C***s & Curtain Raisers: The Close-Season In Cliché
Adam Hurrey's crusade to analyse, in excruciating depth, the unique language of football.
Through a myriad of distractions, the 2012-2013 football season has finally arrived. Today on the blog Adam Hurrey looks at a close-season full of cliches.
Thanks to the widespread epidemic of Olympic fever, the football close-season has been mercifully overshadowed. Any protracted transfer sagas have been bumped from the back pages, and even Euro 2012 seems like a distant memory.
It's traditionally the laziest time of the year for football's cliché exponents, but there's still plenty to be enjoyed.
Few clubs must dread the close-season as much as Arsenal. With their board's frugality becoming as much of a cliché as their team's patented methods of trying to walk the ball in, pre-season at the Emirates is football's most tedious broken record.
Arsenal issue the flimsiest hands-off warnings in the business and the disillusioned Robin van Persie, like fellow contract rebel Cesc Fabregas before him, has headed for the exit door. Arsenal fans (and I'm not picking on them, everyone does this) switched immediately to damage limitation mode, as if the tweeting modern football supporter cannot bear to be seen to be bothered by anything.
Last weekend saw English football's Traditional Curtain-Raiser (occasionally also referred to as the Community Shield). Almost always involving two of the big guns, this is inevitably regarded as an early opportunity to strike a psychological blow on a rival. For the winners, at least.
For the vanquished Chelsea, it was just a glorified friendly, right?
The Fixture List
As the laconic Paul from Fever Pitch puts it above, there used to be nothing to do between May and August except wait for the fixture list to be published. What a day that was. Huge importance is placed on who each team will play on the opening day, while players claim that their respective local derby is the first fixture they look for when the lists are published.
The close season had other delights, of course - Match! magazine league ladders, trying to resist the temptation to call the premium rate Club Call lines despite the tantalisingly vague headlines they put on Teletext, and reading about your club's pre-season friendly results two days later in the foreign editions of the newspapers while on holiday.
Now? Now it's a bit rubbish. You can watch every pre-season game by hook or by internet crook, while Twitter users with "ITK" in their name have transfer rumours (almost literally) coming out of their backside. Comfortingly, the thrill upon the release of the fixture lists remains sacred, despite the hilariously litigious Football Data Co threatening to sue anyone who hasn't paid for the right to display "their" list of scheduled football matches.
There's a reason why club-v-country rows are a dying breed. International friendlies are now characterised by the raft of decidedly convenient withdrawals (withdrawals only come in rafts, as do substitutions) for increasingly belief-defying medical niggles. Theo Walcott's absence from England's puzzlingly Swiss-based friendly with Italy was officially blamed on a "slightly bruised thigh". To parody and beyond.
The Managerial Merry-Go-Round
The MMGR never stops whirring around. Long-term passengers like David O'Leary and George Graham have surely now disembarked, leaving serial stop-gappers like Steve Cotterill, perennial failures such as Mick McCarthy and serial hat-into-ring thrower Alan Curbishley. John Toshack is firmly back on the MMGR after a predictably ill-fated spell with the Macedonian national side, leaving us none the wiser about the criteria for hiring international managers.
Possibly the most cliché-free, unblemished football tournament of all. The novelty potential of Team GB wasn't fully realised thanks to their penalty shoot-out exit, and the beautiful game took quite the moral battering as other sports churned out smiling, articulate heroes by the dozen.
People who rightly enjoyed the kayaking, rowing and dressage (and who will definitely, definitely continue to follow those sports for the next four years without the BBC serving it up to them on a high-definition plate) took the tap-in of an opportunity to lambast the "overpaid prima donnas" of the Premier League. Frothy-mouthed, pantomime-perpetuating football fans haven't escaped the comparative barbs either - but should they really want to be like, say, the twee, "knowledgeable" Wimbledon tennis rabble? No. We're back to nine months of faces contorted with rage, and it's brilliant. Except for the people who can't watch football quietly in pubs - what's wrong with you?
Now an exercise in air-mile counting, pre-season for the top clubs usually involves trips to the Lucrative Far East (to give it its full name) or run-outs in American baseball stadiums. These sojourns, an understandably easy buck for the marketing men, are always "gruelling". Look! Look just how gruelling they are:
The early stages of the pan-continental competitions saw several journeys into the unknown for British sides, who took on various east European outfits. "Outfits" (a popular cliche in the 1980s, when such sides were still an tantalising mystery) are an exclusively east European concept, although the prefix "crack" was dropped completely at least two decades ago. Various uphill tasks later, and all the plucky provincial sides are out, looking forward to doing it all again in twelve months' time.
The Inevitable Big Picture
The John Terry trial, notable for its focus on the x-rated language involved, led the more earnest journalists to urge football to take a long, hard look at itself. Coupled with the Olympics-inspired long, hard look at itself, football has reached unprecedented levels of enforced introspection.
The hand-wringing after the trial's verdict, where the language footballers use to each other was lamented from all directions, was inevitable and embarrassing. The papers tip-toed their way around the trial's liberal use of c-word, and rightly so. The last thing we want is for Sunday league players to find out about this horrible word and start using it themselves.
Taking a long hard look at ourselves now needs to take a long, hard look at itself.
Here's to nine glorious months of football clichés.
Follow Adam on Twitter: @FootballCliches
Read more of Adam's work on his blog Football Cliches
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