Pat Nevin: Passion abounds
column Tue 13 Feb 2018
Having sampled the atmosphere at and read the stories after a variety of games recently, Pat Nevin writes about football when the competition is hot…
I get around, as Brian Wilson from The Beach Boys once wrote. This week was a rather extreme week in terms of travel, weather and indeed reactions to results. I was at Goodison Park to see Everton win against Crystal Palace, then the next day I travelled to Newcastle for their win against Manchester United and right now, I am on my way to Porto to catch Liverpool in the Champions League against the Portuguese league leaders. I did of course have time to catch Chelsea wipe the floor with West Brom before writing this travelogue en route.
The Chelsea game was the most straightforward and I have to say I wasn’t surprised by the result at all after seeing the team line-ups. When Eden Hazard is in support of another striker instead of being on his own centrally, where lumbering centre-backs appear to have free rein to tackle right through him every five minutes or so, then I breathe a sigh of relief. Eden’s genius when allowed to run towards the goal instead of having his back to it most of the time and being forced to go the other way, is a joy to behold. Suddenly it all seems much more structured with Olivier Giroud in place and linking well, and of course with Alvaro Morata suddenly back in the fray too.
The thing that has stood out most in the last few days for me however was the extreme negativity that makes it feel like everyone’s own team is doing so much worse than everyone else’s, no matter what the statistics or indeed the league table says. You have probably noticed the odd rather grim report about the recent form for Chelsea, the two wins in 10 and all that, which no one is sweeping under the carpet here. It is however worth noting that Chelsea are still in the top four and only three points behind Manchester United in second after our recent slips.
This ultra-negative reaction after a few under-par performances is not a uniquely Chelsea phenomenon even if parts of the media do understandably love to ramp it up at the Bridge. After I had watched Manchester United at the weekend, extreme questions were being asked, but really, could we please have a little bit of perspective?
The answer to this is probably no! It is not at all unusual for any number of news outlets to ask me to appear on their breakfast shows the morning after a Chelsea game with only one caveat added, ‘we only want you if Chelsea get beat’. I will release BBC Radio 5 Live from this, they never say that. Even so, it is fine, I understand that it is only news when we lose but it does give an insight into how the fates of clubs are considered.
So while Manchester United were surrounded by dark clouds by the middle of Sunday afternoon, they are however still in second place. This isn’t just a top-six snobbishness, it is pretty widely spread. Back at Goodison Park the day before, to describe the first 45 minutes as turgid would be kind. The Everton faithful seemed to have lost it with Big Sam and I get that, he isn’t really their style, but this bad run of results has included matches against Man United, Liverpool, Spurs and Arsenal.
That isn’t where Sam is expecting to pick up the points to get them to safety in the Premier League, something that was looking increasingly unlikely before he arrived. The second 45 saw Wayne Rooney, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Theo Walcott flourish in a three-goal spurt towards three points. When I suggested Sam had maybe got something right, the opprobrium rained down as ever on social media. The die has been cast, if it is wrong it is Sam’s fault, if it is right then it must be luck or the actions of a few preferred players.
To be fair that was Twitter’s reaction which is not really a fair or balanced reflection of most fans’ strength of feeling, but it does seem that wherever I go, everyone is suffering from the pressure this season.
In truth I still think it is good to see that passion abound, even if I have myself been well trained to be outwardly more controlled and impartial than most. I look around when I am at games and see as much panic and fear as enjoyment, but maybe that is no surprise with the real battle that exists to get into the top four. There is an even bigger scrap from the middle to the bottom of the Premier League for those trying not to get sucked into the relegation whirlpool. Now that is huge pressure.
West Brom could have been a tricky one, especially considering their fight for survival and their recent superb FA Cup win at Anfield. Yes, I was there for that one too and some Liverpool fans were in despair, a few even called the radio station I was working for demanding Jurgen Klopp be sacked immediately. Since then they have cruised into the top three, another example of the feverish knee-jerk madness that abounds.
We however dealt with Pardew’s men efficiently and the madness subsides for a while. I even managed to get a long lie-in this morning as I wasn’t needed on air to rake over the coals at the crack of dawn.
Now more than ever it is clear how small the margins are between being lauded and being castigated. It also underlines more than ever that it is a time to be as calm as possible. I suspect that is hoping for a little bit too much in the media though.
Looking for reasons to keep perspective is not difficult to find, even in football. Liam Miller, the former Celtic, Man Utd and Hibs player died this week aged only 36 and it has just been announced that Ryan Mason of Hull has had to retire aged only 26 after fracturing his skull in an accident when playing against Chelsea. Both are tragedies and all affected have the sympathies of everyone at the club.