Everything in life changes, with the apparent exception of Ipswich’s position in the football pyramid.
So you’d think someone of my advanced years would no longer be surprised when things are no longer as they were. But it seems that I am.
It’s the subtle shifts which catch me out more than dramatic developments; those things which creep up on you without you noticing, until one day you realise that something is different.
As Grampa laments in an early episode of the Simpsons:
“I used to be with it, but then they changed what *it* was. Now what I’m with isn’t *it*, and what’s *it* seems weird and scary to me.”
It’s happened recently with language. I know that language is fluid and constantly evolving, but a recent study suggesting that several words I use frequently are becoming obsolete left me feeling more than a little discombobulated. (I don’t think that word was on the moribund list, but it’s probably not long for this world.)
Words like ‘cheerio’, ‘fortnight’ and ‘fetch’ are dying out, according to researchers from Lancaster University and the Cambridge University Press. But perhaps they didn’t speak to enough football fans.
You can hear thousands of fans singing ‘cheerio’ whenever one of the opposing team is sent off. The fact that home games are generally two weeks apart means that I often say ‘See you in a fortnight’ to people before making my way to the rail station. And ‘I’m going to fetch a paper’ is something I’m saying more often this season now that the match reports are worth reading again.
It’s true that I probably wouldn’t describe a goal as ‘marvellous’ these days – ‘blinding’ or ‘cracking’ would be my commendatory adjectives of choice – but would I resort to ‘awesome’, which the study claims is replacing it? Hashtag fatchance.
However, much more disturbing than this linguistic development was the revelation the day after the Blackburn game that I am now seen as a vulnerable old man who shouldn’t be out after dark.
To explain: getting back to south-west London by rail after a midweek match at Carrow Road involves a post-midnight dash from Liverpool Street to Waterloo for the last train. Then there’s a walk at the other end, with me arriving home at around 1.45am.
‘You shouldn’t be out at that time of night,’ my wife announced. ‘It’s too late, anything could happen to you.’
Touched as I was by this previously-undeclared concern for my wellbeing, I wasn’t prepared to acknowledge that my physical capabilities have diminished to that extent.
‘It’s not safe,’ she persisted. ‘You’re banned.’
‘Banned? Don’t be ridiculous, you can’t ban me!’ (Reader, I swear that I have never used the phrase ‘Don’t you know who I am?’, but I came dangerously close on this occasion.)
‘You’re banned, you’re banned!’ the kids chorused helpfully.
I fetched the laptop (there’s that word ‘fetch’ again) and looked up the site of a local nursing home. ‘Why don’t you just book me in here and have done with it?’ I suggested.
My wife took a look and shook her head. ‘No, I’ve seen a nicer one than that,’ she said. Plans are evidently more advanced than I realised.
Still, I don’t plan to let a high-security twilight home hold me back when it happens. I intend to be like that plucky old boy who absconded to the D-Day commemorations in Normandy during the summer.
And in the meantime, I’ve got my ticket for Brentford. Wish me luck.
Of course, changes within the football world tend to be more sudden and dramatic, perhaps because the game offers a more exciting, event-filled version of reality than our everyday experience. A soap opera with balls, if you like.
(It’s a potential minefield for a columnist, since any views you express can very quickly be made to look foolish – which is why this column has been resolutely Flippant and Opinion-Free Since 2006TM.)
Already this season, three managers in particular have undergone a drastic change in the way they are perceived.
Just a few weeks ago, Louis van Gaal was a tactical genius who instilled a sense of unity in the notoriously fractious Dutch squad and pulled a masterstroke by bringing on Tim Krul for the penalty shoot-out in the World Cup quarter-final. Now he’s widely seen as a stubborn, abrasive egomaniac who’s making panic buys because he can’t buy a win.
Then there’s Malky. (*shakes head sadly*)
More positively, Neil Adams is no longer a cheap or parochial appointment, but the man who has brought back attractive, winning football and is a bit of a whiz in the transfer market to boot. (Until the next game we lose, at least.)
It’s a change brought about largely by the tactical switch to 4-2-3-1, a formation which at last seems to suit the players at our disposal. (I’ve belatedly been reading Jonathan Wilson’s 2008 book Inverting the Pyramid, a history of football tactics, and it’s given me a much greater appreciation of how crucial the formation is. I didn’t know, for example, that Alf Ramsey’s success at Ipswich was built on playing the left-winger in a slightly more withdrawn position – though that’s largely because it’s not a subject I’ve wanted to read about before.)
What’s surprised me about 4-2-3-1 is how well it allows players to get forward from deep positions; not just the two holding midfielders taking turns to join in with the attacks, but the full-backs too.
It’s early days, of course, and there will be challenges and setbacks – but early evidence suggests that the management team is prepared to do a spot of problem-solving and take action accordingly.
Blackburn made life difficult for a while by pushing their midfield four high up the pitch, but a way was worked out to counter that. Against Bournemouth, the problem was simply a rather flat performance – but at least a Plan B was tried in the second half, in the shape of a switch to 4-4-2.
Moreover, substitutions have been made early enough to give them a chance to work, and they haven’t all been like-for-like. Another welcome change.
Overall, it’s been a very encouraging start. I might even go as far as calling it – oh, what’s the word?
Ah yes – marvellous.