Preston. What is a Preston? Parking the motor in a post industrial landscape I looked around. We were parked on another ‘Tile’ warehouse showroom thing. Everywhere around us were the dystopic builders merchants, flooring companies and home improvement shops and yet there was no evidence of any improvement to the area since I last came here. The area reflected perfectly the names of their players. Robert Scrotenugget, Brian Gruntworth, Neil Shudderflange…the list went on and they are coached by Alex Neil a man that tight he’s in danger of collapsing in on himself and forming a Black Hole which sucks the joy out of anything that comes within his envious and bitter gravity. I’m having a cigarette outside the Moorhouse real ale pub and watching the detectives. The locals mill around with that patina I have seen before in Barnsley. Unironed shirts, front hair flicked up with lard, they have a layer of dust on them from the filth that flows around their stadium. The Cops have been told to rein in their aggression today and be nice. People are happy with that, there is a lot of love for Preston old bill. I stand and take no notice. But I’m thinking of kicking off to be honest.
We knew it was going to be one of those matches didn’t we? We expected it. Preston sit high at the table of horribleness. The tackles and the aggression, the anti football, the pulls on the shirt all testament to the lack of real ideas they had. They were good don’t get me wrong. In the first half they wanged the ball around like pros. Good football peppered with flannelly late tackles and aggravations but it’s what we expected, what we knew would happen. But it’s still shit. I never know why these teams have two ideas and two ideas only. It’s a game of football. Play it properly and with a modicum of skill and you will reap the benefits of a decent points haul and maybe even a pop at the play offs.
This ‘football’ is great because we can only play well against teams that actually play football. Of course when we do start to get some passes flowing along the grass the second idea comes to the fore. We saw it with Cardiff and Barnsley, to an extent with other teams as well. The dragging foot. The shitty pulls on the arm and the shirt. I forgot how many times Cavaleiro burst into action having two Preston players hanging off him like a shit shirt. Helder too, little Helder darting between two Preston defenders got a whack across the face from a directed flailing hand. Jota goes down after a tackle from behind (again) that rakes the back of his knees. He shouts out in pain. The referee waves play on…
The Ref was an awful thing. Pumped up on Soy protein that made his arse look like a Moms smoking a fag outside school in her Primark leggings. His soy titties bounced while he ran, It was all about him. He was the star of this show. He will video it so he can show some disinterested woman he has enticed into his Travelodge room. ‘Look that’s when I showed that overpriced Portuguese bastard who was the Boss’ and she’s not looking really, she pours another Prossecco and gulps half of the glass down to deaden the next few seconds of him humping her and grunting like a pig before she slides out of the room and gets a taxi home to expunge the memory from her mind under the needle sharp hot shower.
To the left of us the Preston Doughnut squad. The scruffiest load of fooligans I have ever set eyes on. When they score some prong throws his shoes on the pitch. He’ll be in the clothing recycling skip later looking for a new pair. They are angry but pointless, grey faced, the only tan they get is from the Ultra Violet fly killer lamp in the local chip shop. The dust doesn’t allow them to get their vitamin D from the sun. The only vitamins they leach is from the Doner Kebab and the dirt burger cuisine.
I knew we were going to score. It was obvious what kind of game was being played. The ball goes out of play and the ball boy holds onto it while their goalie ‘Fudd’ runs over to collect it wasting precious seconds. In the pub I collect a pint of beer from the crushed bar and some of it drips onto the head of a Preston fan and he looks around as if he’s about to say something and then decides not to. Good choice mate. So the Ball boys have been coached to hold onto the ball so they get their point. What a fucking disgrace that is. It means some adult has got them together at some point and said ‘Lads. don’t give the ball back quickly, hold onto it’ and these poor little half starved bastards looking for direction and inspiration in life are given the hardest lesson of all. No wonder the dystopia is in their hearts as well as their ends.
Neves has three players around him every time he gets the ball. But still he manages the odd crisp pass and slide. He plays well even if he is concerned about a booking. I don’t want to lose him for one single game thank you. Preston however can’t even get close to him to stick a foot in his ankle. Holy Spirit he is. He’s there and you don’t always see him until he has something to say..
Cavaleiro knocks past the encumbered and static Preston players and sets Helder up. Bang, goal. I run down to the hoardings to celebrate much to the humour of Horace who says I ran like a Rat up a drain pipe. I was happy for Helder. I have sat and stood most of the season listening to people slate him. Now he is ascendant. He is Helder of course, always has been but now? Maybe he has something else. He has traversed the negative slopes of the mountain to gain a hand hold in the next route upwards. He is my Helder. Of course he was going to make his way back. Knowledge not belief. Cavaleiro is busier than a one legged firewalker. Busting extreme football shapes here, then over there, then he pops up again and throws down another dinky pass, another sublime shuffle of the footballing latin jazz he espouses. We are drawing the game and they have shut up shop but it’s still beautiful to watch. This my friends is the greatest entertainment I have ever witnessed. It’s lovely to watch. We are entertained. I suspect the venom of Preston fans to the alleged play acting of our players is just jealousy and bitterness. They will never have this, they will never watch a team like this again this season. Alex Neil is threatening to implode on the touchline, his little weedy arms going like a wind up monkey with a pair of cymbals. It’s obvious he has given his players the Dunkirk speech at half time. He has filled their hearts with darkness instead of inspiration. He has dragged them to the cusp of half hidden violence. The footballing abyss where Colin Wanker makes his home. They are filled with belief from his anger, but that anger is void and hollow.
Cavaliero goes down again from a fateful errant leg raking his ankle. He falls and crunches himself up in pain. I watch his face and it’s real pain but he centers himself, uses his powers to shuffle that pain off and he’s back on his feet in seconds. Preston fans think he is play acting but I know better. Cavaleiro wants the ball back so he can have his revenge, not in a reprisal tackle but in a perfectly weighted pass, or a swivel of those Elvis hips as he glides past the anathema ball of Prestonite hollowness.
Saiss is on. His hair looks weird. I guess he’s toning it down now into some sort of ashen grey madness. Certainly mad, he gives the ball away twice on the trot but that’s ok too. He’s been out of the side. He’s trying to get on the Waltzers while they whizz around disco music blaring, lights flashing on and off. It will take a few minutes for him to center himself and get into the groove again.
Nuno wasn’t happy when he came onto the pitch to applaud the travelling fans. You could see he had the furrowed brow, a hypothesis about a lost opportunity to extend our lead, to make the idea more concrete and palpable. Of course Nuno in his absolute gentlemanly way he conducts himself will never denigrate the opposition, never lay bare the cables and conduits of these teams inability to play against us. I may be wrong I suppose, perhaps I see this team we have as one of the greatest teams I have ever seen and to be honest I cannot be forensic enough when caught in the moments that have slathered their way across my mind over the past season. Of course beauty deserves to rise unhindered by ugliness but I know too that beauty is often marred by a scar here or there or an errant stray hair across a beautiful face. I’m aware of that. Perhaps I can give this to Preston and Barnsley and all those other towns and cities we have traveled to, perhaps their ugliness has made our football at times a little too beautiful and makes us want to entwine and blind ourselves with it so we only see other teams offensive blartball in contrast to out own ineffable ideas…maybe. But Nuno is both angry and Saintly in equal doses and I am reminded of St Augustus.. ‘for when I was angered thou would never pull thy thoughts from me but let that anger be formless and vapid and mean nothing’.
After the match myself and Horace sauntered around the ground and we found ourselves by the players entrance and a small crowd of autograph hunters waiting for them. We stood talking to three young lads from County Cork who had flown over to England to watch Preston and a few of their Irish players. They were young and fresh faced, I was amazed that they had traveled so far to watch something they loved and I had an epiphany of sorts. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder I suppose. They see their teams beauty and I see mine. I’m standing there swaying slightly as Conor Coady comes out to sign some autographs. I want a photo with my hero too. I’m 53 years old in May and I still get the shakes when I meet my heroes. I mean heroes in the fullest sense of the word. Conor is lovely and polite, you can see he has that humour and scalliness of his ends. I get my photo and we walk back to the pub through the long featureless streets of little boxy terrace houses where people sit and engorge themselves on idiotic TV. We pass a few lamp posts and cars with lovely Southbank Resistance stickers on them. Gold and Black. Nuno is always centered on the next match. He doesn’t want to pontificate on how we draw matches or even on how we win them. It’s gone and dusted. How many points? Just the one. Two points lost. These points he will not ruminate about at all and that’s good. He has a Zen about him. The realisation that this season is indeed a struggle, not in terms of physicality and snot but in idea and foundation building and these two tenets of Nunoism are the cornerstones of his philosophy. The points are the mortar between those blocks surely?
We walk back to the pub and find ourselves among twenty or so grey faced scruffy Preston Hooligans but it’s ok because nobody can touch us, nobody can dent the shellac of success we have already coated ourselves with ready to unveil the real madness we are holding within ourselves. There are no furrowed brows here, no fumbling quick bitten fingers and no tallying of possible points hauls. This is our time and our place. The Fooligans part as we walk straight through them. Like our team really. We’ve stopped believing and started knowing.