BIG TIN POT CUP
Rustling around its crawlspace in the eaves of New Guardian Towers the Fiver has spent many happy evenings recently reading the memoirs of feminism galactico Jeanette Winterson, as filched from in among the hemp-bound Kindles and hand-knitted bio-yoghurt frappuccinos of the Big Paper review desk using the Fiver's own knotted string and blu-tack method. In the course of which one anecdote in particular struck a chord with the Fiver and seemed to resonate again ahead of tonight's return of the Tin Pot Cup: the cup nobody used to want to win, but which now appears to be entering a period of dignity whereby it is acceptable to admit that looking back, with the benefit of both hindsight and never actually winning anything else, the Tin Pot Cup strikes one as a strangely overlooked hidden gem.
It was while contemplating Arsenal's trip to League Two Bradford this evening that the Fiver recalled again the moving story of one of Winterson's neighbours in lump-of-coal-for-Christmas-era Lancashire, an old woman who would wear her best coat everywhere, every day, even indoors, to the extent that she was never seen without it until the day she finally died. At which stage it became clear that this, the best coat, was not just the only coat but also the only item in her wardrobe, travelling with her everywhere out of necessity brought on by t'pre-modern poverty of a vanished world (which is now coming back).
It is a haunting image, and one that seemed to find a symbolic echo in the news that another person who only seems to have one coat – Arsène Wenger – would tonight not be fielding the usual bunch of teenage hipsters and shivering big name outcasts. Instead Arsenal will be taking a "full team" to Valley Parade, with Wojciech Szczesny and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain set to start alongside Santi Cazorla who has recovered from gravity-knack. A full squad indeed, but this is still a full squad that must out of necessity now include mooching goal-frustration Marouane Chamakh and the gloved ghost of Andrey Arshavin, and which is deprived only by injury of slapstick false three André Santos.
The fact is, the Fiver must now conclude, Arsenal simply don't have a weakened team any more. They simply have a team. It is the same team that appears every week, pre-weakened by incessant departure. This is their best coat, their only coat, and it's going to have to stay on because, quite frankly, it's either that or the duvet. "We will have an experienced squad at Bradford," Wenger said in this morning's papers, easing the zip on his floor-length puffa gown right up to his chin and shivering a little as its plastic lining chafed against his bare chest underneath. "We take every competition as an opportunity but, of course, the way is shorter now, so that is why we focus on that."
Yes, the way is shorter. Everything in fact is shorter: supporters' patience, time allocated for team-building, the odds of actually holding on to your best players in the face of the diabolical temptations of the fossil fuel lifestyle. In fact the only thing that seems to be getting longer in a hurry is the time – seven years and counting – since Arsenal last won a trophy. Meanwhile in Yorkshire, Bradford's manager, Phil Parkinson, will hope Zavon Hines and Kyel Reid are fit. And Bradford, for their part, have a proud cup run of seven successful penalty shoot-outs in a row to defend. Which, after much analysis the Fiver can conclude might not mean anything, but then again might still mean something.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
"United have more experience but we have a much better team and play much better football" – Roberto Mancini is afflicted by a case of Manchester derby amnesia.
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"After your very successful ban football campaign, can I be alone in thinking it's time to ban ALL supporters from football grounds? It's time that games were played for TV viewers only, the real fans. The atmosphere can be piped in and a digital image of the fans (all decked out in replica kits and scarves) can be beamed on to the seats. Guaranteed full stadiums every week and no more abusive chanting – in fact, we can programme these crowds with exciting new songs each week to humorously react to the current news agenda. Just think, no more rubbish for the clubs to clean up, no need for policing or stewards, no traffic (very eco), no more moaning about ticket prices etc. Come on Platini, stop messing about with goalline technology and ban ALL supporters" – Paul Reaney (not that one).
"Everyone missed an amazing thing about the winner that United scored against City, which I largely expected Fiver to grasp, but alas, you disappointed. As an Arsenal fan, I could not help but notice that the winner was made in Arsenal. Firstly, Clichy dabbles on the ball in his usual nervous way when trying to close out a game and loses possession. Van Persie takes an astounding free kick and Nasri deflects it in. Where would the Manchester derby be without the Arsenal? Not as half as exciting" – V Vikas.
"Re: Sid Lowe's response to Leo Messi (yesterday's Still Want Mores). Is that a request or a statement? If it's a request, I'm not going to be able to help" – Simon Lea.
Send your letters to firstname.lastname@example.org. And if you've nothing better to do you can also tweet the Fiver. And to placate certain readers, the Fiver awards prizeless Fiver letter o' the day to: Paul Reaney.
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BITS AND BOBS
The FA has charged notorious hellraiser Gareth Barry with using abusive and/or insulting words towards a match official during City's defeat to United on Sunday, while police have arrested a 15-year-old boy in relation to the alleged sending of a racist tweet to Rio Ferdinand.
The former French president Nicolas Sarkozy reckons that the international calendar should be made more flexible so the World Cup can be hosted in more places like Qatar and that Tom Cruise should be Fifa president and that football should be played on the moon with a ball made out of cheese. "I say this from my heart, I do believe the issue of scheduling events needs to be reconsidered," Sarkozy yawned. "Sport is universal. Scheduling is a means to an end, not an end in itself. For that reason we need to adapt the schedule."
Chelsea midfielder Oriol Romeu has been ruled out for six months with knee knack. Rafa out!
Anyone for a game of football tennis?
STILL WANT MORE?
Asylums? Tick! $ex? Tick! Guns? Tick! A former Brazilian striker eating his own newspaper clippings? Tick! The forgotten story of Heleno de Freitas is an absolute belter and it comes via the fingers of Jonathan Wilson.
Stewart Downing stars as a board game, Goose from Top Gun and the entire Downton Abbey cast in this week's edition of the Gallery.
Starting Mario Balotelli in the Manchester derby is one of 4,583 signs that Roberto Mancini is losing his grip on his comfy-looking pitch-side seat, reckons Jamie Jackson.
And the chairman of Kick it Out, Lord Ouseley, believes Liverpool, Chelsea and the FA handled the John Terry and Luis Suárez cases wretchedly, reports Proper Journalist David Conn.
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