What’s the lowest point of Latics season? It’s not rocket science is it? Blackpool or Notts County? Nah, they were both in the cup. Portsmouth or United away? They were just bad days at the office. Undoubtedly and unavoidably the point of no return for Roberto Martinez’s team is that trip to White Hart Lane, the one that showed that you can really be called inconsistent when your lows are this deep, the game that shouted for us to put that opening day victory at Aston Villa behind us and to get on with the battle instead.
When it comes to the end 2009/10 might get filed as Latics’ transitional season, it might be the beginning of the end, or whatever. There’s plenty of time to decide the how things end. No matter though, the theme is clear, this season should be written up as Latics’ attempt to recover from losing 9-1 to Spurs. Up until then it was a bit up and down, finding our feet, learning our lesson; since it’s been all doom, gloom and self flagellation.
Wednesday marks the ‘twelfth step’ in that recovery, or at least the twelfth league game, because I’m not sure that we’re that far down the line. Or at very least I don’t reckon the fans are anyway. I’d check, but all the twelve step programmes that I can find dwell a little too long on the influence of an almighty being, and, no matter how much blame is owed in that direction, Dave Whelan as God metaphors are dangerous, even for the most ardent of atheists.
So it’s to the internet for other ways to understand what we’re going through and stand by your self help keyboards as I discover there are seven or so stages to recovery from trauma, whether emotional or physical and although I’m fairly sure that, like a twelve-stepper, I’ll always be recovering from that game, we should all at least have a go at getting some closure. So here goes:
- Step one: Pain. For a football fan, pain doesn’t come much worse than an “I’ll never live it down at work on Monday moment”. Well, to be frank it does, as anyone who’s been through relegation or near non-existence will tell you, but that sort of spoils the theme and for most fans, it’s true that loss of “bragging rights”, being giant-killed or getting seven shades of goal difference knocked out of you is as bad as it will get.
So an, almost, record breaking defeat hurts, it’s traumatic, it causes lasting damage, in fact it’s too bad even for people to raise wry smiles or chuck sly digs as you walk into your office, they can’t take the Mick anymore than your team already has done, you see.
- Step two: Denial. There must be something, right. Your team can’t be that bad, it’s a one off it’s a blip, Defoe had something to prove, Edman had a stinker; we played alright for 45 minutes. Blah, blah, blah. You didn’t need blue tinted glasses to see positives in this result, you needed to be blind and deaf and be 2,000 miles from a TV or Radio or another person.
9-1 is a proper kicking, whichever way you dress it up, there’s nothing you can say that makes it better, it’s ten times worse when you realise that the only positives that you can pull out of the game mean that the result was essentially 8-1 in the second half. Collapse? Yep, that’s pretty much what you’d do if you didn’t try to kid yourself.
- Step Three: Anger. “… leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.” Any seven year old lad can tell you that. What they can’t tell you is why daddy hates Eric Edman so much, or what Roberto Martinez has done to make him so cross. There’s been a lot of bile and bitterness spouted over the last three months and for what? Yoda reckons it’s probably fear.
Fear of relegation? Fear of embarrassment? Fear of supporting a team that’s not in the Premier League? Fear of having made the wrong choice to ditch your rugby season ticket? I don’t know, but I know that if you(‘ve) spent too long in this stage then you’re going to get an ulcer or something, it’s really not worth it.
- Step Four: Depression. I’m seeing a lot of this around, not the “we’re all doomed”, can’t get out of bed, end of the world type depression, but the “I don’t get it”, “where do we go from here?” type stuff. People who want to be positive but are surrounded by negativity, people who are trying to climb a hill only to find there’s a mass of panicking lemmings coming the other way.
What you have to realise is that, most likely, it’s other people that are making you feel like that, the angry people, the panicky people, people who are just as confused as you are or more. Chances are it’s not the football or Jason Scotland’s goal drought; it’s not the dwindling crowds or quality of meat and potato pie.
Not that realising it will help you get over things, but at least you’ll be able to watch the game in a little bit of piece.
- Step Five: The Upward Turn. What will it take to get past all this, eh? 20-odd points between now and the end of the season? Sack the manager? Play 4-4-2? Shoot Jordi Gomez? Beat Bolton (twice)? Stop up? Play some good football?
I think this is where the cycle of grief lets us down. Whilst it might allow for a collective view, there’s no room for collective wisdom in football, and there’s bugger all chance of pleasing all of the people all of the time, not even when you’re Barcelona.
You suspect that if, two years from now, Bobby gets us in a strong position in the Prem and into the second phase of the Europa League there will still be those bemoaning his formation or that he only played 4-4-2 after that fan dressed himself as Mike Bassett and nailed himself to the DW centre circle.
Seriously, it might take some to the end of the season for some, but sooner or later things will perk up for us all. After all a win is just a draw where you score the extra goal (or something).
- Step 6: Reconstruction. Relax, get over it, realise that it’s just a game, that 22 blokes kicking a ball about is 22 blokes kicking a ball about, no matter who or where they are and that the pubs still open in the Third Division and you might actually be able to get back to supporting the team, that’s what we’re here for after all. That and enjoying ourselves.
Let go a little bit and, who knows, you might even start to like yourself again.
- Step Seven: Acceptance. The finishing line, the stage where you will actually realise that things were never actually that bad after all. 9-1? 20 odd minus goal difference? 4-2-3-1 vs. 4-4-2 vs. 4-3-3 vs. 4-5-1? None of it will matter come next August when it all starts again and it’s time to find new things to moan about (or find new ways to moan about the old ones).
Be it sat watching competitive games at the seaside in the Championship or watching a more balanced, confident and still improving team (and manager) in the Prem, everything you’ve been saying this season will start to look and feel a bit daft.
Me, I reckon I’m as far as Step Five, but that could just as easily mean that I’m still back at Step Two (no I’m not!). Not convinced? Well you can work with me, see how it goes, or not. You could just get hammered instead, get yourself on a proper 12-step programme and find god, either way, just take each day as it comes.
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