x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Romance still has a kick in the real world

For a man with such impeccable timing, one might have hoped that Fernando Torres would have saved his 'Romance Is Dead' declaration for this coming weekend, rather than the one just passed.

Matt Le Tissier of Southampton ended his career with one club and no medals, which only served to enhance his reputation. Phil Cole / Allsport
Matt Le Tissier of Southampton ended his career with one club and no medals, which only served to enhance his reputation. Phil Cole / Allsport

For a man with such impeccable timing, one might have hoped that Fernando Torres would have saved his "Romance Is Dead" declaration for this coming weekend, rather than the one just passed.

Because this coming weekend, as the closest to February 14, is devoted to romance.

Not real romance, of course, but a synthetic version: soppy cards, gooey teddy bears and overpriced flowers. A pantomime of childish fantasies, Valentine's Day is harmless enough but essentially silly and fake, and thoroughly deserving of a pin in its heart-shaped balloon.

True romance lies not in such grand showboating but the simple, everyday gestures of a life shared: laughter at a private joke, a hug at the end of a hard day, a hand squeezed in a hospital ward.

I see a million times more love in the lined and careworn faces of an elderly couple celebrating their golden wedding anniversary than the dead doe-eyes of a stuffed toy.

To be fair, Torres was not declaring the death of romance between a man and woman, but in football.

"The romance in football has gone," he said. "It's a different thing now. People come and leave. When you join a club you want to do the best for yourself and that club. That is all."

This was his justification for leaving Liverpool, a club which he had claimed to love, and which loved him back a thousand times over.

Then his heart hardened, and he accepted the conventional wisdom that the key to happiness for a professional footballer lies in winning silverware - a fairy-tale ending which appeared more likely at Stamford Bridge than Anfield.

I beg to differ. Winner's medals are not the only measurement of success, of happiness, for a professional sportsman.

Take Steven Gerrard, a former teammate of Torres, as an example. He could have a hatful of Premier League titles to his name today, had he followed up on his own very public flirtation with Chelsea. Manchester United and Real Madrid would have taken him, too.

If Gerrard finishes his career with Liverpool he may well never win a domestic league title. Does that make him less of a footballer? Less of a legend? Less of a man? On the contrary, I would argue it only enhances his reputation on all three counts.

Another example. Which of these two extravagantly talented players, and approximate contemporaries, is more revered today: the Southampton stalwart Matt Le Tissier (clubs: one; honours: zero) or the well-travelled Andrew Cole (clubs: 11, including loan spells; honours: five league titles, two FA Cups, one Champions League medal, and more)? With all due respect to my fellow National columnist, I believe it is Le Tissier.

A man's relationship with his football club and his woman are not so very different. The giddy thrill of early romance will fade, and he will face a choice: seek those thrills elsewhere or trade them in for the long haul built on respect, loyalty, companionship. True love.

Another Liverpool man who chose the long haul was Kenny Dalglish. He remained devoted in whatever role was required, from the Geisha Girl servitude of a "match day ambassador" to the grave responsibility of the manager's dugout.

Look at Dalglish's careworn face next time he strides on to the Anfield pitch and looks at the Kop, his eyes just visible beneath the crinkles of that beaming grin. Now tell me romance in football is dead.

A land of deferred pleasure

It is the story of my life as a Birmingham City fan. In the Premier League’s greatest goal-fest since 1993 – 41 in a single afternoon – my team was involved in a tense 1-0 win, with the only goal coming from a set piece.

Newcastle United supporters had gasped at a Rocky-esque fightback from 4-0 down against Arsenal. The Manchester City faithful applauded a birthday hat-trick from Carlos Tevez.Blackpool fans endured a 5-3 defeat at Everton with more ups and downs than their town’s iconic roller-coaster.

My fellow Birmingham supporters, however, were treated to the usual fare: 65 minutes of stomach-ulcerating anticipation, then a goal – hooray – followed by a further 25 nerve-shredding minutes while they clung on to the lead.

Plus, it took place yesterday rather than Saturday, so we did not even have live updates from other matches to keep us amused.

Horrible. But I would not have it any other way.

Seriously, Saturday’s goal-splurge was a bit of fun, but only for its novelty value.

The day had a surreal quality about it as radio and television sport programmes were bombarded with goal updates every few seconds. It was like being under attack.

As for Match Of The Day, the classic highlights show, there were so many goals to replay that each pundit barely had time to utter more than three or four cliches per match.

No, if we wanted that many goals every week, we would arrange it: widen the goalposts, ditch the offside rule, legalise neck-high rugby tackles on goalkeepers.

But England is a land of deferred pleasure, not instant gratification. We are about cold baths, stiff upper lips and modest expectations.

No, no. One goal per game will suffice, thank you very much. Or none at all, if you prefer.

Please do not put yourselves out on our account, gentlemen. No need to make a fuss. We are not Spanish.

sports@thenational.ae