There are, according to Paul Simon, 50 ways to leave your lover. You can slip out the back, Jack, or make a new plan Stan, or get on the bus, Gus. Leaving your football club, though, would seem to be a whole lot trickier.
Now, mention of buses reminds me of Peter Marinello’s story about the day he left Hibernian for Arsenal aged 19, three years younger than new Gunner Kieran Tierney. Marinello was still living with his parents in Edinburgh’s Logie Green Road and usually got a lift to Easter Road from Peter Cormack, a fitness fanatic, Marinello being much less keen on training, and on this day in 1969 Cormack couldn’t wait for him any longer. “So I was standing at a bus stop,” the player fanfared as Scotland’s George Best told me. “Can you imagine today’s footballers doing that? This horn tooted. It was Arthur Duncan. ‘What are you doing here, Arthur?’ I said. ‘You should be at Partick Thistle.’ ‘Haven’t you heard?’ he said. ‘I’m signing for Hibs and you’re going to Arsenal.’”
Never mind today’s players travelling by municipal omnibus, can you imagine them not being completely in control of their own destiny, only switching clubs when good and ready and having the final and indeed only say on where they will be playing next?
Romelu Lukaku was definitely driving the bus regarding his move from Manchester United to Inter Milan, although bus analogies are possibly invidious in his case. “Bus row led to Inter switch,” ran a headline the other day. The beefy striker missed the coach taking the team from their Shanghai hotel to a pre-season friendly and thus his “fate was sealed”, according to the report.
Lukaku had to make his own way to the stadium where assistant manager Mike Phelan ripped into him over his lack of professionalism, something echoed by ex-United man Phil Neville who, perhaps unwittingly, used a bus analogy to make his point. “I think there was always this sense of, was he fit enough?” Neville said. “You’ve got to get the right people on the bus and Romelu Lukaku was never that person.”
So Lukaku wasn’t a man for a bus – literally, figuratively, any which way, and here we should pause and spare a thought for the players of Partick Thistle. They would like to get on a bus, doubtless for those long away trips to Inverness and Arbroath, but cost-cutting at the club means they’ll often have to drive themselves, as they did last weekend for the game at Alloa, home of this column’s favourite matchday snack, the Waspburger.
Was Lukaku eating too many Waspburgers? The Jags’ fitness fanatic, Kenny Miller, wouldn’t approve of that. Did the Belgian invent injuries, as the Man U backroom boys have suggested? Kenny would take a dim view of that, too, and I guess Man U fans weren’t impressed, after the £75 million transfer was confirmed, by Lukaku messaging: “Inter were the only club I wanted.” This merely added insult to non-injury.
Of course, the just-signed will often talk up their new club, even to the extent of talking down their old one. Some will do this because the transfer has genuinely been a dream move. Others because they anticipate scepticism, possibly resistance, over their arrival. They appreciate only too well that not everyone can be Lionel Messi.
Another of this transfer window’s central characters, Laurent Koscielny, was accused of disrespect in the way he marked his switch from Arsenal to Bordeaux. He posted a video of himself whipping off his former club’s shirt to reveal the blue of his new team back in his native France. Gunners legend Ian Wright was appalled, as were many fans.
Now, Koscielny engineered this move, just as Lukaku had done his, by going on strike for a month and he deserves criticism for that, but hang on: he didn’t take a lighter to his Arsenal top or scribble a nasty message on it, he simply swapped strips. And is that the same Ian Wright, whose stint at Celtic is remembered for little more than his relentless badge-kissing? I wonder if Arsenal fans felt in any way disrespected by that; it made more than just Gooners cringe.
Sometimes supporters are just so desperate to be offended. They possess the perfectly-tuned antennae of mosquitos and the best-in-the-animal-kingdom hearing of moths. They are on red alert 24/7 for perceived slights and will prosecute with extreme prejudice. The player contemplating an escape through the window, if he’s the sensitive type, needs to be aware of this.
Tierney probably thought he’d sent the perfect Dear John … letter (Dear Sean?), explaining the break-up with Celtic and the support for whom he’s emissary on the pitch: “It’s not you, it’s me.” This is not why he sent that long farewell, to claim some sort of prize for valedictories, and you could tell that the sentiments and the emotions were genuine and heartfelt. But was he surprised that some of the self-styled “greatest supporters in the world” turned on him? Probably not.
“It’s all about the money,” messaged one fan, with Tierney’s basic predicted to rise from £25,000 a week to £80,000.
“Wee man you had the chance to be a Celtic legend like Scott Brown, a statue outside Paradise and immortalised in bronze, nine in a row was only a year away it could have waited a season.”
Then Disgruntled of London Road signed off: “You are just a rat.”
I almost didn’t reproduce this rant, reckoning it didn’t need any more publicity than it’s already received, but it’s almost a perfect illustration of the lunacy that afflicts supporters at times like these – and it has to be said the delusion that afflicts Celtic fans over where their club stands in the grand scheme of things.
Personally, considering the dire quality of football statuary these days, I think the lad might have dodged a bullet.
We should all be wishing Tierney every success at Arsenal, not least because he’s got to play in a defence with David Luiz in it. The top bomb-scare has moved from Chelsea, inciting fans to bombard the restaurant he runs with scathing reviews. One of them called him a “snake”.
Snake? Rat? Get a grip, all of you…