A TRULY great football match makes you want to go out straight afterwards and have a kickaround with your mates. It’s lucky, then, that Formula One does not inspire a similar reaction, otherwise Jenson Button’s brilliantly dramatic last-lap victory at this weekend’s Canadian Grand Prix would have hundreds of people out on Britain’s roads right now attempting potentially-lethal overtaking manoeuvres.
(Although if my experiences of driving on the M60 are anything to go by, the British public don’t need the excuse of a great Grand Prix to start driving like Michael Schumacher with a cob on.)
Button’s win – which came after he made six pit stops during a rain-sodden race full of drama, accidents and near-accidents – is a great excuse for me to tell the story of the time six years ago he made a chaotic flying visit to a Honda leasing office in Stockport and held a rushed question-and-answer session before 200 staff before disappearing as quickly as he had arrived. At least, it would be if I hadn’t blogged about it before. Twice.
And this is becoming the problem. I always wanted this blog to be more than a tread-through of obvious opinions on topical sporting stories. I wanted it to be a bit more anecdotal and personal. Anyone can say that the Canadian Grand Prix was great drama. Not everyone can say they sat with Button in a large glass building just off the M60 and watched him flounder as he was asked to name his five favourite words.
The problem with anecdotal stuff is that, like fossil fuels, the supply is not unlimited. The 1960s/70s avant-garde author B.S. Johnson (like my Button story, making a reappearance here) was warned by a concerned friend very early on in his literary career that concentrating on autobiographical material would severely shorten his shelf-life as a writer.
“He had this conviction that you could only write from personal experience,” said the friend, Doug Davies, in Jonathan Coe’s epic Johnson biography Like A Fiery Elephant. “If you hadn’t personally experienced it, you couldn’t write about it.
“And it seemed to me at the time that this would give any reasonable person at most a five-year writing career, because none of us is that interesting – you don’t have time to live the life to write about it.”
I’ve been blogging for just about bang on five years. When I started, in June 2006, I wasn’t sure I’d even last a month. My blogging adventure began when the Manchester Evening News, where I was then a staff sports reporter, decided to send someone to Germany to cover the World Cup.
I’ll never forget Sarah Hartley, then the paper’s head of online editorial (or queen of the web, whichever you prefer), patiently taking me through the basic techniques of blogging, seeing the concerned look on my face as I tried to get to grips with it all and reassuring me in a pull-your-socks-up kind of way with the message: “I’m sure you’ll be fine. And if you’re not, we’ll just have to substitute you!”
By luck or judgement, or perhaps both, I managed at least to avoid that fate. And my blogging managed to last not only through the World Cup (and the next one), but also my transition from staff man to freelancer, my transition from my 20s to my 30s, my transition from slim to slightly paunchy and my transition from owner of a full head of hair to possessor of an incipient bald patch.
But five years is a long time to be blogging when you’re trying to offer a slightly skewed take on the sporting world, especially if you’re relying on your own anecdotes to spruce things up a little. When the anecdotes start to run thin, there are four ways to go: Do more research to find quirky tales from elsewhere, start repeating anecdotes and hope that readers don’t notice, stop doing anecdotes altogether and become a much straighter blog of opinion, or stop doing the blog altogether.
I’ve decided to stop doing the blog altogether.
There was a fifth option, actually. I could have shut down everything else on the blog bar the Gubbometer (the last on Match of the Day league table, for non-regular readers). It’s by far the most popular thing I’ve done on here, and I shall always treasure the fact that it got me a mention in The Observer’s arts section last autumn.
But you can stretch an idea too far, you know, and I’m not sure I’m terribly keen on the idea of making mildly-sarcastic comments about the final game on Match of the Day every week for the next five, 10, 20 years.
Besides, it’s quite difficult to stop life getting in the way sometimes. There was a (now ex) girlfriend who reacted with genuine bemusement one Saturday night when I broke off from some canoodling on the sofa and told her that I had to set the timer to record MOTD so that I could write a blog post about which game was on last. If the woman in question is reading this (and she’ll definitely be able to identify herself from my description of that incident), let me just say: I’m sorry. You wouldn’t be the first person to think I was insane.
Blogging has been fun, and it’s thrown up a few memorable experiences too. And so to the Barnsley fans who erupted with rage on a message board in 2009 because I wrote a long report on a game at Oakwell that focused largely on the ginger tom cat that wandered into the press room afterwards, thank you. To Russell Grant (yes, the Russell Grant) for taking the time to post three messages explaining an article of his in a non-league newspaper that I’d mocked, thank you.
To Rex the Dragon, the Wrexham mascot who almost rearranged my face by booting a football inches past my head during a fraught night at the Racecourse Ground in 2007, thank you. To everyone who made fun of my surname because it looks a bit like ‘Wally’, thank you. (I don’t own a brolly, before you ask.)
And to all those of you who took time to read any of my posts, to comment on them, to agree or disagree with them, to give encouragement or suggestions or to accuse me of having an agenda against your football club, thank you. It was good to know that someone was reading what I wrote, even when it was drivel.
But it’s time I stopped. There are other things I want to do in terms of writing. I can’t guarantee that I’ll get them done by giving up the blog, but I’m pretty sure I won’t get them done by keeping it going.
I’m leaving the blog up here, until WordPress decide they’ve had enough of it cluttering up the web. And you can still find me on Twitter, gibbering nonsense in 140 characters or less @michaelwhalley. Maybe we’ll meet again in cyberspace some day. If we do, just promise that you’ll tell me if I start repeating myself…