Football’s last romance, falling in love with the right billionaire

Football’s last romance, falling in love with the right billionaire

I thought of Eddie on Wednesday night, the one Nottingham Forest fan in secondary school.

I haven’t seen Eddie in 30 years but found him on Facebook handy enough. And there it was, a few posts down, the heartbreaking evidence: Eddie in a Forest shirt, same as the young lad with him. Still fighting the good fight, and evidently saddling the next generation with it.

On the very night the Liverpool crowd were lifting the great prize, and congratulating themselves for hanging in there, through the dark days of their Champions Leagues and FA Cups and cup trebles, Eddie was enduring fresh calamity at the hands of Stoke City.

And we must remember that many of these same people were persecuting Eddie, all those years ago, when they were still on the perch. When the Pool were romping away with the old First Division in 1988, for example, Eddie’s Forest were battling in third. And Eddie would be standing proud against the massed ranks, giving it loads about Nigel Clough and Franz Carr.

Eddie wasn’t to know that those were the glory days, as far as he was concerned. And while he’ll always have the Littlewoods Cup and Nigel Jemson at Wembley, and Brian Moore noting what a handsome young man Tommy Gaynor was, he could hardly have envisaged what he’d face over the last three decades.

So we salute them today for their loyalty, men like Eddie and Kieran Shannon of this parish, whose schooldays were almost certainly the best of their lives.

In the depth of his despair, the playoffs blown again, Kieran announced on Twitter that a ‘breaking point’ had been reached. No doubt he has bounced back by now, but just in case, let us try to find something to offer him succour.

Following Liverpool’s coronation, I watched another episode of Succession, the magnificent HBO series based on the fictional Roy family and their Waystar Royco corporation, media moguls ‘loosely inspired’ by the Murdoch clan.

No spoilers here, this was a minor side plot — in any case I’m about six months late — but when youngest Roy son, Roman, meets Azerbaijani moneyman Eduard Asgarov in a Scottish bar, with football on the box, this beautiful exchange takes place.

“Buy the club. Agent in Spain loans us nine shit-hot players. Climb the ladder. Take the second Champions League space. Wait for the European Super League. Flip it. Walk away.”

Beguiled by this vision, Roman buys Hearts as a present for his father. “I don’t really see a downside, other than zero knowledge and interest in Scottish football.” 

It puts a slight dampener on things when it emerges his father Logan is a lifelong Hibs fan. As one colleague puts it, “If it’s any consolation, I’m horrible at gift buying too.” 

But Roman is soon standing on the touchline anyway at Hearts training. All of which should remind long-suffering supporters of sleeping giants everywhere that of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, you just need the right billionaire to walk into yours.

That’s the last flickering romance in football, the quirk of fate that sees a billionaire fall in love with your project.

Forest fans hoped it was fate when shipping magnate Evangelos Marinakis walked into their lives in 2017. And maybe it still can be, although the Greek only has half a bil’ in his locker.

But for an idyllic picture of true love, this week Wolves fans celebrated four years of the affair with Chinese conglomerate Fosun. And over on the Molineux Mix forum, they have been reflecting on that emotional afternoon in 2016, when their new overlords arrived in town.

Deak77 recalled the moment he or she was smitten: “The news reported Fosun make an estimated profit of £24m each day! I knew then we could be in for some fun times.” 

NormanBell was playing things down: “The takeover actually happened and what can only be described as the feeling the East Germans had in 1989 when the Berlin Wall fell.” 

While Bankswolf might as well have been pointing out to the likes of Eddie and Kieran that it could be you: “I will statistically never win the lottery but the excitement was similar… The feeling that anything was possible.” 

Of course Fosun proved to be the right billionaires chiefly because they have Jorge Mendes on side, arguably the most powerful agent in football, directing footballers their way.

But they don’t seem to get too stressed about that in Wolverhampton. There’s little of the fretting about DNA you heard from some Man City fans, early doors. It is giving them the lottery lifestyle they always wanted, this intoxicating cocktail of Chinese money and Portuguese talent, so why overthink it?

Inevitably, of course, things get complicated.

Viewers will know the Roys have enough on their plate not to make Hearts a priority. While a browse through Molineux Mix reveals some concern when Thomas Cook collapsed, wiping a billion off Fosun’s stake in the travel group. They will always dread the day their beloved billionaires flip it and walk away.

This week China state television imposed a ‘blackout’ on Premier League football, as tensions escalate between London and Beijing.

That was troubling them on Molineux Mix too, drawing Stoichkov into the murky world of geopolitics: “We really need Trump to lose the election so tensions ease. And the UK can trade with China instead of being held over a barrel by Trump.” 

A far cry from relying on Steve Bull to keep banging them in.

Those were simpler times, when Ian Woan was in the midfield for Forest and Cloughie still wore the green jumper. And there was even some small magic in the Zenith Data Systems Cup.

To listen to Keano talk these days, after all he has won, you sometimes think those were the happiest days of his life too.

Indeed, for Eddie and Kieran, they might never have a Royco on board, but they’ll always have Roy.

What’s in an apostrophe?

As the GAA club scene dawns, one standout question endures: will we ever truly agree, on the sports desk, whether St Finbarr’s should retain their apostrophe when shortened to The Barrs.

With The Apostrophe Protection Society shut down last year, in despair, there is no definitive place to turn, any more, for these six-markers.

But heeding Con Houlihan’s famous old credo that “a man who will misuse an apostrophe is capable of anything”, we must still do our best to stay on the straight and narrow.

And at least we have the work of hurling writer PM O’Sullivan to turn to, for the basics.

Writing in The Stripy Men, the story of Kilkenny hurling, PM at least warns us off the sacrilege of writing ‘St Finbarrs’.

“The possessive case is significant because it implies a certain humility. Nobody can approximate to a saint, however a club is in the said saint’s heavenly possession. You cannot have ‘St Catherines’ because this usage would imply that all the players are saints.” 

Historical figures are different though, PM argues, since “you can attempt to emulate a secular figure”. 

So you have Kilruane McDonaghs, James Stephens, Brian Dillons and so on.

Now we just need to settle on a solution for Fr O’Neills. The club doesn’t seem to take the apostrophe, though they might if they knew it would nominate their man for sainthood.

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