Monday, 27 August 2012

So farewell then, Luka

One of the chaps in the row behind us at White Hart Lane was once attempting to extol the virtues of Luka Modric. Fumbling for the words to express his admiration, he eventually said: 'He just, I dunno, when he has the ball at his feet, he just… he glides'.

'Glides' is quite an unusual word for a football fan to use. And so, of course, it was seized upon. For around a year, whenever our number 14 got the ball, this bloke's fellow season ticket holders would all gleefully shout 'Go on Modric, glide, my son, glide!'

They did it to rib their mate, of course, but they also did it because they knew he was spot on. Luka did glide. He beat people through touch and movement. He didn't look to stepover, or nutmeg or purely outpace. He lost markers simply by being more aware of space, of his own body, of the position and likely next movement of an opponent – all combined with sublime control. 

He had the ability to execute the spectacular: there were raking cross field balls, the odd thunderbolt; but mostly, entirely appropriately, his brilliance came in small, subtle packages.

(The only drawback, he was appalling in front of goal; the guy finished like an asthmatic in a marathon.)

Now he's gone. Thankfully, I can't muster myself to care. I would have done, a while ago. Luka was my last footballing crush; a footballing crush defined as a player I watch above all others and long to perform and impress because in doing so he validates my love for him; I believe that he represents something about my club, about the way football should be played, and about me, probably.

It started with Hoddle, then Waddle, then Gascoigne, I even had a bit of a thing with Anderton in the early '90s, but neither of us like to talk about it. Since then, I've fallen in love less easily. There was Berbatov, of course, but I think that may have been lust. I knew he'd treat me badly in the end. And I'm still not sure if I enjoyed it or not.

Then along came Luka. Skinny, scruffy, little Luka. He looked as if he should play with his socks round his ankles. He was pretty much perfect for me. And I was in love again. Unlike all the other affairs, though, this one didn't end when he left me/us, it ended because, well, you can't love a woman if you don't love women. So when football suddenly seemed bleak and soulless and the scales fell from my eyes, Modric and me were just a casualty of that break-up. Now jog on, rat face.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

The Beautiful Games - and the return of Clive Tyldesley

I didn't need the unadulterated wondrousness of the Olympics to throw the grubbiness and sheer wrong-headedness of the Premier League into sharp relief.

Watching under/hardly paid, decent sportsmen and women compete honestly and ferociously, then accept their fate and finishing position with humility, equanimity, tears and smiles has, of course, been a delight. But I already knew the modern day footballer was in another world. Similarly, I don't need to stick my head in a bowl of pot-pourri to know that sh*t stinks. Talking of which...

On Sunday, I caught maybe 10 minutes of the Community Shield. I saw the multi-millionaires (paid by multi-billionaires) strut their stuff, I saw close-ups of the snarling, baying crowd, I heard their chants and their boos, I heard Clive Tyldesley's voice,  I was even unlucky enough to catch a celebration: all clenched fists and preening machismo. And I thought, Jesus football, you're just so... ugly. So unappetising, so out of tune and out of touch.

I still love football. I still love kicking a ball more than I love running round things, throwing things or jumping over things. My favourite sporting memories all revolve around football. I still have more admiration for the skill of a great player than I do for any other sporting prowess. But do I admire or like the player executing that skill? These days, almost certainly not.

I also know football, in terms of its fanbase (its most active and vociferous fanbase), is a working class sport in a way that, say, rowing, is not. And that it inspires a different type of passion, one that lasts a lifetime rather than burns and fades in time with the Olympic flame. These are both good things. But no, this isn't about class. Well, maybe it is, but not that type of class.

The Olympic athletes were the best of us. They performed, won and lost with the values and spirit that we hold dear and like to think we carry in our real lives. Premier League players are on Planet Football. They breath a different air. They are not the best of us. They are not even the worst of us. They are simply not of us. They are other. We don't understand them. And we don't particularly like them.

There are exceptions, of course. There are honest, decent, inspirational footballers. But not many (The upcoming book by The Guardian's Secret Footballer will, I fear, bear this out in plenty of gory, gaudy detail). And there are athletes who cheat and bitch and think their money and status excuse them from the 'binds' of everyday morals and mores. But, again, not many.

As I said at the start, though, the Olympics didn't influence my feelings for football one iota. Like most people, over the last two weeks, I fell in love with these amazing games. But I fell out of love with football way, way before the B of the Bang.