I love January. I have always enjoyed the new start feeling I get when I wake up on New Years Day.
I also love certain events and traditions that take place. I have always been a huge fan of the FA Cup, and I have told anyone that would listen how I can vividly remember Norman Whiteside bending the winner impossibly past fat Neville Southall in 1985. I was playing Lego at the time, eating some beans on toast, and as the ball nestled behind the unrealistically hefty Everton goalie my dinner got hurled into the air and my Lego knights were never the same again.
When I was a callow youth, the FA Cup was held in higher regard than the league, quite possibly because United seemed more likely to win it, but also because of the outlandish results and fixtures that it conjured up. Living relatively near to Kidderminster, I can remember the fever pitch excitement that was created by the Harriers’ run to the fifth round in 1994. Saying that, the first match I ever went to watch involved Kidderminster Harriers; I was dragged to Wembley to see them play Burton Albion in the FA Trophy final against Burton Albion. The year was 1987 and I was wearing my newly acquired United kit, the one with the white flashes on the shoulders and the club crest in the middle. Having only really watched United play up till that point, I was absolutely dumbfounded by the pile of crap that took place on the pitch. There was no Jesper Olsen streaking down the touchline and no Bryan Robson destroying everything in midfield despite 14 broken ribs and two broken shoulders. The game was a 0-0 bore and it is amazing that I didn’t consign football to the bin there and then.
But over the last few years the perception of the FA Cup has changed as the game overall has altered. Gone is “the romance of the cup” as managers of relegation threatened teams send out their under-9 line up to avoid tiring or injuring their useless bunch of donkeys that have guided them to the bottom three in the first place. Managers of a team anywhere above 12th send out reserves and youth players because they are still aiming for a spot in the Thursday night farce that is the UEFA Europa Challenge league cup championship. Ironically they will fight to clinch a spot in this ridiculous event and then do their utmost to get knocked out as early as possible because their team has now slipped into the bottom half of the table with the strains of the extra football.
The main change in January has been the creation, by Sky Sports News, of the transfer window – sponsored by SKY. Where people used to look forward to the FA Cup third round, the potential of a giantkliller like Wycombe, Yeovil or Sutton United, and also the chance to see a marathon stint of highlights and action on the telly, they are now thinking about the transfer window. This is all compounded by thousands of “gossip” websites peddling their ridiculous “exclusives” but the fire is mainly stoked by Sky Sports. They now have a countdown clock which one of their presenters appears in front of while using Andy Gray’s newly redundant giant touch screen plasma to update us of the latest breaking news. The thing about the transfer window – sponsored by SKY – is that nothing really happens. The big teams tend to have done their work in the summer, City excluded, while the mid-table teams scramble and fight over players that normally wouldn’t trouble a Championship team. Suddenly a player is made available by his team in the Ukrainian second division, this player hails from the mighty footballing nation of Guam and before you can say “channel 455 in HD” he is involved in a tug of war between Stoke, Sunderland, Bolton and West Brom.
The relegation-threatened teams are the ones that get involved and spend the money – well apart from the doomed teams. They have already accepted their fate and so they just try to get their name into the frame to appease their supporters, who then fall for the hype and convince themselves they are going to climb up the table because Ronaldinho is going to put a return to his native Brazil on hold to sign a short-term deal with Wigan because he totally “gets their project”.
Surely these managers are sat their thinking “Christ, I shouldn’t have spent the entire month of July rimming Bosnian waitresses in Lanzarote. If I don’t sign someone soon we are going down”. That can be the only reason they hadn’t done their necessary transfer business in the summer when the bigger clubs do. So in an act of desperation a club lacking goals makes a bid for Carlton Cole or Emile Heskey, while a club lacking creativity in midfield tries to sign Robbie Savage or Lucas Leiva, and the only people that really profit are the agents and the club shops. Which maybe explains perfectly how Hull came to sign Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink. Brown, having done the pre-season in Lanzarote realised they were doomed and turned instead to raising revenue for the club; even at £1 per letter his printing could have raised an extra £20 per sale. That must have been the only reason because at 31 appearances and 3 goals he was more Heskey than Messi.
During the summer transfer window, Steve Bartram of manutd.com wrote a transfer diary and every time there was speculation from any “source” the name and potential fee was added to his list. Over the course of the window United were linked with 106 players at a total potential fee of £1.877 billion pounds and the club actually signed none of them. They all went to City.
But that demonstrates why the transfer window – sponsored by SKY – was created; to ultimately drive traffic to Sky, and if you really want to treat yourself go along to the transfer centre section of their website and “surf” away. There is a transfer fee ‘Totaliser’ which keeps a running total of the money spent so far in a very Blue Peter stamp appeal way. There is also my favourite item of the whole event – your rumours, where folks can let Sky know what the news on their club is. Actual examples are “my brother works for KLM airline, Suarez booked on a flight to Liverpool at 8:35” and “Luis Suarez’s agent has been spotted contacting an estate agent – he is so confident the move will go through”.
The second one is the finest piece of transfer gossip I have ever read. This scouser has apparently seen the agent of Luis Suarez (good football knowledge to be able to recognise a player from Uruguay’s agent) and has worked out that the gentleman was contacting an estate agent. The agent in question, Pere Guardiola, is a Spanish chap, so again good knowledge of a foreign language, however improbable that may be for a scouser. Unless Pere was stood down Croxteth High Street mumbling into his Blackberry in broken English about “finding an owse for dee striker Suarez oo is flying into Liverpool to sign for the manager that looks like an old lady called Maggie”. It doesn’t sound totally convincing to me.
So you can expect another wave of second-rate players to be washed into our league during the remainder of the window, and you can also be sure that City will be linked with a “marquee” signing but end up with a second-hand tent instead. United will be linked with another 63 players, and then the Gooners will buy a 14-year-old Belgian (because to Wenger Belgium is the new France) who undoubtedly will play 54 Carling Cup games over the next 10 years and then move on a free to Auxerre. And finally, in a mad flurry of false paperwork and missing documents, Arry will buy nine players and loan four out just as the window slams shut, with a net spend of £45, a jar of jellied eels and one of Jamie’s testicle wrapping suits.
Article by John Young. Follow him on Twitter @JY_MUFC