A Dark Secret

Peter Batten muses on the beautiful game…

I have to reveal a dark secret from my past. I was once a football fan. Not just any old fan, I was a MILLWALL football fan.

In fact, I am still a football fan, but more of that later. Two things drew me to ‘The Den’, the home of Millwall F.C. One was the fact that I could walk there easily from my home in Bermondsey. The other was the fact that my family came from Millwall, also known as the Isle of Dogs. My father first took me to The Den in 1945. Then, as I became a regular attender, I discovered that two or three of our relatives were usually in the crowd and I soon learned where to find them.

My alternative football ground was ‘The Valley’, home of Charlton Athletic. I could easily travel there on the tram from the Old Kent Road. At that time, Charlton were in the First Division, so I was able to see many great players, including one of my idols, Peter Doherty, who played for Derby County. During the late 1940s my father took me to almost every London football ground.

I took every opportunity to play football myself. Playing for two or three youth clubs made me familiar with pitches in parks and on commons all over London. My last appearances as a footballer were for my college at university.

These days, I am an Arsenal fan, but where is all this leading? Strangely, the answer is Managers. When I became a football fan managers seemed unimportant. I don’t think I knew who was managing Millwall back in 1945. My attention was firmly set on the players; the fact that somebody was trying to direct them seemed of little importance. But today I take a very different view. I am not outraged by Wayne Rooney’s salary, I don’t care whether X Is cheating on his wife; I don’t worry about whether Lukaku should really be playing for Chelsea, I am fascinated by Managers.

Our Premiership is attracting the best players from all over the world. The level of skill seen in every match is amazing. This season the competition to be at the top and the battle to avoid going down is the most interesting for years. The outcomes will probably not be known until the last day of the season. But, I repeat, I am fascinated by the Managers.

Jose Mourinho
Jose Mourinho

The Premiership has brought to England some of the greatest football managers. Sadly few of them are British, and I regret that, but the array of characters is amazing. Who would have thought that we would have another chance to see Jose Mourinho? How could we Arsenal supporters have foreseen that for so many years our club would be managed by one of the world’s best. I find it fascinating to follow the competition between these talented men. Which players will they select for this particular match? Which formation will they deploy on the pitch? The standard is so high that when a club’s management employs a dud he stands out quite obviously. Sam Allardyce, not a dud for me, battles dourly on to keep West Ham in the Premiership, while a gifted manager like Gus Poyet can make a difference, immediately. And all these men are supported by teams of outstanding coaches. Remember, Brendan Rogers worked for Jose Mourinho.

If you are not a football fan most of this article will have meant nothing to you. When I say I remember with affection Claudio Ranieri, you may ask, “Who?” I am sorry about that. I am also sorry that being a football fan is so grotesquely expensive. But that is another story.

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