The supporters of Wigan, Blackburn or West Bromwich Albion understand the searing pangs of incompetency that they face at least 10 times a year, when their sides are drawn against the remodelled top 5. Away at Man City for a team like Wolves can give serious impetus for such a fan to abandon their halfway tickets and choose the theatre with the missus. Away at Old Trafford is an unspeakable; too appalling to comprehend.
So what does an away trip to The Library, or Emirates as it’s more affectionately referred to, mean to a club battling for its television revenue in 2012?
The diversity of revenues and spending predicates the most nauseating of images for those fans that follow the proverbial beggars of English Premier League football. And it is this diversity that can lead to a trip to United becoming an envy-filled 90 minute ogle at the rich merchants of our town; where diatribes will bemoan Nani, Rooney, Vidic sitting on their racing-car-seat viewpoints. But, undoubtedly, the most dissatisfying feature of this whole painstaking ordeal is the petulant arrogance of the opposition fans who belittle, as if their choice of stock gives them privilege over you (you = Neanderthal preferring self-deprivation and perennial unfulfillment them = accustomed to victory and other unimaginable glories).
When your side is worth around 0.84% (West Brom vs Man City) of the opposing squad’s historical book values, it is certainly difficult to feel anything but abject despair, but nevertheless, the human psyche seems to demand a certain optimism. This cruel disposition is the result of the transient nature of the sport itself; for football is surely the one sport in which an upset is more commonplace than most (the rarity of goals ensures this fact). And indeed, this unfledgling positivity, or should I saw fantastical musings, is to some degree warranted by historical performances. It was points against the supposed top 5 that invariably kept a number of clubs afloat last season – most notably Wolves who beat City, Liverpool, Chelsea and United in a simply unbelievable turn of events. Under this milieu, the dream of Grant Holt’s thunderbolt from closer to the circle develops; nay flourishes.
While a match up such as Gareth McAuley vs Sergio Aguero is simply terrifying for any self-respecting Baggie, it surely would be a thing of great savour for the Irishman. For him, and his playing mates, the pressure is largely off. It is one of the few occasions all year where a 3-0 loss could be met with shrugs and despondency from supporters, rather than rage or ridicule on any other Saturday afternoon. Further, with weights of expectations amounting to a paltry feather, what better chance to upstage the young Argentinian with a grumbling studs up boot crusher, or a neat flick of the elbow when rising for a clearance. The risks really are skewed to the upside.
For the gaffer, the prospects are slightly less perfect. Looming camera, radio and print media interviews must be at the forefront of his balding head. Placid dismissal of the result as unimportant, or good experience, could be met with the perpetual lambasting from supporters that the side is unambitious, while an honest appraisal (“they were simply better”) is never a welcome soother for those same fans. For him, the downside is not as negligible, but even the Neil Warnocks or Brendan Rodgers of our universe can appreciate that the scales of expectation are well in their favour.
For the less perceptive of you, playing the biggest teams on the biggest stage is simply the best – for everyone. A cathartic experience for some, a chance to let your wildest fantasies develop, a chance to herald an arrival, or simply a chance to prove to your girlfriend in Sydney that your team actually exists. There really is nothing like an underdog grasping to a 1-0 lead in the 89th minute with all 11 players flooding back to thwart F Lampard et al. A sort of ironic admittance of inferiority that makes the whole sugar-coated predicament all the more delectable. And devouring this satisfying meal is more than enough fuel to last at least a season of drubbings from the burgeoning class of foreign-owned English beneficiaries.
These are the days that fans relish most. Where a loss won’t ruin their evening plans or squander their job performance throughout the “days off football” each week. (Sunday to Friday). While a loss against Bolton midweek could conspire to make living itself a task of extreme difficulty until the next match day. Watching your team defend a lead against Liverpool, where you would have snatched at a point 2 hours ago, is simply incomparable to defending a lead against Blackburn when Formica has space down the right…(even this example is making me uncomfortably shift in my chair).
There is only one scenario where Arsenal (A) breathes a sort of terror into any fan’s perusal of the fixture list. For everyone knows that the last game of the season, where invariably you’ll need points to survive as a newly promoted nobody, is not a time for a team in the big four, top 5, super 6 or even fantastic 15. Give me 20th on the final day every year; please and thank you. But otherwise, give me top of the league each week!
PS: If you don’t believe me and need further proof, see Wolves fans’ reactions when they lost to West Brom. QED.
PPS: Any Spurs fan that thinks it’s a top 6 – fuck off and come back when you’ve won something. QED.