Saturday, 14 September 2013

To infinity and beyond

You have to feel for Woody. He’s been the favourite, most loved toy from childhood to young adolescent and yet, when something sparkling and brand new has come along he’s consigned, if not to the dustbin but to the back of the shelf; or in football parlance not quite flung at the nearest scrapheap but sent on loan to Barnsley.

Buzz Lightyear was flash. He could talk. He had flashing lights and a ray gun. He was the new toy that was the must have. Woody looked outdated in comparison, not quite up to the job anymore. He’d put a good shift in, negotiated those difficult early years for Andy, but now, a Stetson and horse wasn’t going to get the job done anymore: he needed to be upgraded.

The Toy Story trilogy tugs at the emotional heart strings at almost every turn. It starts out with the most basic of human emotions: jealousy yet also rejection. Woody’s initial downfall, his fall from penthouse to outhouse comes from a feeling that most of us have had at some point. That experience of being cast aside for the new kid on the block, especially hurtful when it comes to the thought that you have simply outlived your usefulness. You can be good enough to gain promotion, but once you’re there, you need to be upgraded.

Perhaps though, we look at Woody’s plight too preciously. Perhaps we forget his jealously about no longer being number one and not wanting to share the limelight. After all the world changes and moves on; we need to improve or risk getting left behind. In the end the first story from the toy box has a happy ending with old and new being enjoyed in equal measure and yet in the billion pound industry that is the world of the modern day Premier League hanging onto sentimentality means a very short shelf life.

Crystal Palace’s ascension to the Premier League may not be the subject of a Pixar re-imagining anytime soon but elements of the tale certainly fit the football fairy tale narrative. Hours from being wound up in 2010, three years of point deductions, last day survival shoot-outs and an unlikely promotion tilt against teams wrapped in the comfort blanket of parachute payments and those backed by foreign millions put all Palace fans in dreamland. Nursing that morning after the day before hangovers from Wembley success, for some the dreams soon began to be replaced by the nightmares that accompany trying to master top flight survival.
For as soon as you go up, you worry about the prospect of falling back down. For a club of modest resources swimming with the sharks of the Premier League becomes a daunting prospect. Immediately the set of players that got you there is deemed surplus to requirements. Maybe that’s where the sentimentality gets in the way: if the job description changes you want those newly qualified, however surely those that did the initial leg work deserve that change to at least interview and try out for those new posts?

When Watford promoted under Graham Taylor, he said that he would reward those that got them to the Promised Land. He would believe in them and see if they could step up. In the long run quality told: out of depth, out of goals and out of luck the Watford ship soon ran aground and went down with all hands on deck: the sentimental choice had been unceremoniously torpedoed.

Yet Norwich City under Paul Lambert showed that loyalty to a group of players that got you up the ladder can bear fruit. A squad with a distinct whiff of Championship were empowered and believed in to where they could thrive as well as survive. There is then room for faith to be rewarded.

Football is a cut throat industry. There’s probably not enough bandwidth on this site to list all the instances in which loyalty and respect has been abused and passed over in the pursuit of success but the publishing of Crystal Palace’s 25 man Premier League squad list definitely left something of a bad taste in the mouth.

If transfer deadline day was a mad supermarket sweep for Ian Holloway you could understand the method behind the trolley dashing madness. Promoted sides are usually the odds on favourite for the prize of returning right back from whence they came but Palace’s prognosis from the ‘experts’ was particularly bleak. All season previews said it: relegation a certainty – the playing staff simply not good enough. Holloway might not have gone that far (in public certainly) but right from the go he argued that reinforcements for the campaign ahead would be vital. Without a number of additions the logic went, this was a team of relegation cannon fodder.

Holloway’s moves since the summer have certainly reflected that desire to strengthen. It is certainly hard to argue strongly with the assessment that the squad was light on quality in certain areas, however as last season showed, a number of players performances hinted that there was the ability within them to raise their game to what was is required amongst the Giants. At the very least they produced performances that demanded more respect and indeed faith in what they might be able to do at this higher level. 

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