Sport Soccer

Friday 23 March 2018

Grant can salvage something from debris of new Wembley

Dion Fanning

T here was something symmetrical in Avram Grant and Portsmouth triumphing at Wembley last weekend. Wembley is a billion-pound monument to bullshit, a citadel of cant, a shining corporate city on the hill that reminds us of the folly of the last ten years. It is the place where they haven't worked out that if you build an arena with 2,000 toilets, you'll never be able to avoid the stench.

They thought of everything at Wembley except creating a venue which would allow people to remember the football matches they watched. All the majesty of the old Wembley was taken away, not by tearing down the Twin Towers which, typically, was the misdirected target for campaigners, but by their artless construction of a corporate stadium.

They like to talk about the 'Venue of Legends', but they made sure that there would be no more. Where once the men walked out from behind the goal, taking an age to reach the half-way line, an age which was an examination in itself of what was to come, now they are bundled out without notice, straight into the action, possibly straight from one of the several thousand bathrooms.

They are accompanied by a moronic yell from a PA man who probably uses phrases like 'Venue of Legends' in his everyday language. And that is the best part of the day when there is a football match at Wembley.

They are talking about relaying the pitch for the FA Cup final but it doesn't matter. They have allowed us to glimpse their intentions and there is nothing for the football lover at Wembley anymore.

That in itself is a stupendous achievement. To turn Wembley from a name which could make you tingle with excitement to the current mess is a tremendous feat. The place once exuded a sense that it was the only destination for every football man. Now it is a place where they are giddy with corporate excitement about the sight-lines and the canapés.

So there were many reasons that Portsmouth had to triumph in a meaningless game at a gutted coliseum last week. They were built on the same delusions as Wembley, although Wembley, as they would undoubtedly stress, at least has the guaranteed revenue streams to ensure they don't end up in the same sort of chaos. In a more fundamental way, however, Portsmouth and Wembley are united by a profound sense of ignorance.

"We are currently reviewing all options to provide the best surface for the busy period going forward," an FA statement said last week. There was no need for the words "going forward" except that without them the corporate man would feel naked.

This is the language that has destroyed the world financially and in more profound ways too but it is not meaningless because at least we know what it signifies. Later they would talk about Wembley's "iconic" place in football. It is a word they love too, but the Wembley that stood for something has been torn down.

So Portsmouth triumphed thanks to the pitch and move on to the final of a competition which has been destroyed thanks to self-conscious sloganeering.

Portsmouth found some meaning as they came close to losing their existence. They are a disparate group of renegades asked to act as leaders of a movement to save a football club for which only a few feel any emotional attachment.

Avram Grant seems to see it differently. When they found him in a massage parlour earlier this year, it was treated as if it was a sensation. The newspapers had just had the super-injunction lifted on John Terry and they were in buoyant mood, revealing that Avram had been the manager they had been talking about when they shrieked previously that a Premier League coach had been visiting a brothel.

It was a story that benefited from an absence of detail. Nobody really wanted to picture Avram in a brothel, nobody really wanted to picture Portsmouth in the Premier League but the papers were driven by the need to inform the public.

Everybody enjoyed the John Terry and Tiger Woods stories, even those of us who felt no need to take any moral lessons from them or wonder what had happened to our role models.

Avram, it seemed, would bring more disgrace. Then his wife Tzofit Grant was tracked down. "He's the Portsmouth manager and it's a tough job," she said. "He needs a massage not from one woman but two. Morning and night. He's a great manager with amazing potential who is stuck in a shitty team."

As Avram's wife had no problem with his character, it was hard for everyone else to point the finger and claim this was a man with flaws that should prevent him managing a football club. They were out in front of the story with Tzofit refusing to see this as anyone's business.

She pointed out that Avram had nothing to hide and had gone in to the massage parlour wearing a Portsmouth tracksuit which called to mind the old depression joke: "Don't tell my mother I'm a politician, she thinks I play piano in a whorehouse."

Avram has made managing Portsmouth a noble calling. He hasn't "got out in front" of the stories he should have. He has ignored them, figuring that there is enough chaos going on without engaging with some other.

He is the hero in the tale, salvaging a disgraced competition in a destroyed stadium. He deserves a happy ending.

Sunday Independent

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