Football Has Had A Dismal 2012, But All Is Not Lost Thanks To Santi Claus

There was a high point to Arsenal’s 5-2 drubbing of Reading and it wasn’t the margin of victory, the comedy defending or even the grandiloquence of their fourth goal. The execution of the multi-pass, multi-phase, walk-it-into-the-net hyperstrike they’ve been trying to score since 2006 was nice, but it was the reaction of Santi Cazorla when he headed home Arsenal’s second that was so profoundly pleasing.

The tiny Spaniard ran from one team-mate to another with that coathanger-in-the-mouth grin that’s usually exclusive to the recently-laid. He kept tapping his skull in amazement. He couldn’t have been happier to score with his head. The unfettered joy was contagious. We haven’t had enough of that over the last 12 months.

2012 has been a grim year. You could see that at the weekend. Because of the undeniable glory of the summer Olympics, every mention of football at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards felt awkward and faintly inappropriate, like seeing the bride’s ex-husband at the back of the church. Invited, but unwelcome. It was only a fleeting defeat for football, just one AT-AT falling to a fluke shot from a harpoon gun while dozens more destroy everything in their path, but it’s a reminder nonetheless of its vulnerability.

Now, I don’t want kayaking, I don’t want Mobots and I certainly don’t want shiny-faced ‘gamesmakers’ greeting me at every stadium like purple polo-shirted children of the corn, but I don’t want this joyless, internationally-syndicated juggernaut of a Premier League either.

Money has always played its part in determining the destination of trophies, but never to this extent. Never to the point where you can actually hear football supporters comparing Deloitte & Touche turnover figures in an effort to prove why they shouldn’t be winning anything.

“I think you’ll find, h’actually, that with our net spend over the last three tax years, fifth place is h’actually a remarkable achievement.”

People once said that the end for football was nigh when everyone knew the names of their chairmen. Now we know the names of our chief executives and our heads of marketing. We know their employment history. We judge their performance like we judge the performance of centre-forwards. We await the publication of annual financial reports like we used to await the release of the fixture list. We live-tweet the AGM.

2012 has also been the year of the race row. From New Year’s Eve 2011 when the Football Association maliciously dropped their 115 page Luis Suarez report onto the internet when every reporter was pouring their first drink (yes, still upset about that,) to last week’s latest UEFA sanction, ringing out across Serbia like the ‘final’ warning of a stressed supply teacher, we’ve been ravaged by scandal.

And to what end? Luis Suarez and John Terry were both found guilty by the Football Association of racially abusing black opponents, but the relative ambiguity of both cases has brought no closure. They are Schrodinger’s racists, but no-one knows how to get the box open. Both affairs have been so catastrophically handled that some black footballers no longer find themselves able to support the PFA’s ‘Kick It Out’ campaign. UEFA’s attempt to get tough with the Serbian FA was so embarrassing that their President, Michel Platini, can’t support it.

And while we’re all yabbering, young black footballers continue to run the gauntlet, unable to play football without the threat of some backwards, mouth-breathing, waste of organs making monkey noises.

But we can’t blame this lingering feeling of ‘meh’ on market forces and feckless administrators alone. We’re all guilty, myself very much included. We have become, in the words of The Times’ football writer Tony Barrett, a nation of, “cry-arses.”

The journalists who blame supporters for booing without asking why they’re booing. The supporters who leap upon a slip from a writer tasked with filing 800 words five minutes before full-time and label it lazy journalism. The arch-contrarian, meta-pundits online who systematically attack everything while offering nothing. The keyboard warriors, the trolls, the whiners and the loyalists. We’ve all forgotten how to take the piss out of each other. Where did the fun go?

It’s still there. Somewhere. In every disintegrating, fractured marriage there are two people who once tore at each other’s clothes and did gloriously unspeakable things to each other in their friends’ downstairs toilet. As 2012 gasps, wheezes and farts itself over the line, Cazorla has given us a glimpse of what football could be like again if we all wanted it enough. It doesn’t have to be this bleak.

It’s supposed to be fun.

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