I took my youngest son to a football match on Easter Monday. It used to be something I wryly called a ‘treat’ when the kids were younger, but we usually lost in such depressing circumstances each time that I would then feel the need to give them another treat immediately afterwards, to alleviate the misery. Bowling or pizza or something. Not any more. They are old enough to know what they’re likely to be in for and conscious that their allegiance to the team, Millwall, is inescapable and probably genetic, like ginger hair or a susceptibility to Parkinson’s Disease.
Actually, I say inescapable — the older one escaped by insisting that he had revision to do for his GCSEs. I begged and cajoled, told him the exams don’t really matter and that this was a six-pointer, a crucial game, and I heard him sort of waver for a moment. ‘Who are we playing again?’ he asked. ‘Doncaster Rovers,’ I replied, with great allure.
‘Um. Well, exciting as that sounds, I really must do more French revision, Dad, the exam is only a couple of weeks away.’
I ranted and raved for a while, lamented how he was letting down not just me and Millwall, but letting down himself too, and that if I told people about this revision-obsession business, they would almost certainly think he was gay or something. But he was quite immovable. What can you do with a kid like that?
Do you know, a few months back both boys were meant to be going to a party at some schoolfriend’s place, but at the last moment they decided not to because they feared that ‘alcohol might be present’. To utilise teenage language for a moment — I’m like WTF?
Anyway, I went to the game with the younger one, who sat there, as he always does, with his head in his hands, occasionally giving out a bitter cackle of mirth at our team’s ineptitude. He likes watching Millwall, even though he knows he is being prepared for an adult life of frustration, crushed aspirations and misery. I once said to him, after we’d lost 0-1 at home to Scunthorpe or someone — at least with supporting Millwall you get to go to lots of games, unlike all your Chelsea and Manchester United supporting friends. ‘Yes,’ he said rather grimly, ‘yes indeed. Lots of games. Hurrah.’ But it is good for him, I think. He doesn’t expect too much. And nor does he live his life vicariously through a football team, because if he did he’d be self-harming every day.
They are probably self-harming right now up in Manchester, the red half of Manchester. The famous United have kicked out their newish manager, a man called David Moyes, because he was not able to deliver to them the untrammelled success which they believe is their absolute right and should be guaranteed under the law. The sports journalists, all of whom — without exception — applauded the appointment of this Moyes chap back in the summer of 2013, are now similarly unanimous that he has been a complete disaster, utterly useless, anybody could have seen that he wasn’t the right man, etc. I sometimes think that even financial journalists are more astute than sports journalists, and less short-termist in their outlooks.
Among the crimes committed by Moyes were a failure to suck up sufficiently to Manchester United’s star player, a Dutchman called Robin Van Persie who resembles, facially, a smug weasel. He may also have estranged another genius, Ryan Giggs, a sharp-faced little Welshman with an overly active penis, allegedly. Oh, and Moyes was ‘out of his depth’ and did not appreciate the scale of the task involved in managing a team whose supporters seem to have no particular interest in football, just in winning stuff. Manchester United are likely to finish seventh in the top division this season, which is, according to their fans and now, apparently, the board, nowhere near good enough.
It is hard not to feel sorry for Moyes. The truth is he probably thought he knew how to deal with inflated egos during his previous tenure as manager of a less successful and less fashionable but still considerable club, Everton. But he was wrong. The egos at Manchester United are of a different scale altogether, which is why they presumably played this season with a despondent and distracted air, disinclined to run about very much, apparently unable to concentrate on what was happening right there in front of them on the pitch.
Football at the very top level has become so horribly precious, so pretentious and pompous these days, that I am glad I have nothing to do with it. So many egos to be massaged, including those of the fans who, to be fair, pay extortionate amounts of money to have their desolate lives lifted by the acquisition of trophies by other people. They had a banner over one end of Old Trafford reading ‘The Chosen One’, a reference to David Moyes; now they are not merely going to take it down but have offered to donate it to a museum. Such hubris, such narcissism. Roll the banner up tightly and insert it into your collective bottoms, please.
Final score: Millwall 0-0 Doncaster Rovers.