Aidan Smith: Thursday, I don’t care about you… anymore
AFTER just three seasons, the Europa League is in crisis. This much is clear from the TV commentator resorting to Bette Midler songs at Tynecastle the other night.
Impressed by the lusty racket, Peter Drury said this was “just the sort of atmosphere that could be the wind beneath the wings of this competition”.
If you know that big, blousy ballad – and really, there’s no accounting for taste – you’ll be aware of the key line: “Did you ever know that you’re my hero?” Well, the Europa needs a hero for sure. Only that’s not going to be Steven Gerrard or Luis Suarez – at least not this early in the tournament – as both were rested for Liverpool’s first-leg qualifer.
It was Liverpool Lite against a team with Chris Sutton Lite up front, both in alien strips (When have Hearts ever run out at Tynecastle in anything other than predominantly maroon?) and on an alien night.
Odd concept, Thursdays. Certainly as regards football. I used to love them because the Beano was published on Thursdays, also the New Musical Express. Thursday also used to be Top of the Pops night, a fantastic example of water-cooler telly (“How short were Cherry from Pan’s People’s hot-pants last night?”) from before man drank water. And, when I joined the world of work, Thursday was when a cub reporter got given his expenses, a little brown envelope of beer money in recompense for what you claimed to have spent in pursuit of the truth. But then everything changed. TOTP was shifted to Fridays and the NME to Wednesdays, and what with newspaper accountants getting wise to all the fiction writing that went into eccies claims, Thursdays lost a lot of their magic. Indeed, they became a nothing kind of day, a dire state of affairs for any 24 hours. You might be tempted to say that a big, football-sized hole thus opened up, and I might have agreed, before there was just too much football everywhere and at all times. Now it feels like Thursday should be the new Sunday, a football-free sacred day. But this should be put on record. In terms of genuine football excitement, Tynecastle tried its darnedest on the Thursday just gone.
Drury spoke of a “terrific ambience”. He might have tried too hard at being completely up to speed with Hearts’ current form and personnel – English commentators are invariably guilty of such condescension – but his enthusiasm for the Gorgie wall of sound seemed genuine. Admittedly, I’ve never heard of Jambo scarf-twirling called “ambience” before, but maybe Drury had been at a couple of Edinburgh Festival recitals earlier in the day.
The Hearts faithful were charged a lot of money for their tickets, only to be denied a glimpse of Liverpool’s most glamorous, so it is to their great credit that they made the tie such an occasion. Of course they were showing off. The game was being broadcast UK-wide, and the opposition fans have a world-class reputation for backing their team. But showing off is allowed in football. Even the match announcer couldn’t resist, choosing a lull in the action near the end to boom out his funny Jambo advice about sensible and safe egress.
The wind beneath the wings? I’m not sure. Yes, the Europa has given us the Poznan Bounce and now there’s the Tynecastle Ambience.
But, with teams allowed to drop down from the Champions’ League, there’s a cup-for-losers feel to the competition before it’s had a chance to establish an identity. It’s as big and unwieldy as the Champions’ League but lacks equivalent dazzle.
As the joke goes, it’s harder to get knocked out of the Europa than win it. It’s on ITV4, for goodness sake, a channel which otherwise screens wall-to-wall repeats interspersed with ads for stairlifts and erectile dysfunction cures. And – we can’t get away from this – the games take place on Thursdays.
There might be a solution. If Thursdays were to go back to being Thursdays I could learn to love the Europa League. I’ll need Top of the Pops disinterred and restored to its traditional spot. I’ll need my little brown envelopes.
And I’ll need the NME to revert to its glory day – and also it’s glory days with all the trendy young bands kicked out to make way for a new 16-page interview with Steely Dan every week.
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