Two quotes for you;
“You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.”
– Albert Camus (playwright, novelist and philosopher).
“Can’t you just be happy that they won?”
– Mrs C (wife, mother and not a philosopher)
I’ll come back to these later but first some context.
Something has been niggling at me since the defeat to West Brom. As disappointed as I was by the result, when I looked across at the Baggies’ fans departing from the Jarrold Stand, I didn’t detect any great sense of joy from them either.
Tony Pulis and his team had ground out another victory with yet another clean sheet. They were content to concede possession, retreat into compact and solid defensive lines and attempt to hit City on the counter; much like an Armadillo rolling into its shell and only occasionally lifting its head to stick its tongue out at its aggressors.
Tony Pulis is good as what he does and deep down (way way down I might add) I have a grudging respect for him; but only in the way that I might have for a traffic warden who has won the ‘most tickets issued’ award for three years in a row.
Despite turning up on a matchday masquerading as an excited little kid wearing the entire contents of the club shop, I can’t help thinking that Pulis is slowly killing football. My current theory is that he’s an assassin who has been hired by the SFWW (Society of Football Widows and Widowers) to destroy the game that robs their members of their loved ones each and every weekend.
West Brom had won but it was a functional display and victory had come at the expense of genuine entertainment. Call it sour grapes, but as I left the Barclay I consoled myself that at least I wouldn’t have to watch Pulis’ Baggies each week. As I watched the West Brom fans trudge out of the stadium, I wondered how it would feel to see your side perform like that for the sake of victory?
Well last Saturday against Swansea I found out… and it was bloody brilliant.
The sense of relief and elation at the final whistle is something that only football fans will appreciate and the fact that you’re reading this article means I don’t have to explain it. You already know.
It was a great moment and a desperately needed win and I realised for the first time in weeks I could watch Match of the Day again. (I don’t when we lose – is that just me?)
However by the time I’d come home I found myself strangely troubled by a number of nagging doubts which prompted Mrs C’s question at the start of the piece.
What if those three points make Alex Neil become a disciple of Pulis?
What if the only way for the divisions’ lesser lights to compete is to ‘park the bus’?
Now before I go on, I know that Alex Neil has shown that he’s capable of cutting his cloth to suit his opponents and adapting his team and tactics. But what if the future was to be built upon tight defensive displays?
Would you take that if it secured our survival?
Stew recently posed the question about what we as City fans should expect and aspire to. The general consensus seemed to be becoming an established mid-table premier league side. I believe it was even the ‘holy grail’ and final outcome in David McNally’s much quoted seven year plan.
But what does that mean in reality? It strikes me that it doesn’t matter whether you’re a West Brom who camp in your own box or a Swansea who pass the ball between your centre-backs all day long (equally boring to my mind). I’d suggest that for all bar the top six or seven clubs, most seasons boil down to an annual struggle to scrap and scrape enough points for the right to do it all again the following year.
Ed recently reflected on when City had last experienced a season of ‘mediocrity’. A season devoid of the roller-coaster highs and lows and he concluded that it was back in 2002.
But is that our holy grail; that we build a team capable of comfortably achieving mediocrity with a mid-table finish each year?
What’s the point of that?
Then again, what’s the point of Ipswich? They’ve had THOURTEEN consecutive seasons in the second tier! Maybe it’s little wonder that they celebrate the half year anniversary of scoring an equaliser against us.
And what’s the point of Arsenal? They’ve had EIGHTEEN consecutive seasons qualifying for the Champions League when we all know that they’ll be knocked out before the quarter-finals each year.
When we were relegated two years ago it felt awful; like the world had collapsed. Week after week I’d wake up on a Sunday or Monday morning and my first conscious thought was of the previous day’s result and I’d suffer a terrible sinking feeling. At the time, survival meant everything to me and I could think of no crueller fate than losing our Premier League status.
But without that relegation, I wouldn’t have experienced two of the greatest footballing days of my life during the play-offs.
And that lies at the heart of my ‘what’s the point’ question.
On Saturday as with every home match, I met my parents at midday at the pub for lunch and beers. It’s a ritual we have shared for years and the only change is that my kids are now at an age where they come too (albeit unfortunately they’re too young to get a round in). It’s a chance to catch-up over the week’s events. We talk rubbish for a couple of hours, we guess the team sheet just before 2 pm, and we walk alongside the River before nipping in to the station to buy sweets and chewing gum.
Everyone has their match day ritual. There are those who share long coach journeys or board a train with a four-pack and their mates. There are those who can’t attend the match but live every moment through Chris Goreham’s commentary or via some online feed battling both nerves and buffering.
These are things that aren’t dependent on what league we’re in or who we’re playing that day. With the circus and hype that surrounds the Premier League it’s all too easy to lose sight of what really matters and just enjoy it for what it is. That’s the trap I had allowed myself to fall into and is (I think) at the heart of what Albert Camus was getting at.
There will be all manner of ups and downs over the next few weeks; plenty of jubilation and disappointment. But prompted by Mrs C’s question, I decided that I would just enjoy the fact that we’d won and that I’d had a really lovely day with my family.
Then I settled down to watch it happen again on Match of The Day.
You can follow Steve on Twitter @stevocook