Last on MOTD: Love is a stranger

NICK Hornby’s novel High Fidelity contains a section where the narrator, depressed at being dumped by his latest girlfriend, tries to track down his five most significant exes to try to make some sense of his relationship history.

After going to an awful lot of effort to track down these exes (some of whom dumped him, some of whom were dumped by him) he discovers that, in each case, he doesn’t really have that much in common with them.

(Given that all this tracking down ex-girlfriends to pore over the remnants of long-dead relationships was published a full seven years before the launch of Friends Reunited, I can’t help but feel Hornby missed a chance to make a shedload of money. Still, I think he’s surviving.)

Perhaps the saddest scene in the novel comes when the narrator meets up with one old girlfriend (who dumped him) and they go for a pizza. During the evening, he gets the sense that she wants to get back together with him – not out of a sense of love, but out of desperation.

He describes this woman, aged 35, working out her future in her mind and deciding that life isn’t going to offer her anything more than a pizza with an old boyfriend she didn’t like that much in the first place.

Which brings me to the UEFA Cup.

Tonight’s final match: Tottenham 1 West Ham 0
Commentator: Tony Gubba

Premier League clubs have a weird attitude to the UEFA Cup. In February and March, it’s an irritation: always leaving dishes lying around and never cleaning the bath.

And yet come April, when there’s a chance to qualify for next season’s competition, those same Premier League clubs can suddenly remember nothing but the good times: the walks in the park, the laughter, the times spent gazing at each other lovingly over a pain au chocolat in a Paris cafe.

But how many times can you split up and get back together with someone before it becomes exhausting? Especially if it’s someone, deep down, you don’t really want?

I don’t know. And on the same note, I don’t know why Tottenham are bothering to try to qualify for next season’s UEFA Cup. OK, so the competition’s had a bit of a makeover, changed a few of its old habits, had a more flattering haircut, bought some smarter clothes, and has even given itself a new name – the Europa League.

But if it was an inconvenience for Spurs this season, it’s going to be an inconvenience for them next season too.

If you remember, Tottenham boss Harry Redknapp put out a side of fringe players in the home leg of their UEFA Cup last-32 clash with Shakhtar Donetsk in February. The thinking behind this was that Spurs were three days away from facing Manchester United in the Carling Cup final, and that represented a greater chance of a trophy (and with it, a place in the Europa League).

“If someone can tell me how to find a team the Thursday before a cup final then I’d like to know,” Redknapp said at the time.

Tottenham were duly knocked out of Europe, but then lost the Carling Cup final too, leaving them with nothing to play for but league position. Today’s 1-0 win over West Ham, secured by a Roman Pavlyuchenko goal, lifted them to eighth. If they finish seventh, they will almost certainly qualify for the Europa League. 

And here’s what Redknapp said after today’s game: “It’d be lovely if we could make Europe now, for the players and the club, so that’s what we’d look to do. We’ll give it our best shot.”

Well, if that’s what you want Harry, that’s fine. If you feel that life is going to offer nothing more than a European competition that appears to have been designed by William Heath Robinson, a cup you didn’t seem hugely bothered about six-and-a-half weeks ago, then that’s your decision. It is, after all, your life.

And I hope, if you do get back together with the Europa League, with its new look and its fancy jackets and its shiny shoes, that you’ll be very happy together. It’s just that, if you ask me, the two of you are better off apart.

Gubbometer

1. Fulham: 9                                      (GD: +1; CD: +1)
2. West Brom: 7                                 (GD: +1; CD: 0)
3. Wigan: 7                                       (GD: 0; CD: +2)
4. Middlesbrough: 7                           (GD: 0; CD: +1)
5. Bolton: 5                                                 (GD: 0; CD: 0)
6. Capello: 4                                     (GD: +1; CD: +4)
7. West Ham: 4                                 (GD: +1; CD: +2)
8. Arsenal: 4                                    (GD: +1; CD: 0)
9. Blackburn: 4                                (GD: 0; CD: 0)
10. Gubba: 3                                            (GD: +3; CD: +1)
11=. Newcastle: 3                              (GD: 0; CD: 0)
11=. Hull: 3                                     (GD: 0; CD: 0)
11=. Stoke: 3                                       (GD: 0; CD: 0)
14. Tottenham: 2                           (GD: +1; CD: 0)
15. Portsmouth: 2                             (GD: 0; CD: +1)
16. Sunderland: 2                           (GD: 0; CD: 0)
17. Manchester City: 1                     (GD: +1; CD +1)
18. Everton: 1                                (GD: 0; CD: 0)
19=. Aston Villa: 0
19=. Chelsea: 0
19=. Liverpool: 0
19=. Manchester United: 0

GD=Gubba difference
CD=Capello difference

(NB: Teams level on points will be separated by Gubba difference: the number of times a team is last on Match of the Day with Tony Gubba commentating. If they are still level, they will be separated by Capello difference: the number of times a team is last on MOTD with Fabio Capello present.)

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