Learn To Love Yourselves Again (Wolves V Braga)

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Everything is a lie, a fantasy and nothing at all is true in this particular game. What are the shapes of this football, on this night? What are the sounds of it? I can taste the skills of Cutrone, I love Rui with all my heart, Nuno looks as if he is standing on clouds. Jeff Shi’s face is a big moon in the sky and he is booming out lyrics in a loud comedy Chinese accent “Put fucking Menu back, no touch TV, no change channel! I phone fucking Police!”. Some woman has fell over in front of me, she has hurt her knee, she is embarrassed. Some kid is puking up in the bushes. A Cop stares at me like he wants a wrestle. I nearly get run over but Bubbles pulls me back and laughs. The sunset. Wow. European football. There are loads of people here. I am smoking a one skinner and that’s why the Cop was looking at me. I thought it was my ‘normal’ roll up but it was mistaken. I pre roll and put them in my pocket. Bubbles is doing my head in being loud and obnoxious. Every second word is fuck or bastard. I noticed he has bitten chunks out of his steering wheel in road type rages, his dashboard has a crack in it from the odd punch. 

In traffic going up to the game we are stuck on the Lichfield road. ‘Dave and Bubbles’ are my muckas tonight. They just happened to acquire three tickets and contacted me an hour before the game started to confirm my appearance. I am happy. It is European football for some, just football to others and for my two mates it’s an excuse to get rat arsed. I of course am not drinking, in fact I am all eyes as the Police have stopped Bubbles three times now asking to see his ticket and we are only on the ring road walking down to the game. Bubbles is naughty. I’m a bit ashamed the Police haven’t asked to see my ticket but I must look like an old bum. I’ve got my dog walking shorts on and rolling a cheroot as they probe Bubbles existence. 

Braga had a toughness here tonight. They had great shape, a Portuguese madness we all know so well with a big slice of defend at all costs and try and grab a goal when opportunities arise. Cutrone had a chance, Boly too, and Neves. Three goal scoring chances to their one. They bust a goal, we chase. We looked slow from the off, I’m standing by myself in the Steve Bull as Bubbles and Dave do what they do best, throw big bets down and more lager. I can watch properly and analyse but it’s the same games I’ve seen for most of the season. We look tense and aggravated. Nervous and too laid back at the same time. It seems we are playing in mud two feet thick sometimes. Often there are moments of pure lovely football we all know and then it gets heavy, plodding, no urgency. Too bloody forensic. 

It’s easy to lose control of your footballing brain. The gears between ‘Joy’ and ‘Disaster’ are a slight notch apart for most Wolves fans and last night the gear slipped again. I wrote in my first book that maybe we are suffering post traumatic stress from the double relegation and the mismanagement from previous campaigns. It doesn’t take much for us to start to twitch when a few results go to crap. It is a natural thing of course, a process if you like, we all go through as football fans. We expect too much, too soon. The big fangly polished media announcements Wolves fart out on a regular basis have made our eyes gritty with glitter. The shirts, the pre season tours, the players, the high from last season now stripped out on a balmy evening in WV1. 

I’m not twitching. Last time I wrote about Wolves on here I was throwing my dummy out of the pram because “I don’t feel like I belong here anymore”. It’s stupid and emotional but it’s also new and novel to feel that success within the club isn’t ours, really. But it is you know. I can be dysfunctional and emotional and I suppose our team can too. But the future? The next few games, what battleground is this to be? What new horrors wait for us as we drag ourselves back to some semblance of normality? 

Memory is a good thing. Remember a few keywords thrown around by Nuno and the club. ‘Project’. This is a project and here’s a description of what project means…

“Project- an individual or collaborative enterprise that is carefully planned to achieve a particular aim.”

We are indeed a project and are ‘in progress’. We are already (really) a year or two ahead of where we should really be and at a giddy height…a European level of giddiness I might add. This really is unknown territory for everybody concerned and that goes for Jeff Shi right down to Bubbles who is alcoholically annihilated fifteen minutes into this match and is leaning on me, all 17 stone and six foot six of him. It’s like wearing Willy Boly as a coat.

A project, still going on, still working out what the hell we are doing here and how we stay here, how we do better, how we can perform to our utmost ability. We are on (not) a learning curve, a great exponential climb into the stratosphere of Champions league football…not a curve, more like a series of peaks and troughs as we manage to work our way through what is turning out to be a crushing series of games that are coming faster and faster as time goes on. That’s what happens when you are learning and developing. So we know that often through this learning process there are going to be times when everything seems to be going wrong, everything is shit. Nuno should do A-B-C or put in Player 1-2-3 to replace 4-5-6 and then we should play 3-5-2 or 4-3-3 or whatever permutation we can come up with as we balance our phones in one hand while we shovel food in our gobs. We can do that forever as fans of course, it’s easy for us to do it as we can wax great doomed filled ‘Winter is coming’ lyrics and then go about our day quite happily, or grumpily whatever. That’s our prerogative as fans and this debate comes at no cost to ourselves really, it’s cheap and it’s free these opinions and they are sprinkled around like dog eggs on a canal footpath.

But what this opinion and debate does (especially) if read by players or staff is cheapen and discount the position of said players or staff. If we are accurate or even inaccurate in our analysis and have uncovered an as yet unknown variable as to why our performances have been poor then we denigrate the position of players and staff with that analysis. All of a sudden they are less able to do their jobs in an effective way once the great game starts on the pitch. They are unsure of themselves all of a sudden. Their minds aren’t fully on the game or the tactics. That’s if they read any of the media of course. I’m sure some of them do, Googling your own name if you have a high position in the hierarchy of Wolves must be a thing, it’s human nature. Those long hours recovering from a training session or a match when you have to rest must be filled with something. It’s an obvious thing that it should be filled with clicking and swiping that little rectangular box of electronic evil you carry around with yourself all the time. Give the team a run of poor results and that clamour for change is all consuming and loud if you like and so are the endless words of denigration.

Get a run of results like this and your self esteem, your self image too takes a few knocks, your serotonin levels drop, you start to become insipid and lacklustre…like this performance really. We were tense and we were unbelieving in ourselves. Braga were nothing special here, a Premier league mid table team if we can throw a comparison out there…a bit like us really. But where the difference hit me was that Braga obviously had a sense that their position in the competition and hence in this game was deserved and their place was rightfully given. So they could set out their ideas straight away with a full sense of belief in themselves.

A positive thing about last nights game was that Nuno confronted it head on. There are no propaganda filled missives from Nuno. No bullshit Klopp or Mourinho type meltdowns. Just pure mission statements replayed for the heretics that didn’t quite catch the ear the first million times he said it. It’s a project, we are learning fast, we are getting better, we want to slide up the pecking order. My advice to the players last night is to walk into Compton with your chest out and your shoulders back ready to listen to what Nuno says and to learn from him also. We all have bad days when we want to curl up into a defensive ball in some dark place because people are saying nasty things and God! Everything is just shit! But we can’t do that, because the job isn’t finished yet and fucking hell we have hardly started this seasons work. My take on the whole crazy season so far is that the Wolves team have stopped loving themselves (in certain games) and I don’t mean they look in the mirror hating themselves. What I mean is, they have maybe stopped looking at these challenges in the Premier League and Europa League as positive moments and started looking negatively at them. Seeing every game as a mountain to climb and overcome rather than as a lesson in learning and expanding their knowledge. So the game becomes a battle rather than an experience. I think initially Nunos ‘ideas’ were and still are better than other Coaches and Managers but I think the message sometimes get’s muddled when the team are on the pitch. Maybe this wrangling with Philosophy and idea makes the football placid often, not incisive, not violent in it’s beauty. Instead we have dysfunction sometimes, a lack of awareness and a lack of baseline hunger as the team cycle through shape and tactics. They tend to see the minutiae of direction as paramount to the blood and bollocks gladiatorial battles that often win matches at this level and is often the deciding factor when two similar teams meet. 

Wolves have to start loving themselves again. If they don’t then things are going to get worse. There will be a fragility creeping into the team. We are basically in some sort of existential blip in the upwards trending curve of our fortunes. Can we say love the player you are but hate the game you just played in? If you can’t bring anything into the game that is beautiful and creative then the game becomes a much darker and dim place. Wolverhampton needs what you have to offer us, what you have shown us before and you must learn from these experiences to become better, more crazy, more creative in what you do albeit within a framework of Nunos concrete mantra of continual improvement, shape and form. I read this morning that Nuno will be offered a new contract, here’s a thought for Fosun, give him a lifetime contract, give him everything he wants.

We as fans of course are powerless to effect a transformation of results. We just sing and moan, drink and fart. You, the players must stop being self conscious of your positions, strength and place in the squad and relearn to love what you do. Only you have the power to affect that transformation of results and you start the fight back by loving what you do and that perhaps is your one responsibility to us, the fans. To enjoy yourselves. Once you start doing that then your play will transform itself from being a stressful angsty experience to one that is elated, positive and progressive. Stop being horrible to yourselves. 

I can safely say that the team aren’t alone in feeling the pain. We feel shit too. The first thing we do is start to blame others for our own misfortunes. That’s why Braga don’t really figure much in this post. This problem we have is nothing to do with opposition tactics and play but everything to do with how we perceive the way we play as being negative. That’s why you never read anything truly negative about the team or it’s owners on here. I love the team no matter what but I wouldn’t be a true supporter unless I constantly support the team regardless of results. Even if my missives and writing gets to  few people rather than a lot and it just floats away into the ether I know that I have done absolutely everything I can to support my team. 

Post match I just take ten minutes to sit down on the Art block hill and watch people go home. Bubbles and Dave have gone to the pub. Their night will be one that involves copious amounts of alcohol and drugs and I am not really part of that madness today. I am sober and looking forward to my walk back down the canal and home. But, give me this any day. A few Braga fans walk past and they are jubilant and full of joy and I love that too for some strange reason. I look to the art block steps and remember a few years ago punching some Walsall fathead in the mouth after his team beat us 1-0 too. I’ve changed I think, like the team. Now I stand up a lot straighter, I laugh more for sure. We will be good trust me, everything will come out in the wash. Something will spark in the team that nobody really notices either at Compton or on the team bus going to a match. I think our team will start to enjoy their football again at some point like I did when we beat Torino at Molineux. Learn to love your football lads. 

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