Flatliners

Sometimes when you write things about the Tigers it can get a bit stereotyped. You feel like you’ve written the same thing before. The start of the season is all boundless optimism, the middle is all bitter disappointment, the end is sullen gloom and wishing that the close season would come as you’re sick of it all.

A feeling that lasts until the first Saturday after the season ends when you are crippled by boredom and wondering how you can entertain yourself until the pre-season friendlies start and you can happily begin swapping rumours about new signings and what odds we’re on to go up and the old excitement rises again, cos this, really, could be our year…

It’s not like that this time. I can’t remember when there has been such collective gloom at the onset of a new season. If City were a patient it would be in cardiac arrest, chest compressions interspersed with electric shocks of increasing voltage all to no avail as the chaotic monitor tracing degenerates still further into an ominous flatline. And to say we feel a bit flat is to say that Kate Moss is perhaps not over-burdened in the mammary department. And to say we feel a bit flat is to say that Kate Moss is perhaps not over-burdened in the mammary department. Whereas previously our expectations have been over-inflated like Anna Nicole Smith and collapsed to the proportions of Victoria Beckham by September, this time we are squished from the outset.

Well, the team isn’t going to be burdened by the weight of over-expectation, we didn’t travel to Blackpool with the silly thought that we might be actually on a promotion campaign as we did to Mansfield or Rotherham or Exeter, only to get a most unwelcome knock on the door from Ronny Reality before we even had a chance to moan our heads off and call for the sacking of Dolan/Fish, Hateley/Lloyd or Joyce/Buchanan. In fact, the mood of the fans pre kick-off was that if we get a point at Blackpool, there’ll be calls for Brian Little to be given the freedom of the city.

The close season has been astounding. Our major shareholder, Hinchliffe, awaits trial on all manner of alleged dodgy dealings. He signs his shares over to our chairman, his long time buddy Nick Buchanan. David Lloyd, our landlord and, for many City folk, the Devil himself, threatens to shut us down as he has had no rent from Buchanan. He locks us out of our ground as Mr. Buchanan says there is nothing to worry about and threatens to sue Lloyd for money that he says Satan hasn’t coughed up from his period in charge. Needless to say, this last bit then goes very quiet. For a vital month we cannot get into our ground. The FA who have been sniffing around us all year suddenly announce that what is crawling around under the stones they have lifted looks too frightening for them to jump on, so they pass a hefty file to the Fraud Squad.

Mr Buchanan tells us there is nothing to worry about. The manager is able to make one signing only before a transfer embargo is dumped on us as we have not repaid the latest loan that the club has begged from the PFA. So we go into the new season having strengthened our side which came fourteenth last time out to the tune of one elderly central defender, David Brightwell.

That’s ignoring, of course, those who left us during the last campaign. At the time of writing the embargo is still in place and Mr Buchanan has said that there is nothing to worry about. We do have some cash though, as we have done a deal with Wigan to get some money for former Tiger keeper Roy Carroll. As usual the mathematics seem to make no sense but we do know that it is a way of making sure that we get some money quickly to cover our costs at the expense of the full amount of the sell-on clause – at a time when Celtic are eyeing up the Bhoy Wonder at anything up to three million of our English pounds. So presumably we are so desperate for funds to keep us going that we kiss off future cash. And, as Mr Buchanan points out, there is nothing to worry about.

Now I could say so much about all of that lot, but already that litany is depressing beyond words. But let’s remember that Farmer Tom Belton, voted ‘Fan of the Year’ over the last campaign when he was our Chairman, was ousted by Buchanan and Hinchliffe ostensibly for being incompetent.’ Look at that last word and then look at what’s happened this summer, and you might think that our close season could serve as a definition of incompetence – assuming that it’s nothing worse than that and that the FA have wasted their time doing their investigation and have presumably passed it on to the Rozzers as Plod are a bit short of work themselves and would welcome something to do even though everything at City is above board.

Apparently there are some people who believe that and they are of course entitled to that belief, just as they are allowed to believe that the earth is flat, that Santa and his sack will come every year to delight every good child and that England had a realistic chance of staging the 2006 World Cup.

The team. Oh, yeah. Remember them? What can we expect this time out? Well, we have a new manager at least. Warren Joyce will, rightly, always have a footnote in Tigerland history as The Manager Who Kept Us In The League When No Better Manager Had The Arse To Take The Job On. And I salute him for that. And with all of the off-field shenanigans last time out it’s not surprising that the team faltered. For all that, last season was desperately disappointing and there was a view amongst many that he hadn’t made the most of the resources available to him. Even those who felt that Joyce was harshly treated at the end were excited at the thought of having Brian Little at the helm. After all, he has a proven track record across the divisions and has yet to fail managerially. Apart from the end of his time at Aston, obviously. And the ‘disaster’ at Stoke, but that goes without saying. And his nightmare spell at West Brom, but that’s only common sense. But even if he isn’t some amalgamation of Shankly, Clough, Ferguson and Trappatoni that some would have us believe, at least he has proved that he can do it.

And it will be fascinating to see what he makes of a team that he clearly feels is not strong enough. I think he needs another keeper, a striker, at least two midfielders and a pair of full backs. But because of the desperate need to sign someone, anyone, before the embargo took his goolies off he grabbed a central defender, even though we already had enough of those to tile the floors with.

It’d be funny if it wasn’t so bloody pitiful. And what does he make of Buchanan, given that at West Brom he showed that he was quite prepared to walk away whilst slagging off the board even as they nipped in to sack him? So far he’s shown himself to be sufficiently a master of spin to impress New Labour and Shane Warne combined, but if he likes what he’s seen so far of the way we do things round here then I’m Theo Whitmore.

Ah, Tappa! At least there’s still Tappa. And, what the hell, having moaned like mad about everything, let’s finish with something about football. Did you see the goal against Derby? Oh, it was peachy! The man had come on in one of his determined moods and was showing the second rate Scandos who occupy the midlanders ranks what a REAL footballer can do. He’d already skipped through the defence twice and set up our strikers to no avail when he decided to do it all himself.

He moon-walked past a couple of defenders his feet shimmering like a humming birds wings and then accelerated like a Lamborghini Diablo away from three more. Seven more oaflike humpers were left in his wake as he approached the final nine Derbsters who had surrounded him and were hacking away desperately at him as he nutmegged the last 14 of them and dismissed the ball into the receptacle, leaving bodies everywhere, reminding gnarled old FBI men present of the ending of the siege at Waco. And that’s no word of a lie. But it WAS truly wonderful and one day we will be as proud to say we saw this genius play for this club as our Dads were that they saw Raich. And that’s saying a hell of a lot.

So there’s always some reason to be cheerful and Whitmore is one reason why, despite it all, that the old flicker of anticipation is here as we flatten our socks and turn our undies inside out in preparation for Blackpool. And if by the time you read this we’ve battered Blackpool and paggered Plymouth then this, really, might be our year, y’know if we can just stay injury free and get Manny back and hang on to Tappa, and John Eyre and Browny can get it together upfront, cos there’s nowt to beat in this division, hell we can win it by Christmas, you can ignore all that misery guts bollocks I started with, because I can feel it in my water, this one really could be our year……

Well, maybe. Although probably not. But what the hell, it’s back. And we’ve missed it all, haven’t we? The club might have a flat line trace on the monitor and nurses and doctors staring at it anxiously, but as long as we keep turning up and they keep putting out a team, then that might be enough of a blow on the chest to keep the club’s heart beating long enough for us to sort out the problems with its head. Because as we know, as long as there’s life there’s hope. At the moment we still, just, have both.


Mark Gretton