The camel-coated brigade



"Sometimes I wish I were a kid again; skinned knees are a lot easier to fix than a broken heart"

The Sugarman returns today after a spell out sailing the good ship ‘Black Dog’ through some troubled waters. In such times, I haul myself through the force 9 that has become my life by thinking back to happier times. 

I remember days when my life wasn’t regulated by mortgages, car loans, work and wages. Times when all I needed was a ball and a few yards of grass and I was the happiest kid alive.

I keep my ‘ship sailing’ with the firm belief that one day such times will come around again. A firm belief that no matter how big the machine gets, how strong a grip ‘the man’ gets on my life, that despite everything, I have enough about me to come out throwing punches. My struggle with my demons has been boosted in recent weeks by a trusted ally.... Football. 

I used to see football in 2006 as synonymous with everything wrong with the world. Commercial, predictable, repetitive and in some cases just plain wrong, modern day European football is basically a microcosm of society itself. 

Faced with such a pessimistic outlook, as mentioned earlier, what I tend to do is look to the past, then look to the future, in the hope for a brighter tomorrow.

In 1995 Ajax won the European cup with a team of kids. With only two players over 25 and 3 teenagers in the line up, the Amsterdam outfit looked like a youth team. 

The side put together by former school teacher Lois Van Gaal now reads like a ‘who's who’ of European veterans. The De Boer twins, Edgar Davids, Patrick Kluivert and Michael Reizeger all lived within a stones throw of one another. 

Marc Overmars, and Edwin Van der sar were joined by the Nigerian duo of Finidi George and Nwanko Kanu, throw in Jari Litmanen of Finland and ‘veterans’ Danny Blind and Frank Rijkaard and the team sheet now sends a shiver down the spine. 

At the time however, few realized exactly what they were witnessing as the kids took on the mighty Milan and their galaxy of millionaire superstars. The Italian side had been fashioned by purchasing a collection of talent from home and abroad. 


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Marcel Desailly and Christian Panucci represented a defensive pairing costing in excess of £11 million, Gianluigi Lentini had cost a then world record £13 Million. 

Ajax triumphed that day in a lackluster match lit up only briefly by a few seconds of brilliance from a teenage Patrick Kluivert. However, like so often in football the performance didn’t matter, what will live in the memory is the result and what it stood for. 

Ajax v Milan in 1995 wasn’t just a game, it wasn’t just a football match, it will probably represent the last great triumph of provincial clubs over the economic superpowers. 

Lee Honeyball in a brilliant piece for The Observer sport monthly ten years after the game wrote that only Danny Blind seemed to sense the moment. "I’m afraid that players are about to leave us" he said "we’re playing well and the big Italian clubs are watching". 

How prophetic he was, within three years the team was picked apart. Ajax didn’t even cash in with Reizeger, Bogarde, Davids and Kluivert all leaving Amsterdam for nothing courtesy of the new ‘Bosman ruling’.

Even Van Gaal the architect of the triumph left joining Barcelona in a doomed attempt to combine the Ajax ethos with the Catalan financial clout. Although he never truly reached such heights again.

Thus, by looking into the past there is hope. By looking into the future there is also reason for optimism. Recent week’s events have shown Arsene Wenger is slowly but surely fashioning a young side that might, just might, one day be talked about in the same way as ‘that’ Ajax side of 1995. 

In defense we already know about Toure, Cole, Eboue, Senderos and Clichy. How long before the Frenchman unveils in Europe the teenagers of Djourou and Gilbert? In midfield Fabregas, Hleb, Flamini and Diaby average just 21 years between them. 

Up front Adebayor, Lupoli, and Stokes fight for places with Reyes 22, Walcott 17 and the talisman that is Thierry Henry, the granddad of the side at 28. Add to the mix the uncut diamonds of Bendtner, Song Billong, Garry, Jordan and Howard and Wenger has a squad YOUNGER than the afore mentioned Dutch masters. 

Granted Arsenal are no ‘provincial side’, Reyes and Walcott are hardly inexpensive home grown stars and many would take issue with the ‘cosmopolitan’ look of the team......but..... what Arsene Wenger has done with Arsenal in what APPEARS to be little over a year is nothing short of breath taking, and provides optimism and hope for the beautiful game. 

The triumph in Madrid was unexpected, the win in against the ‘old lady’ poetic and now Wenger’s kids stand just a couple of wins away from immortality. 

In sure I’m not the only one out there who sometimes feels a sense of melancholy, who questions the point in doing what we do. Whether it be gambling, luck, love or life my days are brutally up and down and in no way constitute the Nirvana I imagined my life would be when I kicked a ball around the park all those years ago. 

But by looking at THAT Ajax side of 1995 and potentially THIS Arsenal side of 2006 we can see a brighter tomorrow symbolized through football. Jorge Valdano, former Real Madrid coach and foot soldier of a club that is the absolute converse of everything the Ajax side stood for, was ironically bang on the money in his assessment of the Amsterdam team. 

"Ajax are not just the team of the nineties." He said "They are approaching football Utopia. Their concept of the game is exquisite yet they have a physical superiority as well. They are the beauty and the beast." 

The Sugarman will battle on with his demons safe in the knowledge that even when the dark seems SO black, I’m only a few hours away from the dawn of a bright new day. 

Far from doing a Hemmingway, a Van Gogh or a Cobain and being unable to cope with the hurdles life puts in my way, I’m determined to A Lois Van Gaal or an Arsene Wenger and build today for a brighter tomorrow. 

Arsenal are still available at 3/1 to win the European Champions league and take a step closer to football utopia. Right now in my life, its the only thing that makes sense... 

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