Thursday, February 17, 2011

Joy and Pain, A Rambling Man

Its been an interesting few days in Pat McLean Sportstown, (just take a left once you get out of Drinkyville, its in between Smokington and Sexbury) a handful of days where I swung from cynicism to joy and back again and then once more to joy.

Was chatting over at LT's the other day and frequent commenter (there, not here) Smarmy Boss made the point to me, after I ranted for a little bit about something or another, that really the whole thing should not be taken that seriously, its just games after all. I'm paraphrasing but I think I'm representing what he said fairly.

Now the reality is that I don't take it all that seriously, which of course is going to sound funny coming from a guy who has written hundreds of posts on the subject of the Edmonton Oilers but it is true. I certainly cared far more about sport when I was younger, when I had a lot more time on my hands and a lot less to care about. And when it comes to the Olympics and for that matter if the Oilers were to ever make the playoffs again (hahahahahaha, my imagination really does know no bounds, I'm like a child), then I certainly can become quite obsessive. I lose sleep during the Olympics, if you can imagine, (I also teared up quite frequently and still do as I see the retrospectives now airing on the anniversary) and although the memory is quite foggy (Iwas barely out of short pants!) I know that I took the 2006 run quite to heart.

When it comes to the Oilers right now I really can't be bothered. I like a lot of the players but the management has so completely botched it that I really can't get behind the organization very much. So on Saturday afternoon as the club that was put together to fail did so, again, I was forced to listen to Kevin Weekes sing the praises of a thirtieth place team and especially their disaster of a goaltender, although even Weekes slipped when he said that Khabibulin had not played really poorly in all of the games during his losing streak. Just the majority I guess, eh Kev?

But with Weekes and then the interviews with Lowe and LaForge I got the overwhelming picture in my head of the three monkeys. You know the ones - hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil. Because the franchise is in the toilet and nobody has a bad thing to say about it. Its truly amazing.

And then of course, as I wrote about earlier, I went to play hockey myself and had a ball. The Girl From Rawlins Cross used to shake her head at the fact that here I was, a fairly well read fellow, a fairly bright urbane guy, into the arts and knowledgeable about the world and politics and an eager cunnilinguist and here I was a living breathing hockey player. Like she expected that as a hockey player I had emerged from a block of ice with a jutting brow, looking like Dion Phaneuf you know. Hockey Player Smash Vase! She couldn't put it together and she could not figure out the attraction at all.

Of course anyone who has played team sports, not just hockey, knows the feeling. The camraderie. The pure joy of it all. There is no other way to describe it and I won't even try.

Back to the Oilers though and they sucked ass again on Sunday and Monday the headlines read about Himself coming down from the mountain and demanding that the club play hard.

Oh dear, it truly is to laugh. I wonder what the vets think when they look around at the kids and the over the hills gang and the scrubs - I know that if I were 27 and 83 I would be pretty fucking happy because one way or another I'm out of here in just over a year.

Whitney and Gilbert must figure its like a life sentence at this point.

There was such an odd collision of events over the last few days though, it really got me thinking. We had the team sucking ass, as it usually does, and bookending this were the appearances by Lowe and Tambellini, the two architects of this mess. And in the middle of it was the latest presentation of Oil Change where a panel of Edmonton media concluded that so far the club deserves a passing grade as they flounder towards another last place finish.

And in the comments of the Tambellini story there were all sorts of comments defending Tambellini because he is stuck with all sorts of horrible contracts that he has been bequeathed, never mind the fact of course that the worst of these is the one for the goalie that he signed, and on top of that the Oilers have tons of cap room as it now stands with which they could improve their club.

And its just six months into a rebuild the chorus sang, never mind the last four years out of the playoffs.

And damnit, Horcoff, Hemsky, Penner and Gilbert are the problem.

Oh me oh my.

So a part of me, a dark, dark little part of me that thinks dirty little thoughts and awful things and has unnatural urges, would love to see the handful of good players on the club traded for picks and middling prospects because we all know that will work out well and at some point I figure the worm has to turn for the guys who ran this franchise into the ditch. Right? Right?

Except as the aforementioned Mr. S. Boss noted when Tambellini takes the gaspipe it will likely be Kevin Lowe who rides to the rescue.

Its always the players and the coaches but the guys who took a club from a break away from being a Cup winner to very possibly two consecutive last place finishes are still making a whole lot of money, all the while spouting off about culture change and doing things the right away.

LOL as the kids say.

But when Joanne Ireland leads off her column on Tuesday night's win with a tribute to Dopey and how he got the boys to finally!!! care!!! then you can see why Lowe and Karl Pilkington get their free pass. The media, for the most part, although Terry Jones is starting to get cantankerous, have given the men at the top a free pass and the fans are happy to turn around, bend over and take it.

So as fans we get what we deserve and I'm just as complicit really because here I am, complaining about these twats, but I still watch the games when I can.

Ha! Loser!!!!

But then Tuesday afternoon I remembered why I do it, why I watch these millionaires play children's games.

Tottenham Hotspur, like the Edmonton Oilers, like all of these clubs, are a big business. They are in it to make money, which of course is fine by me, the first thing I learned in grade 11 economics was that the first goal of a business is to maximize its profits. The odd thing about sports' clubs, of course, is that they have a strange relationship with their consumers, their employees become heroes (until they are run out of town), their brand loyalty is tied into their location for the most part and success results in parades, explosions of joy and in some cases violence and looting. You don't see that when Lululemon or RBC turn a nice profit or issue a dividend.

Its a really weird thing when you think about it.

Anyhow, back to Spurs. Decades ago they were an elite club and even into the early 90s they would have success now and then but then they fell into a pattern of mediocrity. I got into the EPL the year of the hockey lockout and Spurs became my team because I liked Robbie Keane ever since the World Cup when he scored to tie Germany up with time running out, same as I became an Oilers fan because of Ryan Smyth. Silly huh?

The Spurs hired a new manager the year I really started to follow them, I think he was French, and he quit before he even started basically and so they went with his assistant, a big Dutchman named Martin Jol. Under Jol the club made progress. Every year he was there they were just outside of the top four which meant a berth in Europe, if not the Champions' League. They were a good club but not great. They would get pasted by the big boys and they gave up a lot of points in last minute collapses. Just not there but still better than shitty.

Now my dates may be wrong because its all (not just soccer but everything) becoming a blur but in the fall of 2007 I believe Jol got canned and they brought in a Spaniard named Ramos to take over. Under Ramos the club had its greatest success in years, winning the League Cup tournament, which got them into Europe automatically, which was good because the team basically collapsed other than that. The summer of 2008 saw Keane sold and Dmitar Berbatov as well and I wrote a bitter post bemoaning the fate of the club.

Spurs fell apart in the 2008 season and were looking to be relegated and Ramos was gone. Imagine that, they canned the guy who they figured was responsible for the mess! They brought in Harry Redknapp and the tide turned.

Redknapp has been with Spurs for nearly two and a half years now. Last season they finished fourth and qualified for Champions' League and this year they are in fourth again. They have beaten the big boys because, as hard as it is to believe, they are the big boys now. They are the ones who pull out the last minute victories from their arses. They won their group in the Champions' League, running Italian giant Inter Milan ragged at White Hart Lane, and on Tuesday they went to Milan to face AC Milan, another storied European side, in the first leg of the round of sixteen, and did so without a youngster who, more than perhaps any other player, has vaulted them to where they are, Gareth Bale, or as he is known Welsh Jesus.

But here is the thing about Spurs. They have plenty of homegrown young talent and they have acquired talent from Europe for the equivalent of a song, making smart bets, and so even without Bale they are formidable and so on Tuesday they came out and ran wild in the first half.

The second half saw the Italian side push back and it saw the uglier cynical side of the sport as well. A Spurs' defender went down under a vicious tackle and had to be stretchered off, as AC bitterly complained that he was wasting time. (He later sat on the sideline in a walking cast). The AC Milan captain!!!! shoved Spurs' players, put his hands around the throat of a Spurs' coach and spent the entire half ranting and raving and rolling on the ground, making a total spectacle of himself and yet somehow escaping getting thrown from the game.

And then, with just minutes left, a Spurs' youngster by the name of Aaron Lennon ran the length of the pitch, vaulting a desperate defender, feeding his teammate for the easiest of tap ins.

I leapt from the couch and my daughter laughed as the cat went flying and I shouted with glee.

The end of the game was tense and with seconds left it looked to be tied but only for a moment as it was clear that the AC Milan player had shoved the defender to the ground.

This resulted in another display with one player protesting the call vehemently despite it being a no doubt call and the AC Milan captain actually headbutting the Spurs' coach this time.

Crazy crazy shit and it would have given me pause if I had thought about how these men were acting so foolishly except I was so happy that I hadn't a care in the world.

That's sport for you. And that's why I still watch those damn Oilers despite their ridiculous management team.

For those moments, as rare as they are these days.


kanadienkyle said...

Congratulations on the seamless Oilers to Hotspurs segue. Its not an easy feat to accomplish.

The malaise the Oilers can inspire is something even Jimmy Carter could appreciate, and I haven't watched a game in 2011. I don't even sit in my Oilers recliner anymore.

No hockey to play here in GF, ND, but I am having a gas coaching the local pee-wee club. I forgot how much fun winning hockey games can be.

Good post, as per usual.

Anonymous said...

It was a huge win for Spurs but they are in the fight for the top four because they spend like the top four on transfer fees and wages.

Bale's a beast. The impressive thing for Spurs was that every big club was chasing him and they got him.

Black Dog said...

Thanks Kyle. Coaching eh? I hadn't coached in years until I ran the boy's soccer club last summer. Had a ball. Great stuff.

anon - yeah they spend money, you need to, but nothing like the big boys. Hard to compete with Man City when it comes to that. But if they can get to the CL next year as well it will go a long way, the money they rake in for that is extraordinary. Plus the cachet - players want to play in Europe.

Yeah they still have Bale and Lennon too. And of course Modric and Van de Vaart. A lot to like about this club. Don't know how far they will go, they have already gone further than I expected already. Great ride.

kanadienkyle said...

Yeah, I am having a good time with it, helped out a lot by the winning.

The kids are fun, even if they all hate the Oilers, and its a fun way to get back to the rink if I can't be playing myself.

Am also taking over a spring AAA team for minority kids, should be fun.

hunter1909 said...

"My old man,
said be an Arsenal fan,
I said fuck off bollocks you're a cunt...

We took the Shed in half a minute,
We took the shed there was no one in it,

With bottles, and spanners, we then did the Hammers.."

Authentic Spurs hooligan terrace song

Anonymous said...

interesting post - as a brit who follows hockey its interesting seeing a supporter from abroad with their preferred footie team - of course Bale would have been at risk of being sidelined into the reserves at places like Man City, to start with - though I would never trust our 'arry

Anonymous said...

I found your blog years ago because of a 'Spurs post even though I'm a suffering Oilers fan.
Watched that game with great joy .... That Lennon sprint, Crouchie leaping with seemingly no control over his limbs (yet still effective), the midfield looking all world, a goaltender to marvel at, a coach to get behind, silly Italian footy violence, rain soaked pitch..... it was what sport is meant to be .... pure entertainment ... and a win for the "home" team.
The comparisons to the Oil are interesting .... just hope we can match the current success .... do we have our Redknapp?! ... we do have our Bale and Vandervaart and Crouch ..... Does that leave us with a Lowe/Tambo anchor?! .... ...... ah.

Black Dog said...

Thanks for the compliments anons one and two.

anon 2 - as you said exactly - that was an event through and through. I can't believe Gattuso only got one yellow although apparently he will likely face a hearing.

I love Italians but I hate their soccer clubs (er football ;) ) - the cynical shirt tugging and violence, the theatrics, the diving and so on. If Spurs knock off AC Milan after topping Inter in their group I don't know if I could want more. I mean I do but that would be a nice season right there.