Where's Our Easter-enders Gone?

Last updated : 31 March 2005 By Bernard Azulay

Although I can recall replying to those who taunted me a few months back about Chelsea's runaway lead in the Premiership, with my stock response "Talk to me after Easter", as traditionally its always been the hectic fixture schedule over the Bank Holiday weekend which sorts the men from the boys. I guess back then I was hoping that we'd have our best chance of reeling the Blues back in, because the crowded Easter schedule is often the crucial stage in the season when sides are asked to dig deep and demonstrate that they really have the hunger required to run the title's entire 38 game course.

Mind you I guess we aren't missing that much excitement as sadly Mourinho's mob have such a comfortable lead that they could have blown both the games which are usually crowded into the footballing calendar and still have taken the title at a canter. Nevertheless, as no great addict of International footie, I didn't miss my domestic fix any less. In the past I've never had to worry about what we'd be doing over the long Easter weekend as it would be taken as read that what little leisure time was left after exhausting myself following the Arsenal, would be spent with my feet up. By contrast in this instance I was at a complete loss with what to do with myself. Our dog has never had it so good (bad?). Comfotably ensconced on the couch, Treacle raised her lazy eyebrow as if to say "Not another chuffin' walk!"

If I'd realised in advance that we'd almost a fortnight between Arsenal matches I probably wouldn't have wasted this rare break in my footballing routine and might have taken the opportunity to head off for warmer climes. At least I would've escaped all the brouhaha over England beating N. Ireland. The way the media have been 'bigging up' Frank Lampard as the new Bobby Charlton and the coming of England's left-sided messiah, you'd think we'd witnessed Joe Cole and his Chelsea compadre walzing their way around World Cup Winners, rather than Lawrie Sanchez's motley collection of journeymen. Perhaps they should wait to see how effective Cole is against Poland before portraying him as the answer to all the country's problems.

I could've joined Mourinho and all the Boys in Green in the Tel Aviv sunshine. At least I would've been guaranteed of seeing the Ireland game instead of listening to commentary via the satellite, courtesy of RTE radio. I sat here tearing what's left of my hair out on Saturday evening. And that was prior even to the frustration of Patrick Vieira's poor performance for France (although I have to admit that there was something reassuring about the fact that Paddy was as ineffective for his country as he's been this season as captain of the Arsenal!). With the myriad of channels available on our TV gadget, after flicking through them all, Sky, Eurosport, Setanta, ITV2 etc. I was flabbergasted to find coverage of virtually every other game except Israel v Ireland.

Considering myself as an adopted Irishman and with all my Middle-Eastern ancestry, it's hard to think of a match with more conflict of interest as far as I'm concerned and I was fuming to find myself deprived of pictures of this confusing occasion. What's more RTE's coverage didn't even come with the consolation of listening to the dulcet tones of my brother-out-of-law, Con Murphy. Mind you it didn't take much consideration when my missus questioned me as to who I was up for. While an Israeli win would be a novelty, I don't have any real pretensions for their World Cup qualification, as I do for Ireland.

In which respect, after taking such an early lead, instead of consolidating a win with another strike, it seemed as if Ireland sat back and left themselves wide open to the sucker punch of a late equaliser. From the sound of it, there was little of artistic merit on offer in this match. So I guess if I was going to miss an Ireland game, I missed least with this lame affair. France v Switzerland might have provided much better quality football, but both sides failure to find the onion bag only served to emphasize the fact that Ireland blew a big chance to establish some breathing space at the top of their group. Imagine my surprise the following morning to hear my Ma¹s post-mortem of the match in Israel. Unlike her, I ended up kicking myself for neglecting (not for the first time!) to even think of checking Channel 5!

Meanwhile during his entire 8 seasons at Highbury I can't ever recall Arsène intentionally striving for the media spotlight in any other role than that as Arsenal manager. But then I suppose Mourinho feels duty bound to attempt redress the reams of recent bad press. Although it makes a pleasant change to see Palestinian kids playing footie with Israelis, rather than being trained to top them in Hezbollah 'holiday camps', it's hard not to be cynical about this sugar coated PR stunt. Sadly I suspect the pictures we saw earlier in the week in a documentary showing the interaction between Israeli jailers and their Palestinian prisoners are far more representative.

I also reckon it's a fairly safe bet that Mourinho's pal, the ubiquitous Israeli football agent Pini Zahavi was responsible for arranging the Portuguese manager's Holy land holiday. The shadowy Zahavi has something of the Scarlet Pimpernel about him, as I can't think of anyone in football who is quite so high profile, but who could walk down any High Street without being recognised. I can't imagine Zahavi has political aspirations, or covets a Nobel Peace prize. Thus with regard to Mourinho's Israeli outing, I can't help wonder 'what's in it for him'?

By contrast attending a fellow human's funeral is supposedly the most selfless deed there is, since it's the one act which cannot be repaid. I guess should be grateful there was no footie this weekend since it coincided with my sister's father-in-law finally shuffling off this mortal coil. It's bad enough having to rush this missive on Bank Holiday Monday in order to make it to the funeral but can you imagine my dilemma if for example today was the day of the North London Derby.

There would be rucktions of I chose football over family in this particular instance. What's more we jews don't do cremation, so it's not like I could ask them to put him on a low light until I can make it! Then again considering the funereal atmosphere often found at Highbury these days, I suppose I won't feel so far removed. Although I might not find such top-notch turf and as far as our title hopes are concerned, it feels as if these are long since dead and buried.