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Breaking news: as of 20:30, Friday 10 July 2009, Manchester City have decided to end their pursuit of Samuel Eto’o. Meanwhile, in unrelated news, I have decided to end my pursuit of Zooey Deschanel, unlimited wealth and everlasting tranquility. In every instance, these were entirely mutual decisions.


I wonder at what point Real Madrid president Florentino Perez looked at the role-call of recent Champions League participants and thought, “Aargh! The chaos! My eyes! I can’t feel my eyes! What in God’s name is ‘France’? Who are ‘Roma’? Oh, the humanity…!”.

He’s obviously a deeply sensitive chap who requires repetition, stability and, ideally, Real Madrid’s presence in each year’s Champions League final to feel comfortable within his own skin. How else to explain his plans to create a European Super League of 16 clubs, none of whom are likely to be troubling the administrators any time soon.

Generously, he doesn’t want to replace the continent’s various domestic competitions: merely to guarantee that clubs like Liverpool, Bayern Munich and Internazionale would be guaranteed a place in the ESL regardless of where they finish within their home leagues.

Which rather brings to mind those happy years for music lovers across the UK throughout the late 80s and early 90s when the likes of Annie Lennox, Kate Bush and U2 would be nominated for Brit Awards despite not having actually released a song or even wandered into a studio within the previous 12 months.

Yes, I’m with Perez. It’s far better to give the award to one of 16 pre-determined teams selected for their heritage, dashing good looks and available cash balance rather than, say, which ones have won something recently. Though with Real Madrid having not reached the quarter-finals since 2004, I’d naively imagined he might fancy letting the odd Aston Villa, Cologne or Marseilles in rather than scheming to keep them out.

Here’s everything I have ever known and understood about the transfer season.

It happens in the summer (the one in January legally has to be called “the transfer window”. I think it’s a sub-sponsorship deal with Everest double glazing or something). Sometimes players are strongly linked with clubs which they do not end up ever actually playing for. If it’s a very good player, or a 16-year-old Brazilian/Portuguese wunderkind, they will be strongly linked with up to a dozen clubs which they will never play for. Finally, that your typical professional footballer presumably “pledges to stay” on his own toilet seat right up until the point where he flushes the chain.  

But, oh the excitement of it all! Michael Owen to Man United? John Terry to Man City? Adebayor to Chelsea? Ruud van Nistelrooy to Spurs? I guess it’s the ZX Spectrum Football Manager in me, shuffling imaginary galacticos to my heart’s content without ever having to stop and wonder if £180k a week is just a mite too much for one player’s wage bill. Good luck Samuel Eto’o. If it doesn’t work out this season, you can always get yourself linked with Hull in January. 

It’s also a lovely opportunity for me to learn and then immediately forget which teams many players I have heard of but wouldn’t recognise in the street are now playing for. Players like Titus Bramble, Dean Ashton and Damien Duff. Great to hear your news boys, and good luck to you at… oh, God, sorry, it’s gone again.

Alas, having scoured the papers long and hard this week, it seems that Paul Mariner and Dixie Dean have now definitely hung up their boots. Fairweather Football Fan – first with the latest transfer news.

To the pub this afternoon for the Arsenal v Chelsea FA Cup semi-final, and straight into the swampy no man’s land between two very different types of football fans.

To my right, a small group of braying, pastel-polo-shirted potato heads who wouldn’t let a corner pass without aggressively comparing the corner taker with that part of a woman’s body my predictive text calls an “aunt”.

To my left, a pair of middle-aged, middle-brow, middle-everythinged men – all Boden clothes, spectacles and folded arms throughout – who spent the entire first half regurgitating everything they had ever read someone else write about Wenger’s youth team policy, Eboue’s shortcomings, Hiddink’s talismanic qualities… basically anything they could recall from all their long years of being told that enjoying football was an inherently Good, Decent, Manly Thing To Do.

They sounded like photographs of paintings.

Can it really be so hard to enjoy football without wanting to kill/marry the particpants, or without wanting to dissect, third-hand, every component in ulcerating slow real-time?

And have I already, just a handful of posts in, turned into Carrie Bradshaw?

This is what I’m talking about. This right here…

Ever the bouncing ball of corporate fizz and casually-suited dread, one of the Very Big Bosses in my office came in earlier and tried striking up a conversation about last night’s Champions League Classic (TM) between Chelsea and Liverpool.

Naturally, my brain did the kind and generous thing I have trained it to do over the years and immediately atrophied on his first in-breath. But I think it went something along the lines of “terrific stuff… real end-to-end football… certainly an exciting semi-final on the cards… of course, Ferguson has his work cut out tonight… please like me… pleasepleaseplease like me…” before he flounced off to, I dunno, “go to the States” or “catch the gym” or “stamp on a widow” or something.

And once more, my favourite ever exchange from some TV series or other seeped into view:

Burns: Oh, top of the morning to ye!  Why, look who’s here! It’s … good old… You!

Man:   Hi, Mr. Burns.

Burns: Oh, hey there, Mr. uh… Brown-Shoes!  How about that … local sports team!

Look, it’s alright. You were a millionaire by the age of 35. You don’t need to like football if you don’t want to…

“Five to five on 13th April. This is the rebirth of Luton Town Football Club” – Luton boss Mick Harford, shortly after five to five, 13 April, 2009.

Easter Monday, and just as our risen Lord Jesus is once more rolling back the stone and preparing for his annual comeback glory, a goalless draw at home to Chesterfield signals the end of Luton Town’s glorious 89-year spell in league football.

All across the budget-pub wastelands of South Bedfordshire tonight, thousands tens of Hatters fans will be crying into their £1.29 pints and railing at the beauracratic narwahls whose 30-point pre-season handicap condemns us to an autumn of visiting not Everton or Man City but Ebbsfleet and Mansfield.

But if Barack Obama has taught us anything, it’s to believe in the audacity of hope. On this very date, in just five seasons’ time, Luton Town FC should be readying themselves for a Champions League quarter-final second-leg at home to Barcelona, sitting pretty on a 4-0 first-leg away win.

Or, in the words of Mick Harford:

“The benchmark is Doncaster Rovers. They went down a few years ago, came back up, got a new stadium and now they’re flying in the Championship. And that’s how we’ve got to respond.”

You know what? We won the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy this year. How many other clubs can say that?

A simply lovely quote from Alan Shearer, one week into his new job:

“I haven’t been able to switch off at all. It takes over your thoughts. Every waking moment. Every second, not just minute. I’m picking teams, 4-4-2, 4-3-3, 4-1-2 whatever.”

Ah, the old “4-1-2 whatever”. Three player wages saved and still a 1-1 draw away to Stoke. Arise Sir Alan.

I can predict football results on the simple basis of being able to discern assonant, lyrical, plucky team names from those which suggest clod-hopping route-one no-hopers*. Hence, the best three football team names in the world are:

  1. Deportivo La Coruna
  2. River Plate
  3. Sheffield Wednesday  

* Legal note: I absolutely cannot predict fooball results on the simple basis of names, form, inside leg measurements, star signs or anything else. But look at the list above and ask yourself, really, how you ever came to be a fan of Coventry, Mallorca, Watford or Chelsea,

One of the aspects that most confuses me about being a football fan is that I’m never quite sure what’s expected of me in terms of actual attendance at real football matches.

I know for example that it’s considered categorically poor form to watch football in anything approaching a comfortable domecile, through any kind of satellite television set-up, with any kind of victuals fancier than, say, stale bread and tap water to hand.

No, I understand that it’s far more fan-like to travel crippling distances (preferably in a condemned charabanc) in sheet-rain weather to stand freezing on an a distant terrace mere hours before you have to be back at your desk for a Wednesday morning strategy meeting.

In truth, I go to maybe one football match a year. Which doesn’t sound like a lot, but in the last few seasons I’ve upped my statistical ante to go, say, twice a year. In total, I’ve been to maybe forty football matches.

Which sounds quite paltry, and makes me feel like an absolute beginner in the world of Real Sports Fans(TM).

Except now and again, I’ll get in a taxi to my home hear the Emirates (always enough to prompt a football conversation from the driver) to hear moth-eaten excuses from supposed die-hard fans about why they’ve not, you know, actually been able to attend for, well, you understand, nigh on thirty years now.

“Yeah, I used to go to Millwall all the time until the mid-70s, then the navy sent me to Haiti, so, you know…”

And without fail, there follows a tale of 18 months’ worth of high-seas derring-do, followed by at least 25 years’ worth of… um… living quite near the ground and wanting to go to matches but, you know, what with the missus and her angina, plus the recent change in the base interest rate combined with depleting levels of cod in the Baltic seas…

Well, suddenly my Arsenal v Man Utd Youth Cup semi-final ticket purchase a couple of years ago makes me feel like I’m the grassroots god holding the whole damn football shebang together for the rest of you.

Welcome to Fairweather Football Fan. This would have been simply “Fairweather Fan”, but I was beaten to that address by some Illinois-based IT graduate who seems to have dipped his/her toe in the blogosphere in January 2007 and removed said toe in, um, February 2007, having completed a grand total of two posts. With that kind of frequency, I guess they truly deserve the mantle, and it does at least force me to make it clear that this blog will be about football.

Which, for my intercontinental followers, of course means football in the “no, not the Chicago Bears” sense of the word.

Quickly, here’s my creed: I adore football. To an extent.

And that’s really that. Nothing makes me happier than losing myself in any old dead rubber of a match given the right setting. I get emotionally unsettled when either of my two teams lose. I will sack off a month’s honest work to watch a World Cup or European Championship unfold and I will love every second.

But, frankly, nothing sets my teeth on edge like the sight and sound of a “real” football fan, cosseted in his comfort replica shirt, espousing tactical insight at deafening volumes for the benefit of a braying mob of football fascists.

When I hear about football-themed weddings or beatings meted out on the grounds of sectarian support, my heart dies a little. Watching the temples of a red-blooded, alpha-male, football fanatic throb and hover with angry energy makes me yearn for a life lived, literally, within the pages of the Guardian’s comment section, with nothing but a flask of Lapsang Souchong and a light-but-buttery flapjack for succour.

Frankly, the spectre of some pumped-up halfwit declaiming that Wenger’s failure to sell/substitute/behead Nicklas Bendtner at half-time is literally the same as stabbing an orphan makes me feel tremulous to say the least. 

But above all, what riles me more than anything is people being boring about football. For the love of God, it’s the beautiful game by anyone’s standard. Don’t make me feel tawdry for liking it.