Alas, it’s actually true. It could be Alfie Patten and friends – and his kids – lining up in lilywhite tonight. There will probably be some recognisable faces on show (Dawson, Jenas, Hudd, Chimbonda, Zokora, Gomes etc) and it will be nice to see Dos Santos finally get a game, and reacquaint ourselves with Bent’s look of disbelief as he shins wide, but let’s not kid ourselves. Although Shakhtar are just returning from a winter break, our sub-strength team will struggle. Over two legs, we’re heading out. We’re doomed (which might well become the new subtitle of this increasingly morbid forum of woe). I know, I know – we have bigger fish to fry, with Premiership games mounting up (Hull away on Monday) and the Carling Cup final to come (a week on Sunday). Logic was never my forte in scholarly days, but even I see the sense in omitting key players tonight and next Thursday, in a Uefa Cup competition we’re miles away from winning.
But still. For years and years I’ve enviously watched as other teams – not least l’Arse – have gone on their merry midweek European jaunts, and yearned for the day when we could do the same. And when we finally made it into Europe, it was amazing. European nights at the Lane are awesome, they absolutely rock, and I shall happily slap in the face with a wet fish anyway who suggests otherwise. Successive seasons of it has me addicted. And now we’re just going to throw it all away? (If ever there was a time to become sufficiently tech-savvy to insert an audio clip of an anguished howl, this is it.)
Yes, yes, yes, YES – I know, it’s far more important that we stay in the Premiership, stop yelling that at me. But the all-action-no-plot devil on my shoulder continues to poke me with a stick and repeat to me – “What’s the point if we’re not striving to climb the table and get into Europe?” I’m aware that I’m displaying the all too familiar Spurs Fan’s Irrational Impatience™, far more harmful than good to the team, a wretched curse of generations up and down the High Road and many miles beyond. I’m aware that this all a means to an end, and that the Uefa is being sacrificed so that we can come back stronger next season – but here and now, in the build-up to Shakhtar away, it doesn’t soften the blow. Shakhtar over two legs is not insurmountable; I just hope that if we do lose we at least go out with a fight.
This season we’ll scramble free of the drop, lose the Carling Cup final and finish like all the rest of them – mid-table, no trophies. Why retain our Premiership status if that means existing in a dull rut, alongside Middlesborough and Fulham and all of the other most boring and soulless sides in the universe? What’s the point of surviving, if we then go on to live our lives in a dull void of unfeasible blandness and nihilism. We’re in danger of becoming Middlesborough I tell you. Middlesborough! Is there a more depressing thought in football?
The odds of us winning the Uefa this season were always a tad long, but at least we were in it. Who knows when we’ll next have the chance? By next Thursday night we’ll be out of the Uefa. Next Sunday we face the best team on the planet, in the best form in their history, in the Carling Cup final. After that we could well have become Middlesborough.
I feel like Ray Liotta at the very end of Goodfellas.