The Plight of The Swans.

The story broke nationally earlier that a fracas, accessorized street-gangster-stylee, had broken out on a Premier League training ground yesterday. Allegedly in this case we’re talking full-on foaming low-brow lunacy – i.e. ragamuffin with brick – as opposed to gold-toothed sophistohoodlum with diamond-encrusted firearm. Whilst this may arguably endow the event with a kind of old-school bunch-of-fives credibility, the whole shebang seems particularly absurd when traced to its geographic location – Swansea FC.

Prior to this un-Swansea outrage, the feeling has been that a side built in the dreamboat image of their manager have absolutely led the way as the most civil painters of precious doodles, or as makers of footie-as-sculpture, turning that theoretically dull, flat space (the pitch!) into kinetic, smoothly sensual linkages. If that makes them sound more like a love-object than a togger team, then so be it. Laudrup has developed the inherited football culture and this sense that material has been skilfully – artfully? – tweaked and moulded persists. Then they started getting beat. Then they started reaching for bricks – allegedly.

Suddenly and darkly, there’s the danger of tragedy interloping, via a) some geezer getting badly hurt b) The Swans going into unthinkably graceless free-fall. Even for neutrals, this is not happy territory.

It figures, of course, that any bitterness between Chico Flores and the former skipper Garry Monk will be appropriated from now ’til the end of the season as the sign – the moment – when the Swans terminal dance began. ‘Course they’re arguing – because the club is full of prima donnas!’ That may be the reaction from the cynics and from Cardiff, should the weeks claw away and the battle for survival harden. Personally I hope and trust that they will play their way out of this but the obvious argument against –that a team so apparently obsessed with football of the choicest kind may be less well-equipped than say Sam Allardyce’s mob to battle – rings true enough to worry us purists. But say it anyway; Swansea are good for the Prem and they deserve to do their classy lil’ thing.

Meanwhile t’other Welsh relegation contenders – also now led by a Scandinavian, remarkably – already sit in the bottom three. Despite some signs of encouragement, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s crew were ultimately duffed up 4-2 at The Etihad, by a Manchester City side who look both profoundly capable and ready to take the title this year. Solskjaer will have to really work some restorative magic to keep his team afloat – they look rather cruelly short of quality all around the pitch – but he seems a good sort and both realistic about what may be necessary and up for the challenge. Critical may be who he, as a name, can bring in.

Pellegrini, on the other hand, is in sky-blue clover. Money has bought successive City regimes everything a manager could dream of but this one has shown the wit and the authority to corral the extravagant forces available. To the extent that they are now, unquestionably, amongst the elite handful of clubs chasing the pigs bladder anywhere.

Although it may be possible to imagine that amongst his brilliant mercenaries lack of loyalty for the club badge might cause the occasional blip in the next year or four, City seem perdy close to impregnable and should Aguerro or Toure depart elite replacements are no doubt, for this empire of the nouveau riche, buyable. The question then may be more about how prominent or even dominant might City be – and over how long a period – rather than whether they pip Arsenal or Chelsea this time round.

Down at The Emirates, the other birdlike senior presides over another fabulous and indeed intriguingly classically Gooniferous phenomenon. The perennial Norf Landun storyline, featuring dashed attractive football and an inevitable falling short is again emerging as the business end approaches. Only this time the falling has missed its reassuringly early cue so that we can’t quite be sure (can we? Can we?) that Wenger and co will again be damned to disappointment.

In fact a delicious tension is beginning to unwind, given the actual possibility that Arsenal may be in it to the death, as it were. Where once we had the certainty of failure, we now have something that twinkles with possibilities – something life-affirming, something which teases – and I for one think that’s great.

Okay on balance the brutal truth remains that the bulk of us fear recent history will again repeat; that because of the goddamn inviolability of Mourinho’s Chelsea and the power and depth available to Pellegrini, Arsenal will be undone. If like me you understand Arsenal/The Wenger Project as a worthier, more genuine and longer lasting investment than either of the other two candidates, that does seem unnecessarily cruel. However, a couple of things strike me;

  1. The Arsenal are far from hanging on in there in this title race – they are playing with too much zest and purpose for that.
  2. The Premier League run-in will be a far richer and more exciting place should Wenger’s side remain competitive to the last.

I say two candidates. And this is both disrespectful to Liverpool and contradicts my oft-repeated esteem for their gaffer, Brendan Rodgers. The former Swansea man has invented something so threatening at Liverpool that the Scousers have re-found their roar as well as their lust for the title. Rarely is the incongruously lame phrase that ‘anything is possible’ more appropriate than in the case of this Anfield side, where the world’s most deadly player and his medium tasty English sidekick do have the potential to radically unpick the wider narrative… only to find themselves (let’s say) two-down home to Villa after 40-odd minutes.

Rodger’s Liverpool can and will beat almost anyone on merit on any given day and can even go on the kind of run that snowballs towards glory. But, honestly… I don’t quite see them as Champions. His squad is palpably less impressive than Pellegrini’s in particular and the ‘Pool defence (and keeper?) is just too ordinary. Suarez-led, they have lit up the league; whether this claim is undermined by the Uruguayan’s propensity or ability (you call it) to gain free-kicks or penalties is, whichever way you judge it, one of the issues of the season.

Spurs, Everton and Manchester United are not contenders for the title; they must target Champions League Football instead. United, as always, draw the most coverage – just not here – where the subject is essentially top… Wales… and bottom.

Follow that!

There’s that thing where you mainly want to deny such-and-such the oxygen of publicity… and then…

#Swans(Ballboygate). #Edengate. #Endoftheworldasweknowitgate. #I’msodesperateforFOLLOWSI’mgunnalieonthisfuckingballmungate.

… maybe a few words might be said?

In last night’s Peeling Paint Trophy cultured minnows Swansea City triumphed over metrosexual giants Chelsea, thereby qualifying for a Wembley final against mighty Bradford. And most of football hussaaarred, before hoisting their cloth caps gaily into the greenly-dancing wintry bay. ‘Twas a delightful rebound to the days when boys with shin-pads twice the width of their shins got a Saturday Sixpence, and sherbert lemons rooled the world – acidly but kindof reassuringly sunnily.

So it did have that nostalgic timbre, except that Swansea – now led not by some local wide-boy with a taxi cab – oozed a kind of surreal un-brit crypto-Real classicism around the park, not so much dumping but dismissing the unwashed cockneys from their presence; Swansea City now being coiffured as opposed to gaffered by some bloke called Laudrup hailing from valleys lit more by aurora borealis than blanching leeks.

In Swansea’s case the journey from footie’s precipice to bona fide, stylish Premiership cruisers is a thing of some beauty; not so much a RAGE as a gathering strut – one which they have, on recent evidence, nigh on perfected. Long gone the days when survival in the pro’ game was under meaningful threat; now, as well as the comfort of general acknowledgement of their ‘classy’ brand of football, they have a valedictory date up the capital. Not their capital, admittedly, but trust me, the local populace have swiftly found it in their hearts to forgive just the one escape to land of the lily-livered enemy.

The Swans are indeed flying then. And I do feel conflicted over (even) writing on ought but their hugely laudable progression. But look, we know what we have to talk about, if briefly. Forgive me.

In the second half of a game now drifting away from the Lampards and the Coles and towards a Last One Out Turn Out The Lights exodus for The Smoke, something essentially laughable happened. After the ball had been knocked out of play for a Chelsea throw, a ball-boy engaged in some pretty dumb time-wasting; by lying on said sphere. In the full knowledge that this – oh THIS – was his moment to

  1. strike a blow for Wales
  2. get on the telly, like
  3. deny that English bastard Eden Hazard possession.

You could see him (Ballboyman) engaging twitter as he lay there. Yet before he could hashtag the word #glyndwr (or google the spelling) the aforementioned Hazard had hoofed him in the midriff, in either

  1. an attempt at cold, cowardly murder (this from the SAF book of H and S)
  2. an understandably frustrated effort to retrieve the ball and play on
  3. a moment of madness most of us approved of in the circumstances.

Whichever way it was extraordinary. Extraordinary and naughty, of course. But mainly extraordinary in its deliciously fine-tuned exposition of everything that’s wrong, now… and presumably forever… in the mad flush of sensuround phenomena that constitute those two things – Us… and The Prem.

Transported (though on the couch) back or forward somewhere weirdly both familiar and threateningly odd, I laugh my goolies off – literally – watching as the lard-arsed ballboy simulates an act of sedition so crass it might have been well… planned. (In so far as a low-life of this nature could indeed plan.) His #epic #fail at both lying down convincingly and feigning inter-costal agonies was entirely appropriate to the age of Get Me Outta Here (or Get Me Some Followers, in fact.) I loved him for his Homo Homer-Simpsonianisness, his wide-eyed WTF outrage as the savage Hazard gave him most of what the watching world thought he deserved. It was soft porn for pundits.

As the cameras panned in and Hazard the crazed, over-remunerated foreigner looted and shagged and sprayed his wanton seed over the fields of old Enger… I mean Wales, it was all – in terms of its relevance to the hour – magbloodynificent. Like something that might have been on at The Royal Court (end of Kings Rd, geddit?) in about 1964.

A breath-taking, sexually invigorating flood of issues arose. Where to throw our contempt first? How to pitch our revulsion without spilling the Doritos?  And what, in the name of god, can we do in the face of this EXHIBITION OF FILTH?!?

Given that I have been at the helm of a Campaign for Gentlemanly Conduct, I suppose I should be upholding some illuminative matter of conscience here; pointing to some haughty tribunal or other. No doubt eventually I will, once I stem the flow of OMG’s and furtive laughter. For now, there’s no escaping the feeling that (I’ve been there – haven’t you? Come on, off the record?) – it’s sort of okay… when some arsehole really gets one. So let’s move on?

Meanwhile, like the rest of the universe, I’ll be queuing for the slowmo scratchmix edit.

I recently published an ebook – it’s here, on Amazon, with an introduction from Paul Mason and support from Brian Moore and Paul Hayward, amongst others –


No pressure, Brendan… / Another Nail For My Heart.

Don’t know if it’s just me bein’ daft again but this Swanseathing has been rumbling away, riling me; the inevitability of it salting those wounds where my idealised wotsits should be – used to be.

Brendan Rodgers, quite possibly the best Brit or near-Brit manager (depending on your facility for nationalistically-motivated squinting/cartography) active in the Premier League outside of the embarrassment of riches zone, is reportedly, as I write, moving from foreplay to full-on copulation – should that be capitulation, I wonder? – with/to the Scouse Sex Machine. He’s coming red all over. And whilst I can understand his urges and have some real respect for the comparative restraint and dignity and management of this lurv-match between Boy Most Likely To and Club Arguably Most in Need Of, I feel like a swan snagged in fishing tackle, I do.

Because Brendan had been showing signs of being the one who snubbed that power trip, that lucre-slide, that soul-deflating slither into uncleanbutokayintoxicating Exposureville. Brendan had been foot-perfectly the model man and manager for just a few, impressive and now critical seasons, guiding ‘unfashionable Swansea’ into an historically gleeful wonderland/cash-rich hinterland where they routinely outplayed Premier League clubs theoretically twice their size and power. Like David tattooing a startling phallus via precision-flung gravel upon the forehead of Goliath FC; or something. Something startling and surprisingly er… attractive.

For the Swans, the Unmighty Swans really have lacerated the pomp and presumption of allegedly senior clubs by playing proper footie whilst their betters sweated and hoofed increasingly frustratedly around. (Liverpool FC being a decent and recent example of this very same, on a day that may have limbered up the trigger-finger of one J W Henry of the already fast-twitch-fibre-heavy U S of A, perhaps?) And Rodgers without doubt has been key to this triumph of skill-rich Cymro-Good over flaccidly underachieving Evil. Because he more than nearly anyone you may care to listen to a) talks a good game b) delivers. So that for a year or so some of us have been trying to un-etch-a-sketch the picture that now presents; a straight-forward and demystified purchase; of Brendan; by one of the big boys.

Liverpool FC do fall into this latter category. Certainly they revel in a genuine football history – one likely to be pretty incompletely understood by the folks that own the club, you suspect – not that this is a rarity amongst Premiership franchises. However in recent times many were genuinely saddened by the failure – for that, actually, is what it was – of a genuinely Liverpool Man (Dalglish) to drive the club forward, thereby precipitating the current negotiations…

which are confirmed as being completed – or rather the move itself is – at that moment…ho hum…

But perhaps most viscerally central to real Liverpool fans has been the general malaise – playing/reputation/actual – the Anfield club had dawdled or staggered or been led into. I have been heavily critical of Dalglish’s bitterness and frankly, his inability to motivate or inspire or really shape his individuals and his team. I stand by those opinions, harsh though they are. King Kenny, despite being rightly loved for his genius as a player and for his closeness and empathy with fans post Hillsborough in particular, seemed lost amongst the issues – political and strategic – rather than boss in command of them. His relations with a press he held in contempt were to be understood perhaps but not respected. Dalglish manifestly substantially reduced the inflow of goodwill and sympathy for the club and for the arguments it may have been trying to make over Suarez, as an example; increasing the sense of dissatisfaction around Anfield already welling up in response to poor on-field performances.

Some may respond at this point that ‘Pool won a cup this season and might have won two. I say look at the league table. And if you can bear it, watch endless video of insipid or worse from the likes of Downing/Henderson/Carroll/Gerrard(!), actually. By some considerable margin this Liverpool footiefare was just not good enough; again; and the fans knew it – painfully. Kenny was summoned and nothing became his reign like the leaving of it.

To be fair, it seems at this moment that the transition into Brendanland has been similarly corduroy rather than bondage pant. Being helpfully svelte over a deal for Rodgers is not the same as finishing 4th in the Premiership but perhaps – just perhaps – the relative elegance of recent activity at Anfield is suggestive of someone at the top regaining essential control; a sense I fully expect to be strengthened as the new gaffer gathers in his players and staff over coming weeks and months. Because he is good, this guy; articulate and sharp and crucially crucially crucially – able to motivate. He will instantly, despite his comparative youth and ‘inexperience’, earn the right to be properly heard (unlike Hodgson) and the assent of those passionate but knowledgeable fans – even if results flicker rather than beam – because they know he knows football, good football, that game of skill and passing and movement and yes, artistry. Liverpool in some pigs-bladder abstract feels play like that is their kind of play; a sort of twinkling choreography being worthy of them and their club and their city; that proper Liverpool. There will be some real expectation that Rodgers may deliver them back to that.

Brendan may be nervous but I doubt it. He will probably sense an immediate flood of scouse warmth suggestive of a likely honeymoon period worthy of the name; by that I mean a real space to engineer something more than a shagfest; something that truly satisfies/completes/enriches even. Footiefolks do talk (or is it just journo’s who talk?) of football marriages; how the reds could do with a legitimate love-match now! Less romantically/more generally Liverpool is longing for a return to Liverpool ways – style, sureness, confidence and naturally – success. Few would argue against that being good for the game at large.

My friends down here in West Wales are gutted but unsurprised; because they have seen up close a very impressive football man. Brendan Rodgers – a man appreciated and now gone.