Friday, November 23, 2007


I'm going to start with a quote from Herb on Pasoti:

I feel like a fool.

I believed in Ian Holloway, I really did.

I believed everything the man said.

The long-term approach, the loyalty, the love for the club, the area and the fans.

I absolutely thought that this was it. The fact that he was a West Country man was just a perfect coincidence.

But better, much, much better than that, was that here, after so many false starts, was the man capable of driving my silly football club on and on and on.

I know I’m stupid, but what football fan that buys a season ticket, that travels thousands of miles a season, that buys in to the belief that progress will come, that chases, constantly, the dangling carrot of ‘better times’, the eternal promise that something bigger, better, more attractive isn’t just around the corner, isn’t completely insane?

But surely, Holloway is, was, different?

Sadly, no

Obviously, when the ‘man’ is chasing the money, you can’t argue…….just think of your own circumstances.

That isn’t the point.

By far and away, the focus of my pain is everything Holloway has said and done since he’s been at Argo.

Nobody, surely, can say they saw this coming based on what they’ve heard?

I feel dirty, cheated, embarrassed, suckered, stupid, and sad and a few more percentage points of the love of football have been wiped away and by Christ, they were low anyway.

Personally, I’ll never forgive Holloway for this, not that he’ll ever know or care about me or you, despite me and you knowing quite a bloody lot about him and his family. Enjoy the East Midlands, Ian, and enjoy full time employment for the next 6 months.

Is there anything to add? Not really. I feel exactly the same way about it all. Sadly it isn’t the first time I have felt like this. The first time I was really gutted – moved by rage almost to tears but this time? I’m no happier, that’s certain but the rage isn’t there.

Why not? That’s the question. This piece is going to use some more illustrative quotes to help starting with the Billy Bragg song Lover’s Town Revisited:

It's that summer of the evening
Get ready and roll the cassette
There's boys outside preaching genocide
And trying to think up some sort of threat
And the ladies in the cloakroom
Take no notice of me
I wish myself was back at home
But there's nothing safe in watching TV

There's something born tomorrow
That I lost when I was out for a drink
How many cans is it gonna take
To change the way I think
It takes more than good intentions
And a big bloke on the door
And though it's never the same after the first time
That doesn't stop them coming back for more

Fighting in the dance halls happens anyway
Sometimes it makes me stop and think
Sometimes it makes me turn away
Sometimes it makes me stop and think
Sometimes it makes me turn away
Sometimes it makes me stop and think
But most times it makes me run away

… for a couple of reasons. Firstly:
though it's never the same after the first time
that doesn't stop them coming back for more
How about that for a couplet? So very, very true. We’ve all been to the game that blew our mind. I’ve been lucky, I suppose, I’ve been to a few with the most recent being the QPR game and the first being the Colchester game in ’75 when I was 10 years old. Once bitten you’re doomed for all eternity. Like a junkie who has his life altered by the thrill and ecstasy of that first fix you just keep going back for more. Keep trying to re-create that feeling. Over time the enjoyment fades, you realize that no matter how madly you rage against the dying of the light that the light will surely die and then one day it does.

I have been to games where I have somehow managed to elbow the ethical considerations of my following of Argyle to one side and I’m not talking about my poxy carbon footprint here. The first such time was when an Argyle fan was killed at Swindon some years ago. I was at the game and blissfully unaware as to what happened. Although, on reflection, what happened to that fan could have happened to anybody at more or less any game in those days I was able to dismiss it as an isolated incident and bad luck on his part. “Bad luck”!! And so a death an actual loss of life is dismissed as an irrelevance almost. How can my mind be so closed to events with such real significance? I don’t know. I can’t justify it. I won’t try to.

How can I when I did exactly the same thing when a second supporter was killed at a game that I went to? This time at Wembley in ‘96 when the play off win was actually marred by one Argyle fan stabbing and killing another. Not really football related was it, though? Not like that last time in Swindon. A sad event that just happened to occur, coincidentally, at a football match.

Then other tragedies, real tragedies spring to mind. Hillsborough, Heysel, Bradford. I was/am only vaguely connected by TV to those events. I wasn’t there, although I did “witness” them, but combined that is around 200 people who have died to my certain knowledge due to a football match. How can any game be worth it?

200 deaths are not enough to stop me going to games though. I’m obsessessed. I’m addicted. I’m a football junkie who craves that fix even though the fun and enjoyment has mostly long since gone but that isn’t to say that I’m a miserable sort or even a pessimist when it comes down to it. I feel another quote coming on:

“It's not the despair, Laura. I can take the despair. It's the hope I can't stand.” – John Cleese in Clockwise.

Oft quoted and so very true. It’s the hope that excuses it all. It’s hope that makes it all worthwhile. It’s hope that makes us wish against every ounce of our collective experience that it’ll be just as good again as it was that day at The Hawthorns or that night at The Baseball Ground or at any of a selected few other reminiscences that shine like cut diamonds in a colossal vat of excrement.

I still enjoy going to games but the reasons have changed. Any game. I’ll spend every last penny I have to go once I make my mind up to. I’ll forego any of life’s luxuries to be able to say “I was there” (Max Boyce wasn’t it?) I enjoy the planning of a trip. I enjoy meeting people at the games. I actually enjoy the anticipation that accompanies the almost inevitable seemingly endless journey. Weirdly I even don’t mind the monotony of the journey home most times cursing the injustice of the result either. It’s all a part of it. Besides you have to experience defeat, relish the exquisite pain of it even, in order to truly understand the joy of a win ~ and I do enjoy them but in a subtly differing way to how I once did. It’s a sign of ageing, I guess.

I’m an Argyle fan. We don’t and haven’t won all that often ~ especially away from Home Park. When we do it is all the sweeter. Not for us the relentless accumulation of win after win like the Liverpool team of old or the Manchester United or Chelsea sides of more recent times accompanied by trophy after trophy. That’s never been our lot and probably never will be.

We’ve had our moments though and in recent years we have soared from previously unimagined depths to heights that were once achievable only in the realm of fantasy, and only in the furthermost outreaches of our wildest imaginings at that, whilst we lay broken and devoid of hope in McCauley’s darkest days.

Our lot was changed by the arrival of Paul Sturrock as manager. Quite how he did what he did I do not really know but he did do it. From deadbeats to Champions in no time. Then a second Championship to boot but by the time it arrived a bit of me had died. Right at the very core of my almost lifelong infatuation with Argyle in particular and fandom in general there was now a dead area. This was caused by the complete and utter destruction of the very hope that Cleese’s character referred to when Sturrock left us to go to Southampton. I believed back then. I really, really believed that after 30-odd years of devotion to the cause the man who was going to take us to the summit had arrived. Maybe he had but he had left too before we got to find out. I still feel to this day that Sturrock could have been our Shankly, Stein, Clough or Revie. In fact I suppose given the depths from which we rose in a way he was.

That, for me, was the “day the music died” (Don Maclean this time from the song American Pie) and when the music died so did that little bit of me. That feeling has never really left me. Despite the drama, tension and euphoria of Williamson’s first game in charge when Trigger scored with that header and Friio just danced through the QPR defence before a finish that was a work of art to seal the win in what was arguably Home Park’s greatest ever moment.

Which brings me to today, or up to this week at least. I’m in exactly the same black and depressing place now that Holloway has gone in circumstances virtually identical to Sturrock’s departure. I feel all the emotions that Herb described at the beginning of this piece. I feel the betrayal. I hate what has happened, how it has happened and why it has happened but the real rot set in last time. I genuinely believed that Sturrock was here for the long haul. I hoped, felt even, the same about Holloway but I did not immerse myself in the waters of self-delusion like last time. I liked him, supported him, wouldn’t hear a word said against him but the blind faith I once had just wasn’t there to be destroyed this time ~ the damage was already done.

That’s not to say I haven’t had my share of despondency about events. I’m prone to sighing heavily for no reason and shaking my head in disbelief. I’m scouring the net for snippets on info about what has happened. I’m writing this, for God’s sake, as an exercise in catharsis but what is done is done and my take on it makes no difference at all.

I now have no faith at all in anybody or anything to do with football. There is no decency in the game. There is no loyalty. Every last man Jack is only in it for themselves. Every single participant in the drama is a fraud; every soul is damned. Even the favourites like Holloway are just as venal as the obvious villains like Pulis. Just as once upon a time Lucifer was said to be God’s favourite angel before he met his destiny and became the Devil himself intrinsic greed destroys what they have and what they may have and what we, the supporters hope, yearn and in various ways, pray for.

Make no mistake about it football is corrupt and rotten though and through and recent events just serve to rub our noses in the stinking stool that a once great sport has left behind and nobody bats even an eyelid. Nobody is scandalized. The Press barely even mentions it.

But where did it all go so horribly wrong? Why? I can’t really put my finger on it but it seems to me that, as with so much, the Thatcherite Reaganomics on which the game gorges itself are to blame. Trickledown? Excuse me whilst I puke. The annexing of various aspects of the game by the biggest clubs starting with the home team keeping all of the gate receipts was an incredibly damaging moment that was the first step to all that followed: The Premier League, SKY TV, huge transfer fees and wages, replica kits and all the other paraphernalia inherent in today’s industry. An industry that exists to serve itself and for no other reason. Any concept of sport long since having been lost.

On the news this very evening I even heard a spokesman for the PL rubbishing claims that the PL was responsible for England failing to qualify for Austria/Switzerland next year and pointing out that the PL and various clubs in it were thriving as never before. He seemed to forget that a major contributory factor to the forming of the PL was the failure of the England team at international level blamed on fixture congestion and that England could not even find 2 strikers that play regularly enough to justify a starting place in an England XI facing a vital game and that in the last round of PL matches there was only 35 English players taking part with the vast majority of them being centre halves. We can’t even field anything other than a comedy goalkeeper when once our goalies were hailed as the best in the world. We don’t even pretend they are in the top 10 now. Still McClaren has been sacked so the suits have acted decisively to sort it all out and we’ll be alright next time. Yeah right.

The sickness infecting our game doesn’t stop there, It isn’t even confined to the game at it’s highest levels (or at Argyle’s level) but throughout our very society. Schools have hour long PE lessons instead of longer afternoon sessions so by the time the kids get changed how long are they actually getting any coaching? Can you fit a football match, a proper one, into less than an hour? That’s if they are lucky enough to go to a school which hasn’t been forced to sell off it’s sports’ fields and have the option to try various sports. In some schools lunatic ideologists have forbidden them from trying to compete with each other and taking part is the important thing. Well it is but winning is the whole point of the exercise and you cannot have winners if there are no losers.

Outside of schools the entire country has gone into a frenzy of paranoia over paedophilia. Kids aren’t allowed the freedom to roam as they please and play football or cricket for all hours until the daylight has gone. Another quote “jumpers for goalposts” (Ron Manager) holds true but it’s from a bygone age. It may be a cliché now but it was once like that. What’s it like now? The internet, MSN, PS3, wi-fi and Nickleodeon ensure our kids are too lardy to get out

I wish myself was back at home
But there's nothing safe but watching TV

and play as we all once did even if they could go out without their parents being ravaged with fear at the prospect.

Is it all doom and gloom? Yes I believe it is.

We live in a society now completely unsuited to the physical, intellectual and emotional requirements of the Nation as a wider entity. Maybe it ‘twas ever thus and I just did not realize it or if I did I just chose not to recognize it and sometimes to actively and completely ignore it.

If I now am absolutely sure of anything it is that there is nobody in the professional football world who can be trusted to behave decently and ethically on any level whatsoever. I’m not actually just a bit disillusioned with the game at the moment; any good feelings I once had about it have been utterly destroyed and the unhappily coincidental events of this week just make it impossible to ignore or deny.

As I type this it’s Thursday night. Argyle are away at Sheffield United on Saturday. There will, I hope, be a display of defiance, loyalty and support from the Green Army. It will be, no matter what the outcome, a very emotional day. I was at the game in Nottingham when we played County after Sturrock left. This has clear parallels.

I honestly can’t say right now that I intend to drag myself up to South Yorkshire for this one. I’m not sure I have the emotional energy to invest anymore. Back to Lover’s Town for a final quote:

Sometimes it makes me stop and think
Sometimes it makes me turn away