Antony Murray won’t pay to watch Kenny Miller, but he will travel to unchartered territory in search of something a little bit better. Now for something completely different…
Shortly after the final whistle of Scotland’s recent nil-nil draw with Serbia I watched from the window of my third storey Mount Florida flat as the Tartan Army withdrew en masse from Hampden. The looks on their faces said it all. It was like watching footage from ITV’s seminal seventies documentary The World at War. Even in the black and white clips where the Wehrmacht retreat from the Soviet Union one cheeky German will always throw a glance down the camera lens and smile. The majority of beaten soldiers however look, understandably, utterly miserable. The same emotions could be identified within the Scotland support. Though some were laughing it off and basking in the gallows humour of Scotland’s still-born World Cup campaign, most were angry and aware that yet another 81 minutes spent watching Kenny Miller was, in its own interminable way, like having just fought and lost the Battle of Kursk. The futility of war is one thing; the futility of Kenny Miller is something far worse.
Kenny Miller used to play for my club. Whilst there he split fan opinion down the middle between folk who knew he was shite and folk who knew his was shite but appreciated that he tried hard. I’m of the opinion that if a footballer’s primary asset is his work ethic, he has no place at the top table of the sport. My contempt for the Kenny Millers of this world has become so absolute that on weekend afternoons my wallet remains almost entirely in my back pocket. I will not pay to watch a Kenny Miller. But then what will I pay to watch? The answer to this is of course the antithesis of a Kenny Miller, someone who has all the talent in the world and ideally no application whatsoever. This being the case, last weekend I went on a trip south to Fulham to watch Dimitar Berbatov.
Now I’ve never in my life wasted three thoughts on Fulham Football Club. I’m aware my hero John Collins spent some time there and that outside their ground they have a statue of Michael Jackson which looks more like a giant Star Wars figure than a work of art. Beyond that the west London club means nothing to me. But I knew I was planning on spending my 31st birthday weekend in London and there’s only so many times one can visit the Imperial War Museum and get told off for trying to climb on Montgomery’s tank. I needed to find something else to do. It was on transfer deadline day the pieces began falling into place: Berbatov linked with Old Trafford exit, Berbatov interests London club, Berbatov signs for Fulham. I immediately googled Premier League fixtures for the days I knew I’d be in town. Fulham at home to West Bromwich Albion would be easy enough to get tickets for surely. It was and they were promptly purchased.
A trip to Craven Cottage on a warm autumn afternoon was unlike many of my previous football adventures. I’m used to walking through Glasgow’s east end passed overflowing pubs where men with scars longer than the width of my head pour onto the streets and snarl at each other with gravelly voices that suggest they’ve been drinking and smoking for a century, despite them only being in their twenties. I’m used to walking passed a doss house from which junkies shout friendly or mean things about the Pope or the Queen. Last weekend’s idyllic stroll along the Thames through several well kept parks was completely alien to me. I never saw one bottle of tonic wine in a drunkard’s hand or stashed in bush for later. And in Dimitar Berbatov I witnessed something considerably more pleasant than the SPL fodder I’ve endured since Shunsuke Nakamura left these shores in 2009.
The man I paid to see was sensational. He took some safe early touches, as if sussing out his quaint new surroundings. Then in the 32nd minute he sprung to life with a wonderful home debut goal. The impressive Swedish left-winger Alexander Kačaniklić (who I’d previously never heard of) fed Berbatov in the middle of the penalty box, he controlled the ball instantly (of course) and curled it into the top corner as if it were the easiest task in the world. That was Dimitar Berbatov. That was what I’d paid to see. Shortly before half-time yet more good work from Kačaniklić earned Fulham a penalty. The balletic Bulgar was once again on hand to slot home sending the helpless Ben Foster the wrong way.
For the entire second half West Brom were reduced to 10 men which made Fulham’s task of playing out a routine home victory easier than it may have been. A game like this is made for a player like Berbatov who bluntly refuses to accept the frenetic pace of modern football. He might not need that extra second on the ball, but he’ll take it anyway because he appreciates the aesthetics of the game. He won’t be rushed. He won’t break a sweat. He won’t injure his body pushing it beyond its capabilities. What he will do is entertain. He will find space where others don’t see it and he will do wonderful things with the ball. When a situation demands it he will do the spectacular, an elaborate flick to a team-mate making a forward run. Or he will simply hit a perfect short pass and make even that look beautiful.
Fulham’s manager Martin Jol who previously worked with Berbatov at Spurs was pleased with his new acquisition. He reflected that at Tottenham “he was a number 9, but we can see today he’s almost the complete footballer.” Almost. If only Dimitar could muster the energy wasting gallops and lack of composure of Kenny Miller. Then he’d have the lot.
Who is the best player you’ve ever seen? Have you gone to any great lengths to see a game? Tweet your thoughts @talkingbaws or comment below.