4 November 2009 ~ “The crisis of yesterday is the joke of tomorrow,” HG Wells once wrote. Not that you’d have found anyone at Anfield on Sunday laughing about the previous day’s defeat at Fulham, or players and coaching staff at Real Madrid last week watching footage of the 4-0 defeat at Alcorcon in the Copa del Rey, and sitting around clutching their sides at a defensive performance that lead to arguably the most humiliating result in the club’s history. For the rest of us, of course, the hilarity is there from the start, whether we are laughing at the results, or whether we are laughing at the idea of teams like Liverpool and Real being in “crisis”.
It’s a strong word, and another example of football’s misappropriation of dramatic language that’s exposed every time a genuine crisis or disaster hits the game. Of course it should be big news on the sports pages when Liverpool lose six out of seven games, and if the Real Madrid team assembled at ludicrous expense loses to Sevilla, AC Milan and a suburban third division team in quick succession. But they will recover, because they always do. Fire the coach, borrow some more money from the bank, spend a few million on new players, change owners or president – these are all options for a quick escape from what is, after all, just a run of poor results.
They may even adopt some tactical changes and start winning a few games, and all will be quickly forgotten. They’re both still in the Champions League, Real are second in La Liga, and Liverpool are not exactly close to a relegation spot. Given that both Chelsea and a rather mundane Manchester United team have both lost twice already this season (Big Four In Crisis!), it’s plain daft to say that Liverpool’s title chances are over when they are in fifth or sixth position at the start of November. But the dominance of such clubs has become so predictable that a periodic slip in form is treated as though modern football is about to collapse in upon itself and disappear down a mineshaft. If only.
Meanwhile, Darlington and Grimsby prop up League Two, both of them in a rotten financial state, and both performing miserably on the field. In a sporting context, these clubs are genuinely in crisis, though even here no one’s dying as a direct consequence of the teams’ failure to beat Hereford and Accrington. Still, their options for moving upwards are considerably more limited – go further into debt, go into administration, go down to Conference and regroup, declare bankruptcy and restart under a new name, hope the local council will somehow bail them out, or dream that a rich benefactor will come along and cheerfully chuck a few million at a non-profitable cause. And they’re by no means the only teams facing these negative (or fanciful) futures.
In the fourth division, the football crisis of yesterday will likely be the crisis of tomorrow as well. Not even competitors find it a joke, because Lincoln supporters, say, would not only find football culture in their county much the poorer for the extinction of their main rival, but they have faced bankruptcy often enough themselves over the past quarter of a century to appreciate how unfunny it is to be threatened with closure. Meanwhile, the story of Darlington’s downfall and loss of Feethams for its serially renamed 25,000-seater white elephant still beggars belief at the tenth time of telling.
But one thing is constant, and that’s the sense of living on the edge, from week to week. And that’s why it grates to hear the loss of a few games at Global Brand FC being repeatedly and universally declared as critical while, at clubs with just as much history, the descent into oblivion or obscurity is either ignored or taken for granted. Then again, if the debts at Liverpool and Madrid are ever actually called in, you’ll forgive fans at the game's groggy end if they allow themselves a minute or two to loudly appreciate the funny side of the crisis. Ian Plenderleith