There is a tremendous insight into the difference between what we think we know about people and what the truth really is. in the novel Primary Colours, about a Southern Democrat, very obviously modelled on Bill Clinton, who runs for President.
His campaign strategist, Henry Burton, who is the narrator of the story, tries to combat an evolving series of scandals by hiring an investigator to look into the candidate, Jack Stanton, in an effort to discover what else might pop up.
The person they bring in is Libby Holden, Stanton’s former chief of staff. What she tells Burton and his small team at their very first meeting astounds them. He’s a serial love rat who had “poked his pecker in a lot of trash bins.”
Burton’s astonishment morphs into a sense of stunned realisation; “I had seen Jack Stanton from Washington down; Libby Holden, clearly, had seen him from Mammoth Falls up.” And that’s why she knows where all the bodies are buried.
Because she saw the man when he was just another grinning activist, obviously with gifts and talents that none around him possessed, but back in the real and the raw.
For a real insight into someone’s character, sometimes it helps to talk to those who really know their stuff.
On 27 May, nearly a fortnight ago, and just before the Spurs story hit high gear with the news from London that he was now their main candidate, Vince Rugani of the Sydney Morning Herald, wrote an interesting story about our former manager that would not just have had alarm bells ringing had most of us read it at the time, but they would have been clanging in a way that would have been too great to ignore. Because it predicted our weekend.
And it done that by reaching into the not too distant past.
Entitled, “Spurred on: What Postecoglou’s past tells us about his Premier League future”, if I had read that then I would not have been so completely deaf to a lot of what was obviously going on.
This is as close to an explanation for the weekend as you’ll get.
“Two days after winning the 2012 A-League grand final with Brisbane Roar, Ange Postecoglou and his players were feted with a ticker-tape parade through the city,” Rugani’s piece opens. “Thousands of fans lined the streets to celebrate their second title in a row – but they all had knots in their stomachs because rumours were rife that he was about to leave the club.”
And if that sounds eerily, depressingly, familiar what’s next will come as a major shock nonetheless. It certainly did to me when I read it last night, although I’d spent much of the day discussing and even defending the articles I’ve written since the weekend which basically accuse our manager of having blatantly mislead the supporters.
“Postecoglou sat in a sports car with skipper Matt Smith and the team’s precious silverware on a melancholy drive down the Queen Street Mall and then to a public reception at King George Square,” Rugani’s piece continues. ““Why not? Let’s make it three,” Postecoglou told the crowd.
“Then they returned to the club’s headquarters at Ballymore and he broke the news they were all dreading: he was leaving. Some players had already guessed as much by his body language on the day. Only two of his assistants, Rado Vidosic and Ken Stead, knew it was coming for sure because he’d given them the heads up.”
He told the crowd “let’s make it three” and then went back to the training ground and told the players that he was offski. And you know what else? He was moving to another Australian team, Melbourne Victory, who unveiled him two days later.
Here’s my favourite bit, and the bit we should brace ourselves for.
The next time his former club’s fans heard from him was when he gave the media a one-sided sob story about how the decision had been a wrench and how he had kept the truth from them so that they could enjoy the day of celebration.
“I knew the news would make an impact, but I did not want it to take away from the celebration of the win, and it is why I left it until after the parade.”
And you know what it reminds me of?
It reminds me of Jeremy Vine’s notorious story about Boris Johnson, which you can find if you Google it, as I’m not prepared to put in a link to The Spectator. But I can paraphrase it anyway.
(And before I do, and before some folk go off their nut, I am not comparing our former manager with the greatest liar in British political history; the point of the story isn’t about that, although the story is about him.)
Vine offered this story as an illuminating insight, and it’s definitely that.
Vine says that he attended a politics dinner at the Hilton, Park Lane a few years before Boris Johnson became Mayor of London, when he was just the most famous back bench MP in the country. Vine had never heard Johnson speak, and when he found out Johnson was the main speaker that night he was quite interested to find out how good he was.
But Johnson turned up at the dinner only two minutes before he was due to take the stage; unkempt, disorganised, flustered but not embarrassed. He walked through the doors, still trying to fix his hair, and said “Where the Hell am I?”
When Vine, who he had sat next to, told him what the event was being held for Johnson stammered and asked who was speaking. Vine told him “you are” in utter amazement and not a little concern.
Johnson asked the table for help.
He hadn’t written a speech.
He produced a piece of paper, took some apparently random notes, and Vine caught sight of what he was scribbling down; the word SHEEP and the word SHARK. And then Johnson got up to speak.
He started by forgetting the name of the organisation who were hosting the dinner.
And he laughed at his own stupidity. And they all laughed with him.
Then, shouting the word “SHEEP” into the microphone he started with a story about his uncle’s farm and how EU regulations wouldn’t let his uncle bury a sheep which died, but required that he call an abattoir fifty miles away.
Then Johnson either forget his uncle’s name or the sheep’s name or the guy at the abattoir’s name … it’s not quite clear and the audience did not care. They were applauding wildly by this time.
He laughed along with them and told them that this was why his hero is the mayor from Jaws; he fought to keep the beaches open and if some folk were eaten by a shark, well so be it. By now not a person in the room was not along for the ride and Vine genuinely believed that he was watching an absolute genius at work, a man who could command a room even off the cuff.
Finally, Johnson launched into a complicated joke, but one a lot of people in the room were familiar with because it’s one of those stories which has been around for years. Midway through it he totally lost his place, forgot the punchline and still got a standing ovation. He moved on to presenting the award, and as he picked it up he used a memorably vivid phrase; he called it “this lozenge shaped award.” Which the crowd loved. Vine couldn’t believe it.
“Something about the chaos of it – the reality, I suppose – was utterly joyful,” Vine wrote. “The idea that this was the opposite of a politician, that suddenly we had an MP in front of us who was utterly real, who had come without a script or an agenda and then forgotten, not just the name of the event but his whole speech and the punchline to his funniest story. I watched in awe.”
Eighteen months later, Vine attended another night for another organisation.
He didn’t know that the main speaker was Boris Johnson for most of the early night, because Johnson wasn’t there. He turned up late, arriving just minutes before the speech … and the first thing he did was ask the event organiser where he was and what the night was for. Then, as Vine watched incredulously, he borrowed a piece of paper and starting taking impromptu notes.
And so the speech starts.
“Into the tirade about the uncle who is not allowed to dispose of a dead sheep on his farm and had to call the man at the abattoir. ‘I can’t remember his name. Mick – no, Jim. No. Hang on. It was MARGARET…’ Then to the Mayor from Jaws, who kept the beaches open. A moment’s pause. ‘I do accept that some small children were eaten by a shark as a result…’”
And on into the badly mangled joke and the presenting of the award and the use of that self same, very specific, phrase to describe the prize which Vine remembered from the first encounter.
And Vine got it instantly; thinking of Agatha Christie’s hero, Hercule Poirot.
““The key instant in each book comes just before the denouement as the solution suddenly falls into place in the brain of the great man. At that point the crime-busting Belgian touches the delicate ends of his moustache, winks at the air and utters the key phrase: “Now, mon ami, now I understand everything” …
“Watching Boris at that second event, in the middle of a crowd of dinner-jacketed businesspeople all laughing and hooting, I was momentarily apart from the proceedings. I would have touched the ends of my moustache if I had one. People who speak after dinner don’t usually get to observe each other because no one books us in pairs. So when we do accidentally come together, we watch with close fascination. Now, I thought, now I understand everything.”
And reading Rugani’s article last night I kind of feel that I do as well.
Some people are just good at this stuff.
They can read the room. They can move the audience. They can tell a great story.
They can act out a role; that’s the important one.
And eventually you have to wonder; is anything that comes out of their mouths genuine?
Or to put it as Vine did at the end of that article; “Is this guy for real?”
The first time you see a magic act you forget that it’s a act … you just see the magic.
But when you’ve seen it a few times and know how it’s done … then it’s just a series of tricks
When Ange does his next interview, and he tells us that he kept the truth from us for our own good and not for his benefit, that the lies and deceptions were necessary so that we could enjoy the weekend and the treble, I want you to think about Rugani’s story … and Jeremy Vine’s.
Do yourself a favour, before you fall back into the pattern of believing this guy “gets it” and that he’s really heart sick about leaving all this behind; just stop for a second and ask yourself that question;
“Is this guy for real?”