I’VE reached the conclusion that, however much a person achieves, there generally comes a stage where life starts to disappoint them. Even Paul McCartney probably wakes up some mornings and thinks: What have I done with my life? At least he can always stick on Yesterday or Eleanor Rigby to remind him.
But most of us have youthful ambitions, then we get older and possibilities shrink. We realise we’re never going to score the winner in a World Cup final, write a Booker Prize-winning novel or fly to the moon.
Different ambitions disappear at different ages: For instance, I realised when I was 12 that I would never become a professional footballer. I can actually pinpoint the exact weekend, pretty much: a sunny April Sunday morning in the late 1980s. I was playing in goal for a junior league team in Stockport and was so bad that I was substituted at half-time.
After the game, our manager told us that a scout from Manchester United had been watching. I decided I’d try to be a sports journalist instead. That went a bit better.
I have other ambitions: I’d like to write a book one day (although I’ve no idea what it will be about) and I want to cover a World Cup final. Those ambitions haven’t disappeared yet, but there’s plenty of time.
Sam Allardyce has had ambitions. He wanted to manage England, or one of Europe’s top clubs. For all the mockery he gets, he’s done pretty well, in that he has been in work as a manager almost continuously for 15 years, which is more than most in his profession can say.
But life, it seems, has started to disappoint Big Sam as well. That’s the most plausible explanation for his outburst on Friday, when he started by saying that English managers do not get a fair crack of the whip, and ended up by arguing that he would be a huge success at Inter Milan or Real Madrid.
“I’m not suited to Bolton or Blackburn,” said the manager of Blackburn. “I would be more suited to Inter Milan or Real Madrid.
“It wouldn’t be a problem to me to go and manage those clubs because I would win the double or the league every time.”
In the background, you can almost hear the lyrics to Heayweight Champion of the World by Reverend and the Makers. I could have been a contender…
It’s easy – too easy – to take the mickey out of Allardyce for his comments. And the Mail on Sunday’s astonishingly good columnist Patrick Collins has done so more articulately than anyone.
But while no one (well, hardly anyone) would put Allardyce forward as a future Real Madrid manager, surely most people can identify with the sense of thwarted ambition behind his words. We’ve all had dreams that, if we’re honest, are unrealistic. It’s just that most of us don’t end up spilling them out in press conferences.
The Bernabeu is for another life I’m afraid, Sam. For this life, your fate is to debate controversial refereeing decisions with Mark Hughes. It might not be everything you wanted, but Hughes probably feels the same way.
Last night’s final match: Blackburn 1 Fulham 1
Commentator: Guy Mowbray
One of my early jobs in journalism involved covering a local council meeting on the outskirts of Stockport. Once a month, I would take myself down to Marple Library and watch half-a-dozen councillors debate various planning applications and issues of local importance in front of an audience of about 10 people.
When I first started covering these meetings, I would take copious shorthand notes. These meetings would go on for ages. After a while, I twigged that these two facts might be connected.
So I tried a different tack. If a councillor was waffling on for too long, or an argument seemed to be going round in circles, then I’d put my pen down. And hey presto, it generally worked.
I was reminded of these meetings while watching the wonderfully juxtaposed post-match interviews with Allardyce and Hughes during last night’s Match of the Day.
They were discussing two incorrect decisions by referee Anthony Taylor, who failed to spot that Mark Schwarzer had handled the ball outside his area early on, and then didn’t notice El-Hadji Diouf barge into the Fulham keeper as Chris Samba headed in Blackburn opener. (That goal was cancelled out by Clint Dempsey’s second-half header.)
Hughes went first: “It was clear to everybody in the ground that Mark Schwarzer was impeded.”
Cut to Allardyce: “Mark’s going to look at the goal and say that Dioufy fouled Schwarzer. Yes, you could say that might be the case. But what the referee has missed after seven minutes is bizarre, because Schwarzer’s handled the ball outside the box, and that shot could easily have gone in.”
Cut back to Hughes: “If there’s handball in those areas, then so be it. But there was clearly a foul on the keeper and those are the big decisions that need to be made correctly, and unfortunately the referee got that wrong.”
It was almost as if they were in the same room at the same time, discussing the pros and cons of awarding a late licence to the Dog and Partridge.
At the council meetings, any dispute would be settled by a show of hands. On MOTD, we got Alan Shearer saying – correctly – that the two decisions were wrong and Mark Lawrenson making a terrible Diouf-related joke about the referee being within spitting distance of both incidents. At that point, I instinctively put my pen down.
1. Wolves: 2 (2L: 0, 3L: 1)
2. Fulham: 2 (2L: 0, 3L: 0)
3. Blackburn: 1 (2L: 1, 3L: 2)
4=. Everton: 1 (2L: 1, 3L: 0)
4=. Sunderland: 1 (2L: 1, 3L: 0)
6. Bolton: 1 (2L: 0, 3L: 1)
7=. Newcastle: 1 (2L: 0, 3L: 0)
7=. Wigan: 1 (2L: 0, 3L: 0)
9. Stoke: 0 (2L: 2, 3L: 1)
10. West Brom: 0 (2L: 2, 3L: 0)
11. West Ham: 0 (2L: 1, 3L: 1)
12=. Chelsea: 0 (2L: 1, 3L: 0)
12=. Tottenham: 0 (2L: 1, 3L: 0)
14=. Aston Villa: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 1)
14=. Birmingham: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 1)
14=. Manchester City: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 1)
14=. Manchester United: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 1)
18=. Arsenal: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 0)
18=. Blackpool: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 0)
18=. Liverpool: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 0)
2L=On second last (Stoke 1 West Ham 1)
3L=On third last (Aston Villa 1 Bolton 1)
(Teams are awarded one point every time they appear last on Match of the Day. Teams level on points are separated by the number of times they are on second last, then by the number of times they are on third last. Teams still level at the end of the season will be separated by the drawing of lots at a glittering ceremony in Accrington, hosted by Tony Gubba, a bloke who looks like Sepp Blatter, a bloke who looks like David Lloyd and a bloke who looks like Jim Bowen from Bullseye, with music from a bloke who looks a bit like Tony Christie if you squint.)