so extensively in a press conference so that in itself may sound surprising but it is only surprising because this the first time that I have openly quoted philosophical ideas in public.

I started an Open University degree five years ago and I have since progressed to a Distance Learning Masters in Philosophy at the University of Durham. Until this moment I have looked on this education as a private matter, a charming diversion from the world of football.”

While tranches of the audience were agog, large clumps were incredulous. JJ then explained the part that a Sunday afternoon nap played…

“…The idea came to me as I watched I Superman 3 on TV the other week. I was having a nap and woke up just before the scene where Superman turns bad. I carried on watching and thought that I’d love to be able to do that, I don’t mean wreck an oil tanker by the way!

I mean separate my mind and body.

Then I thought why not! I could split my Player-Manager role into the separate roles of Player and Manager. The philosophical ideas that I have studied in the past quickly came to mind.

I went to the university library and took out books on the ideas of reanimation, transmogrification and transubstantiation. When I read them I knew I was on to something then.”

JJ finished the press conference by assuring the fans that knew this move would be a world first but they had to go with it. JJ assured them that it would be the best thing in terms of the squad, the coaching set up and most importantly, metaphysics.

With that he was gone, he didn’t take any questions.

The media and social media went into what they term “meltdown”. Sanity was doubted. At home JJ turned on to the news challenges and members of the public guffawed.

JJ wasn’t downhearted, he knew that he had done the hard bit by convincing himself that it was possible to separate the mind from the body, he still reasoned that there was nothing to stop him from visualising different parts of his mind developing separately, all he had to do was make it happen.

For all of his conviction he wasn’t quite sure how he’d do that, he just knew that he would show people what he meant. JJ must have have felt calm that evening because he enjoyed a very pleasant night’s sleep.

Strange things afoot!

The next morning JJ’s Mercedes was resting at the lights by the branch of Tesco he normally visited when something strange happened.

An extremely odd sensation washed over him, it felt like something was being sucked out of him. The sensation only last a couple of seconds but a distinct aura remained. The lights changed and JJ pulled off.

The aura slowly developed in intensity. A couple of sideways glances told JJ that it was developing into human form. He didn’t feel worried because something told him that this is what he wanted to happen.

By the time he was in his training ground parking spot another body was sitting in the passenger seat, it was a perfect copy of him. JJ felt that instant rush of elation that comes with relief. This is exactly what he said would happen! He had proved philosophy correct and the naysayers wrong.

Both JJs left their car at the same time and walked towards the training complex’s main buildings.

Naturally people took double takes as the JJs walked past. Pete Kennedy spoke for everyone when he said; “OH MY GOD!!! BOSS you were right, YOU WERE RIGHT!!!” When they went through the main doors JJ the player went one way and JJ the manager went the other.

JJ the manager sat at his desk as if he’d been liberated. Everything felt lighter and more positive, joy and relief, relief and joy. The workload suddenly felt smaller, he could do his job properly, concentrate on everything that he needed to do in the office, and not worry at all about taking part in training.

As JJ basked in the relief of the new situation Pete Edwards stuck his head around the door. JJ asked his best friend what he thought about everything. “Jesus I don’t believe it JJ, you were right, you were right!”.

Pete continued babbling and a thought came to JJ “Bloody Hell, it’ll be a bit weird if they see two versions of me at training.”

JJ told Pete that he thought that it would be better if he and the rest of the coaching staff took training until JJ the player left as things would be less complicated that way. He would still give general guidelines and observe training from his office because the last thing we need the players to do is freak out, we’ve got matches to win. The Assistant Manager left JJ to get on with his piles of paperwork.

When JJ realised how much he could get done without taking part in training he thought about changing his mind but he resolved to stick to the original plan. He was still going to sell himself, how weird would it look if two JJ were seen together? It was lucky that United didn’t have a match this weekend otherwise we’d be knee deep in fuss.

On the training pitch JJ the player went about his usual business. His teammates had obviously felt the natural surprise of finding out that the metaphysical development had actually happened but they also were reassured that aside from the knowledge that there were two JJs nothing seemed to be different. They weren’t two JJs on the training pitch at this particular moment.

It helped that JJ the player seemed to be the JJ that they all knew, he looked exactly the same, sounded exactly the same and ran in exactly the same way. He looked exactly like the same as JJ the player-manager.

The older members of the squad couldn’t help notice that JJ had returned to his old relaxed self. When they mentioned this to JJ he said “Well I haven’t got to worry about managing now have I?” with the old sparkling eyes. The sparkle was back!

JJ the manager heard the effect of social media fuss before he saw it from the windows on the far side of his office. The hubbub caused him to move towards the windows. The training ground had been mobbed by fans, journalists and TV crews.

When training ended the world saw the evidence with their own eyes, two JJs got in to JJ’s car. The crowd and the media surrounded the car as if they were insects in an Indiana Jones film.

After the exchange of pleasantries about weird days neither JJ spoke on the journey home. There was no need to speak, they both knew what each other was thinking and they both instinctively knew that the situation was too strange to think about.

Helen met the two JJs at the front door and kissed both of them she was so flummoxed. Their children stood in her wake and gazed with disbelieving faces, Mark said to Emma, “SEE, I TOLD YOU Dad was right!”. All Helen could say was “I knew I shouldn’t have doubted you when you had that look in your eye!”.

Without speaking JJ the player took himself to the spare room he decided that it would be better if he stayed in the spare room to avoid confusing everybody, he was the JJ that was going to leave after all.

Later that afternoon Helen casually asked JJ the manager a question “Yeah but what about his clothes? Is he going to share your wardrobe or what?” which was a quick reminder that life often throws unintended consequences into your path.

JJ the player told them not to worry, he’s be fine in training kit for a few days, he was only going to be lounging around the house anyway.

Neither the player nor manager had the desire to venture out of the house, especially with media people about. They both realised simultaneously, naturally, that it was a great situation that they didn’t read the tabloids. What kind of person wants to see themselves plastered all over the pages of a tabloid?

JJ the manager logged out of social media and they both kept the news channels off the telly. Merely getting to work was enough at the moment for a few days.

On the fourth day after the profound metaphysical development JJ the manager ventured to a third destination for the first time when he visited Tesco. A person sidled up to him in the pasta aisle and said “I’m sorry to see you go but I’m also glad that you’re staying as well!” All of a sudden the situation felt beyond weird.

At least when JJ the player went clothes shopping JJ the manager knew that his clothes would be cared for. JJ had always been a fastidious type when it came to personal appearance, he hated getting marks on his clothes and the way that other people could be inconsiderate about someone else’s things.

In the middle of the second week after the profound metaphysical development Athletic came in with an offer for JJ the player and JJ the manager quickly accepted it, JJ the player was glad to be going, he hated not being able to leave the house. He could mourn the fact he was no longer a United player later.

On the day he left as a player JJ the manager offered fulsome praise.

“JJ was the very image of this great club for 15 years so it’s fitting that I offer thanks to him on behalf of our club and our supporters. We’d like to offer JJ the player all the best for the future, except when he plays against us!”.

The press and supporters may have doubted him but he had proved that the impossible could be done. You could create two different people by separating the player from the manager.

For weeks after the transfer the shoulders of JJ the manager remained relatively light. It was great to have a freer mind, a mind that could concentrate on the job of managing. The players noticed that JJ was still relaxed; “Well I haven’t got to play anymore have I!!! I can’t be blamed for you lot cocking it all up can I!!!” he said as his eyes sparkled. The players laughed along with him.

Nobody was able to pinpoint what had changed but it was obvious that something had changed.

Not only did everything feel more relaxed something appeared to be working in matches because United were unbeaten in the first four post JJ transfer matches (two wins, two draws). Everything just felt better.

The fact that it appeared that United had received the better end of the deal probably helped, JJ the player appeared to be struggling to settle at Athletic, and they were doing even worse than United.

The media praised him for his masterstroke and “obvious business acumen” but JJ didn’t meekly accept the plaudits or the media’s representation of the situation. He knew that he always needed a few weeks to adjust to new surroundings, he knew that JJ the player would find his feet eventually, and so it proved.

Once he adjusted to the characters in Atheltic’s squad and their football approach JJ the player’s undoubted skill shone once again; he scored in three consecutive matches in February. By the end of March he had scored seven goals in fifteen league and cup matches, set up a few more and won a couple of man of the match awards.

JJ the manager was pleased that he was back on top form as he knew what that would feel like. It was nice that there was a bit of space between player and manager but JJ the manager still wanted to keep abreast of the player’s progress, which was easy thanks’ to our media’s football obsession.

For a couple of months the United v Atheltic match had been merely the fortieth match in a forty-two match season, whenever an interviewer asked him about the match JJ the manager spoke with a gleam in his eye about people having a great chance to offer a fitting tribute to a club legend. It was easy to feel magnanimous when your side is doing alright.

Atheltic’s improved form didn’t matter because United were maintaining the same relative gap. April’s second match, a 2-0 home defeat, dropped the massively unwelcome hint that if United weren’t careful they could be passed by Atheltic but this hint was dismissed.

In truth Athletic had been catching United ever since JJ the player had hit form.

When JJ the manager watched Athletic on telly he saw a confident team, a team that belied their lowly position with tough and silky football. It appeared that JJ the player had been their missing link. Consequently the forthcoming match had developed a distinctly ominous feel before Athletic actually passed United at the end of April.

In April United reverted to their pre-transfer form. United may have snubbed the first of the optimists “next chances” in April but the month provided other chances, and they were all snubbed with apparent abandon. It is very hard to remain optimistic when your side returns to misery as time appears to progress far too quickly.

JJ began to wish that he could go and do something on the pitch, he yearned to get on and do something, he knew that he could have done something, he still had an assured touch in training. He also knew that FA had insisted that because he had sold the player part of himself he was physically unable to set football on a football pitch.

The cold hard facts were inescapable.

There were three league matches left.

Atheltic were in seventeenth place with 41 points.

United were in eighteenth place with 38 points and a vastly inferior goal difference.

A worst case scenario had developed in plain sight.

It took these bone dry facts for JJ to finally realise that he could be the first man in the history of football to relegate himself.

Atheltic were about to visit United, JJ the manager was about face JJ the player. The match from the near distance was now in view.

The optimistic grasping of March – “I wouldn’t worry just yet” – felt far older than a couple of months.

In October nobody would have predicted that United’s involvement in virtual relegation decider but who would have guessed that United’s erratic form and the quirks of the fixture list would combine to produce such a scenario. Nobody would have thought to envisage that a player-manager could sell himself either.

The media was absolutely devoted to what they had decided to christen “El Metaphysical”. The build-up was annoying for all concerned as the media pursued their usual hyperbole-driven agenda of sell sell sell.

They seemed to interview everybody with a pulse and dragooned the United fans into two camps. One side said that JJ had tempted fate by selling himself to Athletic and the other said that it was impossible to look into the future and adequately predict what will happen.

JJ knew that when you’re in the vortex of football you see how the media works, you see how agendas are constructed to draw interest to a product. JJ saw this in the way they had framed this story.

The media said that JJ the player was thirsting for revenge because he had a massive point to prove and that JJ the manager was virtually cowering in his office because he feared the worst.

In the player’s case this was a ridiculous, why would he wish harm on himself? In the manager’s case it was all too true, but then it was fairly rich for the media to make judgemental comments about a manager feeling under pressure when they were responsible for trowelling on another layer of pressure with their coverage.

Whenever a manager is in trouble the media scents blood and continue getting in the way with their questions, as if their questions actually change something. JJ knew that he had given them the perfect storm with his novel approach to the situation but the course of action sounded like a good idea at the time.

JJ started to dread the press conferences with their arduous, tedious nature, how was he supposed to say what was going to happen? Didn’t these idiots in the media already have a rough idea of what may happen? Weren’t they paid to cover football?

JJ was at the latest press conference table attempting to field the questions like a resolute opening batsman. He tried platitudes but the questions didn’t stop, he tried to put the barriers up with monosyllabic sentences but the questions didn’t stop.

He yearned for things to go back to normal, he yearned to be somewhere else. Fragments of images rushed around his head, a sunny training ground, the post match euphoria of a cup triumph, being at home with the kids. He struggled to suppress his actual thoughts about the situation and was tempted to utter the following rejoinder;

“Do you know something, it is difficult to respect most journalists. To be fair you are skilled in your work environment, you know what you’re doing but why were you allowed to wield such power? You have never had to cope with the strain of managing a football club, how dare you judge me!”

He thought better of that because he knew the journalists were scenting blood.

One of the muckracking tabloid types bowled knee-high yorkers

How do you prepare for playing yourself?” ….. “Have you prepared for the psychological strain of seeing yourself trying to beat yourself?”

The questioning caused something in JJ’s head to fall on its side. His expression and demeanour changed immediately.

The journalists could see that their questions had not only rendered someone speechless they had caused a man to look out from an unmistakably haunted expression, if his eyes could have spoken you wouldn’t want to know their soul-shredding secrets.

JJ thought he’d kept a lid on his emotions but it was clear from the TV news and the following day’s back pages that the press had noticed, something had changed at that press conference.

His wife noticed, his children noticed it, then his players noticed. In the days leading up to the match JJ the manager tried to motivate his squad but the words sounded meagre and felt hollow.

He knew that his gamble had almost failed, he tried to formulate new tactics and thought about trying new faces from the youth team but the end result would yield the same disappointing return.

Even if he avoided relegation this season, what about next season? Going through this again didn’t bare thinking about.

It doesn’t matter how hard we try to avoid the path of time, important dates still come to our paths. The months, weeks and days had receded to hours, minutes and seconds. It was the night before matchday and JJ felt like a husk of a man, an automaton following the indentations of a familiar pattern of behaviour.

In the sixty minutes before kick off he could only offer meagre words that echoed with a clang of an empty oil tanker. He fell back on platitudes, stay sharp, stop them scoring, take your chances. There was a new variation in the coaching;

“DON’T. LET. JJ. SCORE. WHATEVER YOU DO, DON’T LET HIM SCORE. DO. NOT. GIVE. HIM. SPACE.”

There was a clear note of desperation in the voice but the players still believed, they wouldn’t let JJ the manager down, they knew how to handle JJ the player, they had been training with him for years. They knew that they had to keep the ball on his left side, he was weaker on the left side.

At half time United were losing two nil and both goals had been scored by JJ the player.

By the sixty fifth minute JJ the player had completed his hatrick and by the 80th minute he had set up a fourth goal.

When JJ the player was substituted in the 87th minute the crowd could only applaud.

JJ the manager was glad to hear the tributes but sorry to hear his personal abuse. JJ the manager focussed on the truly touching movement rather than the fact that he was “totally fucking useless”.

JJ the manager was too stunned to ride the wave of emotion. To lose is one thing, your personal pride suffers, but United had lost because of his alterego’s performance, an alterego that used to play for his club no less.

He was the first manager in football history to have been beaten himself.

No amount of mental preparation could prepare one for such a scenario. Nothing can prepare you for shaking hands with yourself after you’ve beaten yourself in a football match.

As he was about to offer himself a platitude of congratulation when…….The rush of consciousness warmed him.

It had only been a dream.

IT HAD ONLY BEEN A DREAM!

Thankfully it had all been a dream!

A split second later he realised that he was awake in actual reality, that he could stretch out and feel the duvet, In a split second he realised that it was a Sunday, yes a Sunday.

Oh the relief, and it was a sunny day. A splitsecond later….

Sunday!

Sunday!

Last Sunday!

So it had only been a week since his old teammate Pete Davies had relegated him.

He may have been saved from the metaphysical nightmare of his dream but he had still been relegated in the penultimate game of the season by his old teammate, was there ever a time that we laughed together on the training ground?

There was nothing more wretched than that. JJ, the hero of the terraces, was the first manager to have relegated United for thirty eight years. He’d been told his job was safe but that’s just a collection of words at the end of the day.

John Jenkins, record appearance holder, remarkable goalscorer, relegated manager.

Then he remembered that there was a board meeting on Tuesday, would the board have had a change of heart?

At that precise post-dream second he wasn’t sure if he cared.





Another hobbytastic use for football.

28 12 2017

After I launched the phenomenon known as “Stickers on Street Furniture” the stickers literally made me the toast of Llandudno’s notoriously judgemental Cultural Quarter but I’m not one for resting on laurels.

This is very lucky because my mind is literally a continual artistic maelstrom and I’m continually formulating yet more artistic departures. My latest masterpiece is entitled…………Feet at the Football”.

The purpose of this continually expanding piece is to point out the continuity of the circumstances in which the self finds itself. In life the context around the self changes but the continuity remains the same. In short, we are all united by the presence of feet at football.

It doesn’t matter what sort of football you watch, or which level, or your location, there will always be a common detail; feet will be in contact with a surface, and it doesn’t matter whether the surface is natural or man made either. Let that sink in mate. Let that sink in.

Anyway, you can follow the action here.

Here’s a sneak preview of what will be on offer;








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