Sunday, 26 December 2010

A league of our own


Interesting one, Villa. They used to be us. We used to be them.

Now we're supposed to be something different, something better.

Previously, the top four was almost always The Big Four. Outside of that, there was us, Villa and Everton, all sort of knocking on the door. And then invariably running away before it was opened. Like a sort of shit and pointless version of Knock Down Ginger (there may be regional variations on the name of this game/minor offense, but rest assured it was slightly more innocent and harmless than hitting carrot tops).

We would shuffle 5th, 6th and 7th positions between us, whilst still finding time to slip in the occasional nightmare season where we dropped quite significantly further down.

In truth, the big boys' 1-2-3-4 hegemony was never threatened. Chelsea, Man Utd, Arsenal, Liverpool. 1-2-3-4. Over and over again. They were the Premier League Ramones.

Liverpool, of course, have now 'done a Joey'. This doesn't really work as a metaphor, because Joey Ramone is dead, and Liverpool are just resting. But that slight medical discrepancy is compensated for by the use of the word 'Joey', which, having seen Liverpool a few times this season, seems entirely appropriate.

If you look at our performance over the last 18 months and the current quality of our squad, though, we do seem to have left both Villa and Everton behind, right? Put some clear white water between us. We certainly seem to have established enough points of difference. (Points, see, what you get when you win football matches. Clever, I know).

But we're still not Big Four. Top four last year, yes, but not Big Four Proper. The Champions League still feels like a once-in-a-lifetime holiday, not a permanent place in the sun.

Actually, after a few years of working hard and finally scraping through last year's end of term exam (in other words, after earning our place) one of the other boys, City (Manchester Minor) got adopted by unfeasibly rich new parents who just went ahead and bought a place. Probably donated a geography block or something.

So maybe we've been unfortunate enough to finally become good enough to be in the top/Big Four, just when the barrier to entry was raised, and we were asked to leave more or less straight away. Sorry Spurs, there's been a mistake. Manchester City have moved the goalposts. Which makes a change from Manchester United, where they move the goal line.

But, hopefully, we've outgrown our old peer group, as well. We're fifth. It seems very, very likely that we'll remain fifth and finish fifth. We've got nowhere else to go. And whereas previously this would have been a rather splendid achievement, this season it may well feel like a terrible disappointment and horribly unjust. It will be a fifth full of fury.

To get and stay in the top/Big Four, someone has to give up their place. Liverpool did. Which was damn decent of them. But United, Chelsea and Arsenal won't. And City just don't work as a business, as a club or, as the directors their are fond of saying, as 'a project', without Champions League football. They'll do whatever it takes. If that sounds sinister, that's because it is.

Back to Villa. Today's game won't prove one way or another whether we're more comfortable in their company, or alongside the genuinely big boys. But, it does feel like we won't be jostling them for position in the season's final straight. Nor does it seem feasible that we'll be part of the leading pack. We'll be where we belong: fifth. Oh my God, we're Peter Elliot. Ginger twat.

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