Ref! On Sunderland and new life

The candid thoughts of former Premier League referee Colin Preece, as recorded by our eavesdropping mole in the Duck and Peasant.

 Referee

Sunderland, Dave. Yes, Sunderland. I would like to hear your thoughts on one of the sleeping giants that’s been asleep so long it’s got hair and a beard like Hagrid in Harry Potter. The Robbie Coltrane character, Baz. Fat bloke with hair and a beard that look like Sunderland would if it was a man. Bloody hell it’s hard around here sometimes. But as you say, Dave, giving cultural references to a man devoid of culture is, well, it’s hard to finish that thought without another cultural reference.

But if Leicester City can achieve what they did last season, supporters of the other perennial strugglers must be thinking it’s just possible it’s their turn now.

So, the team in red and white stripes with black shorts are dreaming of glory, and why not? Their manger until about a month ago is now the manager of England. And he’s been replaced by a former manager of a Champion’s’ League-winning club. The sobering reality is that it’s David Moyes, but, again, think back just a few years and he was highly respected for doing good things with Everton. Anybody would have struggled at Man U straight after Ferguson. Nothing wrong with Moyesy, and he’s probably better off somewhere where expectations are not high.

Sunderland’s a working man’s club. Have you seen their crest, their badge? It’s got a ship on it, a silhouette of a ship. Not the Queen Mary or a cruise ship, but it looks like a merchant vessel or maybe a warship. And that’s because that’s what the town is famous for, building ships. I know it’s not like that now, but what do you think they’re going to put on their crest, a silhouette of a council estate? That’s their history and they’re trying to use it as inspiration.

Raich Carter, Brian Clough, Tom Finney, Ian Porterfield, Jim Montgomery. I know the kids haven’t heard of them, but why does it always have to be about kids? Nobody’s ever heard of Baz, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t exist. I had to explain to Jody the other day who Brian Clough was, and she’s 25. Only one of the greatest centre forwards in the English language and a legendary manager who won the European Cup twice on the trot. You have to explain what the European Cup was too nowadays, and tell them the old First Division was what is now the Premier League.

Cheers, Gary, something from the north-east, mate. Do they still have Newcastle Brown ale? I know Sunderland supporters would probably object, but it’s the closest we’re going to get. See if they’ve got Shipbuilding on the juke box. Robert Wyatt or Elvis Costello, I don’t mind. Or Don’t Give Up, Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush. Bit gloomy for a juke box, I know. Tell you what, I’ve got it on my iPod, which I happen to have here. We can take turns. To get in the mood, Baz. To bring luck to the boys shivering up in la la land.

Sentimental? Yes, I suppose I am a bit. I’ll tell you the truth. The ex-wife’s daughter is up the duff. Pregnant. The father’s a guy from the Job Centre, originally from the north-east. So I’m going to be a granddad. No, she’s not my own flesh and blood, but close enough. Jody? Not amused, but she’ll get over it.

At least Sunderland have a history. Leicester didn’t. Towns and cities tend to have successful football clubs when the town is doing well, and Sunderland was booming once with the shipbuilding, but what’s Leicester’s claim to fame? Look at Aberdeen. They were a force in Scottish football in the days when Britain suddenly discovered it had oil and gas under the sea, and a lot of it happened to be in the frozen north. So the town no longer just had beer and fish and chilblains, it had money, and then it had Alex Ferguson and European football.

Life goes on, gents, life goes on.

 

 

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Ref! On the cult of the manager

The candid thoughts of former Premier League referee Colin Preece, as recorded by our eavesdropping mole in the Duck and Peasant.

 Referee

Evening lads,

So, all the best football managers in the world have now decided England is the place to be. And it’s the time of year when they can talk themselves up, as many are.

I noticed this about 18 months ago when Alan Pardew left Newcastle, where he hadn’t exactly set the world on fire, and went to Crystal Palace. And what did he say about his mission there, Dave, you remember? We discussed it at the time. That’s right, he said he was going to “teach them how to win football matches”. Like he was the first person to make that connection between winning matches and being successful. He cast himself in the role of Great Wise One. And he’s done all right there, he has “won a few football matches”, but his status as guru disappeared as soon as they lost one and kept losing them so it was clear they weren’t going to be the best side in the country.

But this is the time of year when managers can bang on about their philosophy – although they won’t be too specific about that because they haven’t actually got one. They’re just doing their best.

And now we’ve got Pep Guardiola, who has more claim than most to being a managerial genius, and he’s taken over a disgustingly rich club with a lot of top players. Manchester City, Baz. Well, disgusting in that that’s all it’s based on. People used to say that about Chelsea a few years ago, but they’ve achieved a degree of humility and therefore people aren’t so hard on them because they had such a rough time last season and nobody really knows why.

And Guardiola’s talking about the City players learning how he wants them to play. He’s had success from the start of his managerial career, so maybe either he is that good or he’s just been lucky. I mean, he wasn’t exactly short of talent at Barcelona and when you’ve got that many great players, you’re at an advantage, aren’t you? Yes, Baz, a considerable advantage – good word, your kids teach you that?

And then he was at Bayern Munich, who are so far ahead of the rest of Germany that, again, you’d have to be stupid to mess it up. But now he’s in England, where there is a bit of opposition. In Spain all you’ve got to do is beat Real Madrid a couple of times and steamroller the rest and you’re laughing.

But here, he’s got Jose Mourinho to contend with, a man with a point to prove. And Mourinho didn’t really big himself up that much at Chelsea, but now everyone else is at it, so he’s creating a mystique.

Cheers, Gary. I’ll have something new and exciting. Doesn’t matter what it is, just ask Derek what’s new and tell him why. Because we’re talking about new brooms, new ideas, mate, and I want to know Derek’s plans for the Duck and Peasant, see what his philosophy is and how he views the future.

Yes, I know that’s cobblers, but it’s an extension of the train of thought we’re on.

And at Chelsea you’ve got Antonio Conte, who we all know now because he was all over the Euros with Italy, looking smart in his dark suit and matching shirt and tie and building his image as the elegant tough guy. But can you get the best out of Eden Hazard and Nemanya Matic by shouting at them, which apparently he does a lot? I can see him getting a knuckle sandwich if he’s not careful. If John Terry was a few years younger, you know…

And who else, there’s Klopp at Liverpool who’s come out just about even after his first season, and now Ronald Koeman’s at Everton, where he is expected to do well, even though it’s a club built on former glories and in this day and age is no more of a football power than Southampton, where he’s just jumped ship from.

Have I forgotten anyone, Baz? Claudio Ranieri? No, he’s not bothered, mate. He’s had his miracle and he must have been expecting half the team to desert him, but they haven’t. Which might be a mixed blessing if it becomes apparent that the gift has left Leicester and with the same players they struggle a bit.

As ever, gentlemen, it remains to be seen.

 

Ref! On ends of eras

The candid thoughts of former Premier League referee Colin Preece, as recorded by our eavesdropping mole in the Duck and Peasant.

 Referee

Evening lads. You know that old joke about Spurs having their end of season party straight after they get knocked out of the cup in January? Well it’s all changed for them this season hasn’t it? Yes, I’m quite pleased for them, actually. They’ve been through a lot since 1961. When they won the league and the cup, Baz. Well, no, in your lifetime they have never won the league, but time isn’t measured in terms of when you or I were born. They’ve had a grim time of it, but right now they’re blossoming and you can’t begrudge it, can you? Living in Arsenal’s shadow all the time.

Now it’s Arsenal’s turn to suffer, but what does suffering actually mean? They’ve done pretty well again but they’re not going to win anything again. Well, when I say again, they won the FA Cup two years on the trot, but it’s like that doesn’t really count. The fans want more. And some of them want to get rid of one of the modern game’s best managers.

You get rid of Wenger and who are you going to replace him with? Claudio Ranieri? Even with the Leicester miracle, nobody’s saying it’s all down to him, are they? It’s the players getting the credit.

Anyway, as Steve Bruce says, you hear this sort of stuff from fans, but nobody inside the game is saying Wenger’s had his day. I mean, he has, probably, he’s had a good run and it can’t last forever, but give the poor guy some respect.

Yes, maybe they are at a crossroads and if something drastic doesn’t happen it’s going to drag on and you can’t see it getting any better. Could be a big summer, and not just for them. Chelsea too. New manager and he’s going to have to rebuild from top to bottom. Could be the end of an era there too. Even if he builds a new team immediately, full of great players, it will take a while for them to gel.

Cheers Gary. Scotch and coke please. And Manchester United too, come to that. Would you promote Ryan Giggs and risk him being found to be only human or install a big name and risk Giggs getting frustrated and leaving anyway?

I don’t know. Who’d be a billionaire club owner, eh? More trouble than it’s worth. Joking, Baz. Of course I’d like the money – Abramovich must be making more an hour than Dave does.

Yes, it’s going to be the most interesting summer since 1966, because you can bet your life the big boys are going to be waving their cheque books at Leicester, too, and if you were Jamie Vardy or Riyad Mahrez, what would you do? Stay there and hope it wasn’t a one-off or jump ship and go somewhere with a bit more tradition?

I know, Dave, in an ideal world they stay there and try to do it again, but realistically they’re going to be thinking well, if one of the giants is rebuilding and they want me, they’ll be paying silly wages, but if I stay here and the bubble bursts I might never get the chance again.

Fortunately, lads, it’s a problem we in this pub are never going to have to face. Unless Arsenal have heard about my retirement from refereeing and have the perceptiveness to see my vast football knowledge. Word gets around, and they’ve seen me on TV often enough to see I’m a man manager.

Seriously, guys, stranger things have happened.