Thursday 14 December 2017

Withdrawal symptoms kick in but at least we have Jim White

Dion Fanning

The bulletin was stark and unforgiving. "Sammy McIlroy," Sky Sports News' yellow ticker informed us, "has left Morecambe." For those of us who weren't aware he had arrived in Morecambe in the first place this was especially brutal news.

We can expect more of this over the long close season and we should be used to the biennial torture by now but it never gets easy. There is much to endure. We will have to hear repeatedly those shrill voices that say 'Oh God, does the football never end?' when it must be perfectly clear by now that it does and it has.

It is the dreaded summer, a season poisoned by expectation and doomed by the reality that nothing ever happens. In the summer, the lives of those who will leave places like Morecambe and the lives of those who never knew they were there to begin with are intertwined. We cleave to them in these months, desperate to hear if Stephen Carr has exercised the option on his contract, even if we don't know what the option is, or if Marlon King will agree terms with Birmingham City and how much these will differ from the terms of his parole.

Last week, there was a frenzy. Sky Sources, a shadowy network unearthing the breaking news shortly after print journalists break the breaking news on Twitter, were extremely busy reporting the movements of players and agents and managers, so busy that for a while we could forget about Morecambe.

This was the mania before the torpor. The first days of the holidays when change seems like a good thing and clubs are spending money, aware that one of these days UEFA may hold them to some rules on Financial Fair Play, but not just yet.

But in the summer you can never really forget Morecambe and all who have left it. Once you have heard that Sammy McIlroy has left Morecambe, you know that at any moment you may be forced to contemplate another exit from another English seaside town, and simultaneously contemplate an unheralded arrival too.

The opening of the transfer window, the under 21 European Championships, the Copa America and, thanks mainly to Paul Doolin, the under 19 Euros should get us through but, as with everything these days, it will be tougher.

This year, they seem to have left us to our own devices. Football has in the modern era used the summer transfer window like an end-of-season cliffhanger. It's a way of guaranteeing ratings for the following year. Who will Ronaldo sign for? Where will David Beckham play next season? These stories were spun out over a close season or a number of seasons and maximised interest.

I'm not sure the next move in Steve McClaren's career has the same 'wow' factor. It's also not news to be told that Joe Cole's wage demands price him out of the reach of many clubs, even if the details involve club executives running screaming from whatever top hotel they're negotiating in like women in a Benny Hill sketch.

Wayne Rooney's hair transplant or Kolo Toure's body dysmorphia are not storylines, unless they were living in the same house. Instead of the regular end-of-season dramas, we have different stories, some of which will involve who will be coming in and out of Morecambe and other English seaside towns.

We know that the excellent Jim White will read the piece of paper which says talks have broken down between Gillingham and their reserve full-back with the same urgency, the same shock, as if he had been handed a document that said Richard Keys was back in the building, chasing down former colleagues with a hunting knife -- presented to him at the Sky 10th Anniversary party by Jeff Stelling --while muttering about the Mayan prophecies. Jim can handle it all.

The truth is we need Jim's enthusiasm now. We need it as an antidote to the blabbering around every deal about players' wages or the lack of loyalty. Jim's wild innocence can drag us from the torpor.

There are no alternatives for some of us who are even more uncomfortable on holiday than we are with no football. We are refugees, wandering the borders of civilised society looking for a place to rest. I know of one man who attended the opening of an art gallery last Thursday, a night which would usually be effortlessly spent caught up in all the Europa League action.

Over the next few weeks, I might wander down to the coffee shop to relax and get away from the bulletins, the updates that tell me MK Dons' search for an assistant physio is progressing well. But there is no peace there.

In the coffee shop, I'm always worried that I will be trapped by one of those imperial advances made by parents and their young children. One minute, I am as alone as a man leaving Morecambe, quietly reading World Soccer's preview of the Copa America while mainlining coffee, the next I am a victim of parental imperialism, just a statistic, overrun by a platoon of mothers who need more space.

They advance with that air of righteousness -- or maybe just tiredness -- which brooks no protest. I stand alone, like the protester in Tiananmen Square, making a vain and committed stand against the forces of imperialism but I have no chance.

So I leave the coffee shop, clutching my World Soccer in which I have highlighted Uruguay as my tip for the Copa and return home as dejected and defeated as if I had left Morecambe itself.

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