Saturday, 18 August 2007

A Pitch-Perfect Ending

A pitch-perfect ending to a sadly familiar song
By Russell Brand

Sven-Goran Eriksson's Manchester City commanded play at Upton Park last week with such assurance and grace that far from seeming a hastily assembled squad of mercenaries from around this dirty little circle we call "world", they appeared to be afloat in a transcendental love affair with each other and the randy boffin who compiled them.

Flicks and dummies, winks and one-twos, it had the gleeful complicity of a well-administrated orgy at a hostel for handsome backpackers. What's a bit annoying from the perspective of an Englishman is that now Sven can utter the damnation that secretly we all suspected to be true; he can manage perfectly well once liberated from the tiresome obligation to select only sons of Albion. As he said himself: "There was no Elano to pick for England." Blast.

Rolando Bianchi, who got City's first, ran directly over to the dugout to give Sven a cuddle, publicly consummating the Manchester love right in front of the embarrassed West Ham fans. We didn't know where to look; most people opted to rest their disillusioned peepers 'pon Dean Ashton, warming up on the sidelines for most of the match with a peculiarly erotic, slow-motion, sexy karate-robot dance.

For me the opening day of the season was an oscillating mind waltz of conflicting emotions. The Irons were pretty shoddy, disorganised in midfield, lacking in imagination up front and a nerve-jangling ballet of tipsy confusion is what passed for a defence. Only Robert Green in goal and Mark Noble looked comfortable.

The ignominy was exacerbated by the prior knowledge of an after-match meeting with Noel Gallagher in Christian Dailly's box. Most people are aware that the Gallagher brothers are arrogant as a default setting, a feat they performed whilst supporting an unreliable and often risible football team. Well let me tell you that all the swagger and bluster we endured as discs went platinum and Brits were won were as nought compared to the gloating, showboating, puffed-up rhubarb I had to silently tolerate in a senior player's box after Saturday's misdemeanour.

I'd rather hoped that it would be me bragging and strutting, perhaps whilst chuffing on a cigar, consoling a tearful Noel that the season is yet young and that he'd made some jolly good records. Instead me, my Dad, my mate Jack and Robin the hippy black cab driver (there's an anomaly - if you leap into his carriage unawares it's like a magical mystery tour as he recites poems and demands a more lax immigration policy) moped about, overjoyed to be amongst adored West Ham players (James Collins was also there like a big, twinkly beefcake) but irked by the unanticipated defeat.

Then something magical happened. Dailly, who was about to take his adorable trio of wee Daillys to have a kick-about on the pitch, turned to us and said "Do youse wanna come down an' all?" None of us have ever been on the pitch at Upton Park. I'm not a man who is much at ease in any arena designed for physical activity but to walk on to the turf of the team you've supported all your life, were deigned to support, even before birth, is like climbing into the telly or being given the keys to Wonka's chocolate factory and being told, "Here, just take it, I'm dispensing with all these bonkers tests and riddles - too many children have died. Poor, dear Augustus Gloop."

Although, retrospectively, running a chocolate factory is probably a pain in the arse, whereas strolling on to the eternity lawn at the Boleyn makes my brain stop gurgling and my eyes do crying. On the way we sneakily looked into the away dressing room - which looked like it had played host to a tea party for giant toddlers. There were bottles and grass and fruit scattered about the room like Jackson Pollock working in litter. You could still feel the echo of the departed, triumphant City players, you could envisage them conga-ing out behind Sven, covered in victory and streamers.

Then we were in the tunnel. A mural of West Ham legends adorned the walls; Brooking, Dicks, Moore, Devonshire, lit by the glare from the end of the tunnel, the light reflecting green. A few more tentative steps with the opening notes of Bubbles played by a phantom orchestra (or possibly covers band) and there it was, Upton Park, scene of misery and celebration, venue for rites of passage for hundreds of thousands of men, barely an hour before fizzing with hope, then saturated in defeat, now silent, empty, and Bagpuss was just a soppy ol' stuffed cat . . .

But there amidst the burgeoning nothing, chatting to Dailly, all normal, stood Dean Ashton, radiant with health, which is odd 'cos he's a few weeks off full fitness. My mate Jack stuck out a hand. "All right, Deano." Dean being, in reality, a bloke rather than the subject of an unrelenting sonnet rolling around the mouths of 30,000 even before he'd kicked a ball, simply replied: "All right." I scuttled over like a ninny and accosted Dean. I don't remember what I said but it can't have been great because I felt the necessity to impersonate Dean's warm-up dance routine which, looking back, strikes me as an act of desperation.

Dean laughed. As did the few people remaining in the ground, mostly in the directors' boxes. Then I met Alan Taylor, scorer of two Hammers goals in the 1975 FA Cup final, while my dad, Jack and Robin the hippy cabby kicked a ball around the Bobby Moore Stand end of the pitch with Christian Dailly's kids. "Come on Russell, join in," someone shouted. I declined; I could only have tarnished perfection.

Guardian column

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