If this game were a cartoon it would be Tom & Jerry, with Sunderland both Tom and Jerry, running around frantically in a strangely futile loop, and Fulham Spike the dog, conserving energy and only getting involved when absolutely necessary, but generally in control of the whole situation.
Which is not to belittle the suffocating excellence of our heroes, more to suggest that, after the heroics in Ukraine and ahead of the FA Cup Quarter Final, this was almost exactly the sort of performance we needed. Quiet, accomplished, and fruitful.
Sunderland could make neither head nor tail of it all. They played with three forwards (Bent, Jones, Campbell), but hadn’t thought of a way to make the most of this superficially dazzling array of talent. Fulham – like Spike the dog – just had to *be there* and wait for the annoyances in front of them to tire, which they did.
Only when Bolo Zenden came on for Sunderland did things get a bit more tricky. The classy Zenden, in an attacking midfield role that made Sunderland’s attacks slightly less predictable, nearly scored with one dabbed effort, and nearly made another with a frightening cross that journeyed all the way across our six yard box before being met by a flying Alan Hutton, whose full-stretch finish was that of a full-back.
At the other end Fulham made little headway, with Zamora and Mensah having a classic backing in/pushing duel that befuddled the referee into several frustrating decisions. We must, though, be sympathetic to the referee in these situations: often there really is no right answer, both players jostling for the ball at the same time. How do you judge the guiltier party?
There was little else to declare. Simon Davies, getting sharper every game, lofted in some nice aerial balls that on another day might have created something, otherwise it was nice to see Dickson Etuhu taking charge of the midfield again – he seemed to be thriving out there today.
And now onto Spurs, and the chance to go to Wembley…
This morning is the last day for my black tooth. When I was 16/17 and playing cricket I top edged an attempted hook shot into my own mouth, sending two teeth flying into the air. Someone found them, put them in a glass of milk, and got me to a dentist, where they were reinserted, but this is not what nature expects for its teeth and they haven’t been right since. I have no issue with discolouration – this is just ‘one of those things’ (someone should make a book of ‘those things’) – but it gets infected a lot and the pain has become hard to deal with. So we’re taking it out this afternoon.
This is exciting news, and has given me much cause to ponder the last few years and how things have been, what’s been good, what’s been bad. This morning I was reading Richard Brautigan’s “Sombrero Fallout”. I bought the book when I first got to Dublin in, probably, 2004. To begin with I had no possessions with me and needed to stock up on essentials. I bought two CDs, both by Yo La Tengo, and then went hunting for books. There was a small independent shop on Grafton Street that sold all sorts, and from there I bought a few of Canongate’s Rebel,Inc series (the Brautigan among them) and a couple of Lawrence Block’s crime novels.
I remember writing back emails to friends and family back then. How everything suddenly seemed alive, in technicolor. Before I left it felt like London had swallowed me up: my sense of self, my sense of being able to manage the world, all gone. Now, in Dublin, I felt free. Accordingl, I signed off that first email home:
So there we are. I can’t believe how lucky I am to be doing this, after years of not much in England I feel really alive, to the extent that I feel I ought to write a really cheesy song about it all or something. Clearly the novelty will soon wear off and it’ll be back to real life again, but perhaps I’ll move to Wales when that happens. I think Dublin’s all I wanted it to be, and I’m absolutely loving it.
Being in a strange country got me back into reading again, and I haven’t stopped. (Dublin was great for a time, but soon I missed home.)
In “Sombrero Fallout”, which I came back to this morning, the introduction refers to another of Brautigan’s short stories in which the main character replaces his house’s plumbing with poetry. I’m not sure how this works but I looked up the collection in question (entitled “Revenge of the Lawn”) to try to find it. Nope.
But I did find a train ticket inside the book. Not a ticket, a “sales voucher”, £15.50, from Balham, on the 17th November 2006. Where was I going that day that cost me £15.50? It was printed at 07:30 in the morning, so may have been work related. Was I going to Brighton for the day? It’s a mystery.
A better mystery was found inside a second hand copy of JP Donleavy’s “The Beastly Beatitudes of Balthazar B”. Here was a real-life bus ticket that someone had left behind, many years ago.
Who was reading this book? Where were they going?
I looked up as much as I could on the internet. The 65 route bus goes from Surbiton to Ealing. LONDON TRANSPORT 22225 is another clue. This, I discovered, is the individual bus, registration UGR 697R, registered in December 1977. I would have been almost two at the time.
So my mystery reader was on this bus, reading Donleavy, some time after 1978. Now, more than 30 years later, I have been reading the same book on various buses and trains around South West London. Were I American I might try to weave some kind of mystical meaning around this. As it stands I shall just imagine someone from the 70s reading Donleavy as the bus crawls around these grumbling London roads.
It is not much of a mystery, I grant you, but nice curiousity, I think. A mystery that can never be solved, and all the better for it. Many of the best things in life happen in our imaginations, floating around beautifully like (as Brautigan wrote in Sombrero Fallout (albeit about a Japanese woman taking off her clothes)) “like a kite takes gently to a warm April wind”… a step away from the real world. (Brautigan, only two lines later, wrote “He was also one of those people who have a lot of trouble drying themselves after a bath. When he was through drying himself, 50 percent of his body was always still wet.”) Indeed.
In “Revenge of the Lawn” Brautigan muses on his childhood:
“there are pieces of distant life that have no form or meaning. They are things that just happened like lint.”
Indeed again. Brautigan may have had issues, may have been bonkers, but he knew.
My tooth will be removed in three and a half hours. The dentist is about half a mile from Twickenham rugby stadium. England and Ireland kick off at about the same time as my operation. There will be thousands of people in the area, having a jolly day in their barbour jackets. I will be having a happy day, too, with my tooth being removed. But it is a worrying day as well. Will we get through the traffic? What if the operation doesn’t work? Why do I feel sick writing this? So sick.
But the world will keep on turning, buses will keep running, and people will be reading to themselves to shut away the world around them, which is the main thing.
(I can’t think of anything original to write about Fulham. Things are just about perfect, aren’t they?)
“I can’t tell you how I feel. My heart is like a wheel…”
Fulham have beaten the Europa League champions, Shakhtar Donetsk. Over two legs.
The 2-1 first leg lead was always going to be tested tonight, but my word how the team battled. Shakhtar piled on the pressure, racking up the shots and the corners, but there were always white bodies around and Mark Schwarzer in goal to beat things away. Hangeland and Hughes were at their repellant best, and the famed Hodgson organisation once more trumped the fancy football of our illustrious opponents. That’s the way to do it.
In all these European games the away goal is central to everything. Shakhtar got one at our place so, if we were to go through, we’d need one there. This felt unlikely before the game, but as time marched on there grew a sense that we could just nick something. Soon enough a Damian Duff free-kick whizzed onto the head of Brede Hangeland, who nodded the ball beyond the unmoved goalkeeper to make it 1-0.
Moments later the TV people gave us a shot count: Shakhtar 11-1 Fulham. It felt slightly underhand for us to be ahead.
But there’s no sense apologising for these things. Shakhtar were blasting balls at Schwarzer’s goal like an old lady spending her pension money on scratchcards: certainly the potential gain is attractive, is this really the best approach, given the situation? Fulham held the game in a strange kind of control.
We knew that Shakhtar would score eventually, it was just a case of when, and what would happen after that. The turning point (such that it was) saw Douglas Costa introduced. He promptly beat several Fulham players in one dribble and suggested much danger lay ahead. Douglas Costa (I am assuming this to be his full name) was popping up everywhere, and eventually had the nous to have a crack at our third choice left back (heretofore putting in another admirable shift, it must be said). The Brazilian dummied and hurtled around Kelly, cut the ball back to a teammate, and before we knew it the ball was in the net.
Would Fulham survive? David Elm replaced the tiring Zamora and Fulham did all that they could to keep the ball away from trouble. Zoltan Gera missed a Geoff Hurst style counter-attack chance, shooting *just* wide when he could have wrapped things up, but Shakhtar still couldn’t find an answer. As time ran down Danny Murphy was sent off for hacking at a Shakhtar player in a nothing position (a decision Murphy and everyone else will regret bitterly) but soon enough the final whistle had blown.
Erm. Bloody hell. We’ve just beaten Shakhtar Donetsk. Juventus await.