Tuesday, August 14, 2007

semper fi?

Players come and go; I understand that. But how does one of the Faithful remain so through the shock of a change of manager? Man U is Man U, be it Eric Cantona or Pout-Faced Ronaldo up front, but when Fergie leaves, that'll be a whole new ball game.

I'm thinking, as always, of the Hammers. Having been football-starved for the better part of a year and plunged back in (to the tune of fifty plus bucks a month) thanks to the kindly folks at Fox Soccer Channel, I find myself in the odd position of watching Alan Curbishley's Irons. Suddenly, I am Katharine Ross as wives around her become Stepford or Kevin McCarthy while body-snatchers invade. Someone has dismantled my team in the dead of night and built an exact and insidious replica in its place, and I have an eerie foreboding as I watch. I am waiting for the mask to slip and reveal some of David Icke's lizard-men.

For starters, seeing West Ham play without Etherington and Konchesky I found wincingly uncomfortable, like watching some fellow without a skeletal structure lurch bonelessly around the pitch. Curbishley tossed "Gamblin' Fool" Etherington in at the half and I breathed more easily; now, at least, they had snapped on a collarbone. I do not resent the passing-on-to-questionable-pastures of so many of last year's A-team. It's an expected and chilling repercussion of managerial usurpation. Reo-Coker and Harewood, even Benayoun I release with blessings. I am troubled, however, by the ease with which I was glamoured into high hopes by the flash and glitz of Ljungberg and Ashton and Neill, all of whom have yet to prove themselves after a singularly unimpressive opening match. Neill, in fact, seems to have thrown his hat into the ring to inherit the Harry Kewell Perpetually-Off-Pitch-With-Some-Vague-Injury crown (what is up with the delicate Aussies these days?), and Craig Bellamy wheels his snappy-but-mostly-useless act into town, fresh from the green grasses of Anfield.

Then there's Bobby Zamora: a lizard-man, unquestionably, perhaps even a cartoon lizard-man. I think he is the Polanski character from "Chinatown", that twitchy speed-freak guy itching to explode into violence at every moment, only somehow transported into a studly footballer's body. Watch his neck and shoulders: he's so tense he'll snap in two if a big wind comes up. I often amuse myself by noting how long it takes him to explode in anger at the ref each match. This time, he clocked in under six minutes.

So these are our boys. Curbishley, the alien at the helm, has a strategical sense which at first glance seems random and dubious. His presence on the claret and blue throne throws strange and tramontane shadows across the castle walls. I am no longer on familiar ground. The king may be mad; the players, well, reptilian. Much remains to be seen. In the meantime, do we, the Faithful, remain so out of duty, pride, habit, or fear of change? What are the repercussions of switching allegiance? I have always had one eye fixed on the Liverpudlians, and Roy Keane is making his Black Cats very seductive underdogs indeed. For now, though, the Hammers keep hold of my attention by sheer force of their fascinating perversity.

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