Wednesday, 11 March 2015

CAUGHT BY THE CODGERS


Lots of things get the blame for the mediocrity of the Englandlteam - foreigners, tiredness, the heat, the rotation of the earth,  - but one group that generally escape censure are the codgers at Victoria Park. They may not be the finger-pointers' most fashionable target, but I believe they have played almost as big a part in the decline of the national team as imports, lack of primary school coaches and the fact our players are crap.

The codgers congregate just by the halfway line in the Mill House Paddock. They wear flat caps and car coats, give off the scent of Yardley's and throat lozenges and teeter permanently on the brink of exasperation. It is said that the attention spans of today's youngsters have been shortened by a diet of video clips and computer games. It seems the endless catchphrases of ITMA and Take It From Here had a similar effect on the codgers' generation. Formative years spent listening to Dorothy Summers squawking, "I've just popped by to dust the mayor's knick-knacks" have left them with no patience for the intricate. To them subtlety is just a posh word for "fannying about".

When Chris Turner and Danny Wilson were in charge, Hartlepool played a neat, attractive game based on passing and movement. It has carried the club to previously undreamed of heights, but it did not wash with the codgers. When the home side had the temerity to string three passes together without lumping the ball into the penalty area as a finale, the codgers erupted in indignant rage. "For Christ's sake, Pools," they bellowed, "Get on with it. Get it in the box. What's the matter with you?" The score, or the time, or Pools' league position, was immaterial. In the minds of the codgers the team is always 0-1 down with a minute to play in a relegation six-pointer - for them the situation is always critical, the seconds running out.

I have singled out the codgers at Victoria Park, but the truth is, of course, that there are codgers yelping in frustration at most English football grounds. More damaging still, every English football fan has a little codger that is constantly battling - sleeves rolled up, jaw set, studs showing - to get out. Thus while I may have murmured appreciation for the cerebral skills of Günter Netzer and Giancarlo Antognoni down the years, my inner codger has ensured that I am never quite able to shake off the feeling that when applied to a midfielder the word "elegant" is a synonym for "lazy", that "cultured" is a euphemism for "gutless".



It is easy enough to hold the inner codger in check when nothing is at stake. That is why in polls English fans constantly ignore the claims of belligerent ball winners or knobbly-kneed centre-backs with blood oozing from a gash above their eyebrows and instead name twinkle-toed wingers or deft inside-forwards as their club's best-ever player.

Once inside the ground it is a different matter, however. Aroused by the smell of onions, the cries of the golden goal ticket sellers and mounting anxiety, the inner codger elbows and ankle-taps his way into control. Suddenly men who were earlier exalting Argentina's 24-pass goal against Serbia and Montenegro as the acme of football excellence are rising to their feet and bellowing "Get into them//fuck them up!" at the top of their lungs.

It hardly needs saying that this chant is not conducive to progressive play. "Get your foot on the ball/and then look up" might be a better exhortation for those who name Ginola or Juninho as their inspiration, but we are unlikely ever to hear it. "Get up his arse", "Clean his clock", "Get rid", howl the crowd - gripped round the nads by their inner codgers.

Unless we can shake them off, frankly England are going nowhere, and not nearly directly enough either.

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