Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Close seasons in the sun

First published in Sons View, 4 August 2007, Dumbarton -v- Elgin City

So here we are again, catapulted into a new season full of possibility. For the Sons it can only get better, surely. This is a time of optimism and fresh commitment. Those dark summer weeks are banished.

Hang on, ‘dark summer weeks’? It’s still August, for goodness’ sake! Phew. And for all I know, you spent June and July either sunning yourself on the Rock or heading for even more sweltering climes.

The shadow on the proceedings that I’m thinking of, however, is the “no football” one we’ve just had to negotiate. Thank goodness that’s over. Though what with Killie, the Pars and St Mirren, you’ve probably banished the memory of ‘close season’ already.

And let’s face it, it isn’t nearly as bad as it used to be. My recollection of the 1970s, admittedly clouded by the odd ‘senior moment’, was that I was even forced to scour the Aussie results to see if I could discern some meaning in life. How I survived, I’ll never know.

The torture of not seeing football on a regular basis was only relieved by international competitions and friendlies. And they were rather thinner on the ground back then than they are now.

The big difference today, I guess, is the endless speculation about transfers. Not the actual transfers, you understand, but the ones that go on in our heads. Usually dreamt up by some clever newspaper hack with not enough copy to fill the space.

Actually, it’s not even that clever, this transfer rumour malarkey. What you do is basically this. First, you think of a footballer who could possibly be linked to a club that you want to write about. Even vaguely. Easy, right?

Then you ring the club’s communications supremo and find, conveniently, that there is no-one matching that description available. So you ask to speak to someone else with a tangential link to the manager. Like the director of football, or possibly the deputy assistant honorary groundsman.

You “just want to see how things are looking for the upcoming season”, you say. No-one really believes this, but it’s a kind of ritual.

Then at some point in the amicable “off the record” exchange you ask casually if there’s any truth in the rumour that X player may be joining on a loan/free transfer/part-exchange for a ton-of-jelly basis.

“None whatsoever”, comes the categorical reply. “Are you off your trolley or something? Who on earth fed you that one? We’d have about as much chance of getting David Beckham as that guy.” Result!

“Dumbarton were keen to deny any link to Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink, just six years short of the twilight of his career”, reads your World Exclusive in next week’s edition.

“This has fuelled feverish speculation that the Dutchman, mindful of countryman Johan Cruyff’s career-shattering Sons snub in the ‘80s, has decided that he may make SHS his new home.”

You resist mentioning that the club has also put in a bid for Beckham, on the basis that this really is pushing your luck. Though research might just show that only 174 generations back, Posh may have had an uncle who was a gardener at Leven Grove Park or something – providing a sure fire local connection.

And there you have it. Enough pointless speculation to keep us addicts ruminating to our hearts content.

Then there’s dozens of new websites, the Football Manager 2007 portal, and a Subbuteo revival (“ah… flick to kick!”). Not to mention pubs offering dodgy foreign satellite games. There was a crackdown on those south of the border by a company called Media Protection Services earlier this year.

All-in-all, then, the life of the football fan between seasonal feasts of the Beautiful Game has now been overgrown with compensatory distractions, of varying quality.

But let’s face it, there’s nothing quite like the build-up to a proper league or cup match day itself.

Getting those last few household tasks out of the way (cough). Catching the radio and TV gossip. Finding out how the players you really did end up recruiting are checking out. Lubricating the lungs. Scrutinising the team sheets. Wondering whether you’ll be cheering or sighing at the end of the afternoon.

All that and, for the first few weeks of the season, at least, a bit of real sunshine. What could be better? OK, having Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink for real, sure. Just give him a few years. Honest.

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