Last on MOTD: Back-seat driver

WHAT’S the one thing that everyone likes to give and no one likes to receive? Apart from socks, Twitter abuse and the DVD release of Love, Actually. And Purple Ronnie cards.

OK, what’s the one other thing that everyone likes to give and no one likes to receive? (Jeez.) Yes, that’s right, advice. Everyone likes to give advice. But no one likes to receive it. Especially me. I hate receiving advice. (Which is why, incidentally, the quality of this blog is getting no better.)

Here’s an example. A few months ago, I offered to drive a group of work colleagues from the North West down to Hastings to take part in a training course. On the way, we got stuck in the mother of all tailbacks on the M1.

The traffic was just as bad on all of the surrounding A-roads, so after an hour of snail’s pace movement, I dived off down a random country lane somewhere in Northamptonshire, and kept going in a roughly easterly direction until, by some combination of luck, instinct and judicious use of a 15-year-old Ordnance Survey Road Atlas of Great Britain, I managed to end up on the M11 in Cambridgeshire, from where I was able to pilot us successfully to Sussex.

Throughout this detour, my fellow travellers were full of supportive comments along the lines of:
a) “Do you know where you are?”
b) “I’m not sure this is the way.”
c) “Why don’t you get a sat nav?”
d) “If you were going on a night out, and you only had time to either clean your teeth or wash your genitals, which would you do?”

(To which my responses, in order, would be: a) Not really, b) Thanks for that, c) Because I don’t trust them, d) How would that situation ever, ever arise?)

When we finally got to Hastings, a little late, but not as late as we might have been, I recounted the story of our traffic misery to one of the fellow course attendees, who had travelled down from Oxfordshire.

“Oh well,” he said. “Your first mistake was to come down the M1. Everyone knows that’s a bottleneck because it’s where all the traffic from Yorkshire and the Midlands bunches together. No, you’d have been better off taking the M40.”

He then proceeded to extol the virtues of the M40 to such an extent that I almost began to believe in the existence of motorway cults. That’s cults.

Just to repeat: I’m not very good at taking advice.

On balance, I’m glad I’m not a football manager. After all, just about everyone you encounter is a back-seat driver. They all think they can do their job better than you.

And before you respond with a series of rhetorical questions masquerading as a counter-argument; yes, yes, they get paid £80,000 a week, it’s a privileged position, going to football’s expensive, everyone’s entitled to an opinion. I’m not arguing with any of that. I’m just stating why I couldn’t do it. Well, that and the lack of tactical knowledge. I couldn’t tell you how to line up a midfield to beat Arsenal. I can barely figure out how to get from Manchester to Hastings.

Last on MOTD: Aston Villa 1 Fulham 0
Commentator: Steve Bower

With about 20 minutes to go at Villa Park, manager Alex McLeish decided to take off Charles N’Zogbia. Villa’s fans did not think this was a good idea. They booed the decision and responded with a few chants of: “You don’t know what you’re doing.”

McLeish seems to have resigned himself to the fact that he is never going to be popular at Aston Villa. Ask the club’s fans why this is, and they’ll probably tell you that it’s less to do with his Birmingham City connections and more down to the fact that Villa have played some turgid football this season.

In other words, they don’t believe that McLeish knows what he’s doing.

And yet he’s clearly not a bad manager. He has, during his career as a boss, won two league titles with Rangers, guided Scotland to an away win over a France side who had reached the World Cup final little more than a year earlier and won the Carling Cup with Birmingham. Perhaps most impressively of all, he once finished second in the Scottish Premier League in charge of a team who weren’t Celtic or Rangers. (Motherwell, 1995.)

At Villa, it hasn’t really worked. He hasn’t been helped by owner Randy Lerner’s desire to trim the club’s debts, a move which saw Ashley Young and Stewart Downing leave last summer. The Champions League challenges and big spending of the Martin O’Neill era are things of the past.

All the same, Villa fans might just have been more forgiving if their team had been a little more attractive to watch, and a little more successful at home. Villa’s tickets are by no means the Premier League’s most expensive, but they’re not cheap either. Before this weekend’s game against Fulham, Villa hadn’t won at home for four months. Put all that together, and it’s not hard to see why crowds are down on last season.

I was at Villa Park for this game, which wasn’t a great spectacle between two sides who have been last on Match of the Day more often than anyone else this season. I felt Villa started with plenty of energy, but didn’t show enough invention in the final third of the field. Too often, moves broke down around the Fulham penalty area, or resulted in hopeful long-range shots, more often than not from Stiliyan Petrov. Perhaps it was down to a lack of confidence – which would back up Gabriel Agbonlahor’s pre-match suggestion that the players were being affected by the Villa support’s antipathy towards McLeish.

Fulham, for a side who had won their previous three matches, didn’t show an awful lot of ambition early on. It took them half-an-hour to manage a shot on goal, and 45 to fashion their first clear chance. That came from a well-worked free kick, with Danny Murphy playing a short ball left to Andy Johnson when Villa’s wall expected John Arne Riise to shoot, and the resulting cross just eluding Pavel Pogrebnyak.

In the second half, Fulham showed more spark. Damien Duff delivered a couple of dangerous crosses than deserved finishing off, and hit the outside of the post. At the other end, Marc Albrighton hit the bar for Villa, but a home goal was starting to look as if it wouldn’t come.

And so McLeish took off N’Zogbia. And the Villa fans didn’t like it.

But what do you know? Two minutes into stoppage time, the man who replaced N’Zogbia scored the winner. Andreas Weimann bundled the ball in from close range, like a rugby player forcing the ball towards the try line, after Mark Schwarzer had fumbled a shot from Gary Gardner. Who, like Weimann, was introduced as a substitute. As was Barry Bannan, whose pass set up Gardner for the initial shot.

All three subs involved in the winner? This weekend, at least, McLeish did know what he was doing.

But whereas I’d have found it hard to resist the temptation to turn on those who had criticised me (never travel as a passenger in my car), McLeish knew he had to bite his tongue. In his post-match press conference, he made all the right noises about the fans being great, and criticism coming with the territory. His emotions, though, were close enough to the surface to be noticeable.

“Do you expect to be told again this season that you don’t know what you’re doing?” came a question from the floor.

McLeish, in response, gave a rueful chuckle. “Listen, you don’t want to be hearing it, but it’s part of the game in the modern day and, you know, I’ll take it on the chin.”

You see? There’s a man who could drive a car load of work colleagues to Hastings without any agony at all. And I bet he’s got sat nav too.

Gubbometer 2011/12

1. Fulham: 7 (2L: 2, 3L: 2)
2. Aston Villa: 6 (2L: 4, 3L: 4)
3. Norwich: 5 (2L: 3, 3L: 3)
4. Stoke: 5 (2L: 2, 3L: 5)
5. Wigan: 4 (2L: 8, 3L: 4)
6. Swansea: 4 (2L: 4, 3L: 4)
6. West Brom: 4 (2L: 4, 3L: 4)
8. QPR: 4 (2L: 3, 3L: 2)
9. Sunderland: 3 (2L: 6, 3L: 0)
10: Wolves: 3 (2L: 2, 3L: 5)
11: Liverpool: 3 (2L: 2, 3L: 4)
12. Blackburn: 2 (2L: 2, 3L: 5)
13. Tottenham: 2 (2L: 2, 3L: 0)
14. Chelsea: 2 (2L: 0, 3L: 5)
15. Newcastle: 2 (2L: 0, 3L: 0)
16. Everton: 1 (2L: 6, 3L: 4)
17. Bolton: 1 (2L: 4, 3L: 6)
18. Arsenal: 0 (2L: 2, 3L: 1)
19. Manchester United: 0 (2L: 1, 3L: 0)
20. Manchester City: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 1)

2L = On second last (Sunderland 1 Liverpool 0)
3L = On third last (Chelsea 1 Stoke 0)

(Teams receive one point every time they are last on Match of the Day. Teams level are separated by the number of times they are on second last, then by the number of times they are on third last. MOTD2 not included.)

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2 Responses to Last on MOTD: Back-seat driver

  1. Bad Andy says:

    The M40 is a seriously dull drive, despite some of the majestic scenery. If you want a motorway cult check out the sculptures that have been built alongside the M5 into Devon. The most famous of which was knackered by vandals last summer http://www.burnhamandhighbridgeweeklynews.co.uk/news/9557975.Get_the_M5_dinosaur_back_on_its_feet__Sir_Benjamin_Slade_pleads/r/?ref=rss
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/943715.stm
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/local/somerset/hi/people_and_places/newsid_8404000/8404697.stm

  2. mikewhalley says:

    Blimey. That’s some serious scuplture work going on there. I wonder if Humphrey the camel ever replies to any of the letters he gets sent?

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