Football has engineered its very own Valentine’s Day. A day for grand and hurried gestures; a day to panic, and overcompensate; a day that empties wallets.
A manufactured day, that demands attention.
When clubs push out their boats on Deadline Day, it’s rarely for the right reasons. Like the man who’s left it too late, and comes home with a fistful of Esso flowers – they’re just trying to do something. Anything. The Chris Sambas, the Falcaos, and the Andy Carrolls: all the equivalents of those big, plush teddy bears. They’re giant cards, and heart-shaped balloons, and restaurants that saw you coming.
I imagine it’s great fun, if you’re a Chelsea fan, or a City fan, or Rupert Murdoch. If you’re Richard Scudamore, peddling around on your trike like the baddy in Saw, it must be a blast. More money shovelled into the Premier League’s hype-oven: a few more breaths of helium eased into The Greatest Show on Earth.
For everyone else, though – and for fans outside the top flight, in particular – Deadline Days are dreadful business. They begin with you either needing someone, or needing to hang on to someone (that’s the last of the Valentine’s metaphors, I promise). You’ll spend the whole day on the internet, trawling the BBC site – ‘UK sperm bank has just nine donors’ was Tuesday’s highlight – and hoping that something remarkable’s happened in the minutes since you last checked. Praying that you’ve signed someone: praying that your one decent player hasn’t yet been hoovered into Tottenham’s reserves.
The afternoon bleeds into teatime, and then early evening: with that comes the self-loathing, for having ever dared to believe in them. For assuming they’d have learned something, from the last time – that they wouldn’t make the same mistake again, surely? You’ll make an idle promise, perhaps, to start doing something better with your Saturdays… because if they don’t care, then why should you?
But you still check. Every few minutes, you check.
You’ll end up in bed, propped in the cold light of your laptop. Tired and miserable, thinking he’d have done a job, as someone you’d forgotten ever existed goes to Ipswich on loan.
In the end, this time round, there was only one piece of Forest news to talk about. It was obvious, it was inevitable, and it summoned a sadness that I haven’t felt since July 1st, 1995 – the day we sold Stan to Liverpool.
So cheers, Michail. You’re too good for what we’ve become, let’s be honest, and no right-minded Forest fan would begrudge you a shot at the big time. You’ll be remembered as the standout success of Operation Shit or Bust… and the first major casualty of Operation Finish Above Huddersfield, Rotherham, and Someone Else (hereafter, Operation FAHRSE).
In time, I hope we’ll find another one like you… one of those extraordinary and precious footballers who are willing to play the game like they’re still at school – like it’s Next Goal Wins, forever. It’s wonderful to watch, and all too rare – a singular expression of freedom, in this heavy and mannered game of ours.
Oh well. We’ll have to make do with poor, knackered, Soviet-built Dexter in the meantime.