Filling the Void by Matty Hayward

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Matty Hayward – @MattyHayward96

FILLING THE VOID

So, football’s off for the foreseeable. That’s no Soccer Saturday. No Match of the Day. No Super Sunday. No Monday Night Football. No mid-week Champions League. Not even a smidgen of Thursday night Europa League. And, most importantly for many of us, no sitting/standing in the cold watching decidedly average footballers; no pre-match pints; no bouncing around the ground; no singing about Jamie Reid’s potency.

To combat the football-drought, and to plug the numerous gaps in the TT content stream, I’m kicking off a new feature called ‘Filling the Void’. It’ll take the form of a blog-cum-diary, about how I’m using sport re-runs and general nonsense in a vain attempt to replace the dopamine release of live football (or, at least, just to fill the time). And, if you hadn’t guessed, I haven’t been watching 2016 episodes of Mrs Brown’s Flipping Boys.

I’m more than aware that there are more important issues in the world than me missing football, but if you’re looking for information and serious commentary about that on Torquay Talk then we both know you’re in the wrong place. In these unprecedented times of collective tedium, it would be wrong for us to stop the conveyor-belt of corking content.

Saturday 14th March 2020

Friday saw the postponement of most of English football, with the Gulls match called off hours later. Cue jokes about Boreham Wood matches “not counting as large gatherings”; “you’d be able to stay five metres away from everyone there!!”, etc. As a result, for the first and only time in my life, I found myself spending most of Saturday looking forward to a game between Halifax and Ebbsfleet.

Having watched an episode of Premier League Years in the afternoon, the paucity of quality in this evening kick off was intensified. I got mild enjoyment out of watching Gozie Ugwu – a semi-notorious battering ram of a non-league centre-forward – wreak havoc with the Shaymen defence. But it’s fair to say this contest was not the “great advert for the National League” that Grant Holt had very optimistically predicted it would be.

In the same way that I feel for the Gulls fans whose last live game for ages will be Sutton (a), I feel extremely sorry for myself that I won’t watch any live football on telly for months and my abiding memory is a tepid Halifax nil, Ebbsfleet one.

Sunday 15th March 2020

Sundays. By the time you’ve had your lie-in, your breakfast, your cuppa, your browse of the Observer, your cursory glance at Sunday Brunch to see if there’s anyone interesting on (this weekend: Neil Morrisey, Chris Addison, Denise Van Outen, Phillip Glenister and comedian I didn’t recognise), it’s about time for Super Sunday.

I don’t like how our corporate culture and the general PremierLeague-ification of football have forced us into seeing Sundays as synonymous with Sky Sports, Channel 401, and waist-coated men. But here we so often are, staring blankly at our screens, waiting to be entertained.

You expect to see the dour Graeme Souness being sceptical about dancing footballers, and probably the comparatively spritely Gary Neville. Jamie Redknapp can be seen being unbearably upbeat and unnecessarily well-dressed, while the whole thing is held together by that rather dapper fella (might be called Dave) who appeared from nowhere about five years ago and now has the job of shutting his guests up and occasionally preventing Roy Keane from combusting at the thought of a slightly shirked 50-50 or a winger with colourful boots.

The “boys”, occasionally joined by a woman (only ever Alex Scott), have a natter about the upcoming games, then sit back and gaze through that enormous window at the action, then natter about the game again. There’s often way too much nattering and the footballing entertainment is seldom as high as the ridiculous expectations that the “Premier League Product” sets for itself.

See how I’m pretty critical of the whole set-up, there? See how I almost make it sound pretty rubbish? Well on Sunday, I was desperate for it. I was reduced to watching Premier League Years and playing Football Manager. Both of these things are fine, fun even, when you’re in the mood. They’re great if you want to avoid something, they’re good distractions from life, but they are no replacement for a Merseyside Derby or its dissection by oral-hygiene-sceptic, Jamie Carragher. I even missed reading appalling takes from “football banter” twitter accounts about how player x was a fraud and player y is a goat. It was bleak.

Monday 16th March 2020

I went for a walk on Monday afternoon. On it, I wandered past Plainmoor and saw the fellas were training on the pitch, in apparent anticipation for Tuesday’s “fixture” against Notts County. As I stood there, peering through the gaps in the gates, I felt like an Argentinian in a Leeds Kappa tracksuit. I could feel Frank Lampard’s eternal damnation burning into the back of my head. I was so keen to catch some of the action, I almost chucked a tenner at Downesy to ask if I could watch!

MNF. Usually this is Monday Night Football. That Dave bloke is back, almost always with the painfully banter-hungry Carragher-Neville axis, doing more nattering, but this time with a massive iPad and a big pen. It’s decent, if you like that sort of thing.

But there’s no live football on, is there? So last night was #MundialNightFootball. Mundial is a quarterly magazine which is broadly decent, written by self-identified football hipsters. They seem like a decent bunch, and on Monday they arranged a sort of live watchalong/tweet-along to fill their content void.

This week, it was the 2006 World Cup Final. They couldn’t really have picked a more appetising game for me. 2006 is the first major tournament I have a decent memory of (although I recall remonstrating to my dad that Sven should “bring Rooney back on” after the balding teenager had broken his metatarsal for the first time in Lisbon in 2004), and the final is the first match I remember making a concerted effort to stay up for. Importantly, I had forgotten most of the key moments in this game. I knew it went to penalties, I knew Italy won, and I remembered the headbutt, but I hadn’t re-watched it since 2006 and any recollection of detailed action was long-gone.

Perhaps it’s nostalgia rewriting the story in my head, but the teams in this final looked a great deal stronger than any contemporary international side. The midfield match-up was ridiculous. Gattuso; Pirlo; and Totti Vs Makelele; Viera; and Zidane. That’s everything you want in midfields. That’s grit, fight, energy, power, finesse, technique, culture, wizardry, mystique. It made for a cracking contest.

Zidane, in his last ever international game, opened the scoring from twelve yards. Florent Malouda darted into the box after about five minutes and took a nudge in the back from a pair of Italian defenders. The penalty was given by the Argentinian referee: it was soft but hard to complain about. The French skipper stepped up and went for a Panenka. My word. The audacity. It was less convincing than the first Panenka – converted by Antonin, the Czech midfielder, in the Euros Final forty years previous – but it crept in via the crossbar. Buffon was beaten, the scoring was opened.

A thunderous header from Marco Materazzi (who, unbeknownst to me until last night, played for Everton!) returned the favour ten minutes later. The rest of the game drifted, though chances and tough tackles were aplenty. Fun was also in abundance, because the French right back was called Willy.

Both teams seemed to be settling for a draw in the second half, and even moreso in extra time. That was, at least, until ZiZou lost his flipping mind. One of the most gifted players of his era, the talisman of a star-studded French side, the best bald footballer ever(?) decided that ten minutes before the end of a World Cup Final was the right time to thrust his head into Marco Materazzi’s chest. It was thick, rash and reputation-tarnishing, but it didn’t affect the result of the game.

What did affect the result of the game was David Trezeguet belting his penalty into the crossbar. Everyone else scored, but the Juventus forward – on as a sub for Franck Ribery – went from Euro 2000 hero to World Cup 2006 villain.

Italy lifted the cup. Fabio Cannavaro – their captain and centre half – won the Ballon D’Or that year and remains the most recent defender to do so, owing in part to his quietening of Thierry Henry in the final. But his longest legacy is that my Uncle’s tortoise was named after him. RIP Fabio (the tortoise, not the defender).

This was the best sport-related activity I’ve done since the crackdown. The tweet-along aspect helped, but what helped more was being genuinely invested in a game which involved some of my favourite players from my childhood. It was the perfect recipe: I’d forgotten enough detail for it to be exciting, but I remembered enough about the players to idolise them. It could only have been improved by a bloke called Dave donning a waistcoat and restraining a decorated, gammon-elect ex-player at half time, but we’ll have to make do without that for now.

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