Look, last season was just a blip, it really was, you just wait until August. Then you'll see......
"The world's favorite season is the spring. All things seem possible in May."
That quote is attributed to Edwin Way Teale. I know not of Teale – what he did nor what he stood for. When planning this piece I merely put the words: quotes, month and May in to a well know search engine and that’s what popped up.
All I can do, is assume; assume that Teale was no football fan – not because his spelling of favourite suggests that he is American, but for the fact that 99% (figure accurate at the time of making this nonsense up) of all football fans will tell you that very little seems possible in May; and what is possible – often comes hand in hand with feelings of emptiness, bitterness and despair.
But has it always been like this?
As I sit at my desk; the sun bouncing off the windows of Leeds Prison – basking in the bright, warmth of a spring day – I do wonder when May became synonymous with such trepidation; such expectation – and ultimately, welcomed June with nowt but disappointment.
Sky Sports, and the brand of modern football it touts offers many sticks to beat itself with – something that makes it all too easy to target them with vitriolic outbursts – but if they are not to blame for making May this overlord of misery and darkness – then who is?
Before I carry on down this blackened path, I’ll clarify that I’m not for one minute suggesting that there was no such thing as title races, promotion, relegation or cup finals in the 1980s; but if you were the fan of a team that missed out, that stayed up – that went out of the cup in January – you paid little attention to the misery of others.
But now, it is as though that misery permeates your every waking, sport watching/reading/listening hour. You can’t get away from it – from the minute April turns to May, there is nowhere to hide from the hyperbole of their pain.
Maybe it was because, back then, the league was usually wrapped up in September. As Alan Hansen slipped the ball back to Bruce Grobbelaar from just outside the opposition penalty area; as the scoreboard read 1-0 to Liverpool – with the Kop finally finding their voice – you knew that as day turns to night and back to day; Liverpool would win the league again.
Now – only Carol Vorderman is sufficiently qualified to inform Jim White that the league championship has been mathematically confirmed. Though that doesn’t stop them – just look at the slavering devotion to a championship saga story, the media ranks applied to the drama cloaking QPR’s promotional push. We are informed that as Neil Warnock went in to the dressing room before their final game and informed his players that there would be no points deduction – a number of them were instantly reduced to tears.
Yet those weren’t tears of joy. Half the players won’t be going up, or will be shipped back down before August ends – they were just devastated at the thought of missing out on their moment in the sun; their chance to put their “pulling at the heart strings” side of the story across – journeymen pros who had reached Nirvana, only to find it closed for stock taking. Now there was no story, there was no reason for the media to pay any lasting attention to them – moving on instead to the next haven of anguish and despair.
Attention turned to Old Trafford where we saw United all but wrap up the league. All but you say? So it’s not official then – there’s still the chance that United could throw a “Devon Loch” in the final furlong and let Chelsea back in? They may only need a point – but that’s not the point. Expect comments like “nervous” and “fans on edge” to dance through the microphone until United eventually seal the title – but even then, like a jilted lover rising to give reason why this marriage should not go ahead – some lunatic will claim there have been irregularities in United’s title success this time around.
But whilst one half of the country is playing Paul Hardcastle’s “19” (hopefully mixing out of Beat Dis – Bomb the Bass as they do) the rank and file of the media corps will be rushing around looking for their next big news story. Cameramen will be instructed to look out for a season defining “Arsenal fan screaming his tits off”, or “boy who can’t spell his own club’s name in face paint but is soaking that paint with the tears of virgin youth” to flood our screens with. We will share their joy, their pain – most of us will tell our mates on Monday how we laughed at them, but really we were just thankful it was their club going down and not ours.
Television crews will be instructed to hang around outside the ground as the dejected leave 10 minutes early to beat the traffic. Bryan Swanson will ask a speechless person how they feel – who will then go in to great detail as to how they can’t express their emotions at this time; refusing to give any air time to others as they blabber away. Some will be captured from a distance, stood alone in the gangways of the stands – nothing more than an empty shell. Clutching their programme and thinking what might have been - if only they had a dad who supported a team, far better than the one he lumbered them with.
Yet they are the lucky ones. They know their fate – those that are left; the fans loyal to clubs heading to the play-offs, or that need to play a qualifying game to get in to a major European tournament have weeks, nay months of Journalists informing them of the millions on offer from just one game – is it £30m or £60m that you make getting in to the level above? They will be filmed loitering outside their stadiums whilst the rest of us are at work. Happy to give a quote about the upcoming game; pressed on how they might feel if their team loses – poked with a stick, just out of shot, that brings on a slight dampening of the eyes in order to give the camera man his very own, football fan money shot – tears, a quivering lip, ranting incoherently – Mayitis if you will.
Think you are safe from it all? Well think again. Your season may be over – your title decide, your relegation battle well and truly satisfied – but you will play just as big a part in these next couple of weeks as the fans still lumbered with the curse of May. You will stare goggle-eyed at the ever changing league table in the bottom right hand corner (I’m sure we could all count sufficiently back in April that we didn’t need a real time update, every time Kammy reacts in that unbelievably understated way of his). You will soak up the atmosphere of the final day – you will be amazed that air traffic control are allowing a helicopter to fly around the country with just a glistening Hayley McQueen and the Premier League Trophy – your palms will be sweating, your pint glass twitching – your excitement overflowing; and then, when that final whistle goes, for a brief moment you will share the joy, the pain, the euphoria and the heartbreak with those “lucky” fans on the screen.
But time will march on. Jim White will be cryogenically frozen until Transfer Deadline Day; McQueen will spend a summer reporting on nothing more than twitter related speculation – and those that didn’t show enough enthusiasm or dedication to the cause on Superduperfinalwhistleday will find themselves knee deep in mud at the speedway or Fish-o-mania.
The month of May will soon morph in to June. Ah, sweet June and its IKTs: “my mate’s dad is a cleaner who has just seen fat Ronaldo eating a pie in Wigan”, youth tournaments and promises of a brighter season ahead.
There was a time when the final whistle of the last day signalled the end of the football season. A time when we all went outside – threw off the shackles of the winter months, embraced the sun, the booze and the summer sports – but not anymore. For if there’s a story – involving a wasted talent, a fan’s favourite or a Transfer War Chest secured by getting in to the Prem (is it £40m they say?) then a reporter will be stood somewhere, with a fan – reminiscing about the grand old time they had in May.