“The horror. The horror.” – Walter E. Kurtz.
Whatever Colonel Walter E. Kurtz saw in the last moments of Apocalypse Now – that “pile of little arms” perhaps, in the middle of the village – it had very little on what most of us can see as we gaze into the next few weeks, following that Invincible campaign.
I refer, of course, to the close-season.
No more Celtic.
And this year, because we’re in that peculiar, awful, odd number year, there’s no international tournament to put a bandage on the wound and get us through to the first uninspiring friendly matches.
There is only the horror. Transfer rumours and a media raking over old coals.
This morning, there’s a story about Neil Lennon being involved in a tax scam. It’s not a new story; it’s a tired re-tread of an ancient one. “Asked, and answered,” as someone smarter than me once said with all the frustration of a person who’s pissed off having to repeat himself. The Dembele “wanted by every club in world football” tale has been resurrected. Sevco think they are world beaters again. It’s the usual. It’s the same old, same old.
And it’s bloody awful.
Don’t get me wrong, I know there are people out there who are grateful for this. Wives and girlfriends, boyfriends and husbands, kids who’ve forgotten what their parents look like … people who don’t see their better half at weekends because of “that football obsession”; they will actually sit down with their significant other tonight to watch the official moment when the curtain comes down, the Champions League Final, the game which brings the show to a close for the 2016-17 campaign.
And they will whisper sentimental flim-flam which fills their other half with dread.
“Look on the bright side, it just means more time with me and the kids …”
Jesus. Way to cheer somebody up!
Because now it stretches out in front of you, undeniable in all of its awfulness, Saturday’s in crap beach-towns, peering out of café windows into the rain. Days traipsing around the assorted bowling complexes of the West of Scotland, trying to get excited cause your missus rolled a strike, but with one eye ever fixed on Sky Sports News on in the corner, hoping you get a signing. Then there are those long forgotten (put off) “jobs around the house” which you suddenly have a load of free time to be getting on with, and stuff like “Now we can go and visit my mum,” usually accompanied by a gruesome smile and the words “Won’t that be nice?”
Yeah, sounds lovely.
When the Hell does pre-season start?
Not for a while. Not for weeks. What the Hell are we going to do until then?
This stuff is never pleasant. The contemplation of so many Celtic-free weeks is never one that you meet with any enthusiasm, but as we all know a World Cup or a European Championships makes it halfway bearable especially if you have an interest in one of the teams. And failing that you can scour the websites and find out which of the players in the tournament is at a club that might not need him or is available on a free, and tantalise yourself with the possibility of seeing him come to Scotland when the competition ends.
This year we didn’t even get the benefit of the Under 20 World Cup, which some bright sparks decided to schedule whilst the season was still taking place. Instead we have the joys of all those summer leagues which no-one really cares about cause their teams are generally not those who would bother us in the Champions League qualifiers, and which, anyway, aren’t covered extensively on any of the satellite channels.
Instead there are DVD box sets. If you’re lucky you’ll have a chance to watch some good ones – this is not something you’ll get away with as a solitary pastime; with no football this is a “chance for some sharing, some quality time together”; hope for The Wire, The Shield, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, House of Cards, Better Call Saul, Designated Survivor, The Americans or something on that order of brilliance – rather than Downtown Abbey.
Instead there are long drives, with the kids shouting “Are we there yet?” from the back seat and spilling ice-cream on the upholstery. It’s going to the safari park and seeing lions lounging under the trees and feeling resentful at the swines for having it so easy.
Instead there are weekends spent gazing listlessly out of the window and trying to fight the urge to stick on the Lisbon Lions DVD’s for fear of what your partner might say; “This? Again? Aren’t you glad to have a break from the football for once?” The kind of thing that sounds, in your delicate condition, a lot like nails raked down a chalkboard.
Instead of football. There’s this.
And don’t believe for a second that those who’s partners and kids understand this addiction and share it are any better off. Multiply the frustration. Fill a house with it. With people who can’t sit still, who have their own ideas about how to fight the boredom – “Let’s play a game; how about Monopoly?”
Christ no, no, no, no, no.
Weeks of The Game of Life.
God, can you imagine it?
Of playing FIFA and wishing it was the real thing.
Weekends of sneaking to the toilet every hour to watch the extended highlights of the 5-1 game at Ibrox on YouTube, and someone knocking on the door and saying “I can hear that. Let me in. I want to watch it too …. But don‘t tell dad.”
In many ways, that’s worse. Much worse. A different kind of horror.
It ends of course, it always does. The pre-season starts, and all the days in the country, sightseeing and pretending to enjoy it, come to a close. Your other half is filled with regret as things revert to “normal” and there’s one last horror, where you actually have to pretend you’re as disappointed as they are and that you wish it could go on a little longer.
But they always see through it.
Because you make it so easy.
You can’t disguise your enthusiasm for too long. It all becomes so clear when you are planning the pre-season friendly schedule like a military operation; times, dates, logistics. If you’re going, how you’re getting there, it all precisely laid out in specific meeting points and schedules. If it’s on the telly, what time is kick-off? Whose house are you watching it in? Who’s bringing the beer and who’s ordering the pizza? All of it in contrast to that time you took everyone through to Fife for a day of learning about Andrew Carnegie, only to find out that you got the date of the exhibition wrong and it closed a week before.
They remember these things, you see.
In the end, they always forgive you.
They understand what this is, this addiction, this obsession, and as hard as it is for you to believe during the time of the horror, it’s a small thing they’re asking when they actually structure their lives around you all the rest of the time.
Nick Hornby said it best when he pointed out that football fans are the only people who base their calendar around seasons. We don’t think of the year 1997. We think of campaign 97-98. This, right now, today, we’re on the verge of the Dark Months, the ones that don’t quite count, but in which it would, for example, be perfectly acceptable to die, after the outcomes are known and before the next fixture list is published.
Go now and you check out as an Invincible, after all.
Tonight is the closer. The Champions League Final. Enjoy it whilst you can. No matter how dull and boring it might be – I am optimistic actually – savour every second. Because when the final whistle blows the long, slow waiting starts, the horror begins to unfold.
Six weeks without Celtic.
What the Hell are we going to do with our time?