One thousand and one stress-filled nights

article written by Alicia Luba

‘Tis the season to be bankrupt. Not only have you forked out a ridiculous sum of money on various ball tickets (you’re convinced the term ‘unlimited’ justifies the expense) you now have to dress for the occasion. The tension, the tension. Do you scour the rails over Easter or wait until the eve of the event? Buying in advance is a sure way to avoid the last minute sprint down High Street but will your pre-emptive strike deliver the goods on the day? If you are attending a ball post 6thweek, could all the inevitable Oxford cycling, stress and post ‘chocfest’ comedown mean you’ve dropped a dress size? And then how will you return the now-too-loose gown? The 28 day return policy shed its validity long ago.

As I said, the tension. Waiting until term time to buy means that you pretty much resign yourself into the hands of Coast and Monsoon or, for those of us unafraid to use our overdrafts, The Ballroom. Inevitably, you won’t be the only person on Trinity’s big night wearing the midnight blue strapless number with the faux-diamond front. If a ‘two of a kind’ situation is your worst nightmare, there is a simple solution. Take yourself to London. I know, I know, ‘the essays! The problem sheets!’ you cry. Work like a maniac during the week before hopping on the Tube and spending a day on Oxford Street. Covent Garden or Portobello Road are the obvious alternatives for something a bit more colourful or original. The collections of most high street stores feature one or two ‘options’ for balls but you can guarantee that if you buy Topshop’s reasonably priced £45 version, someone else will have done the same. The flagship store, on the other hand, has those cavernous vaults where you can find vintage items or hunt around in the concessions. They are also stockists of Lipsy, which is tricky to get hold of in Oxford unless you’re comfortable with internet ordering which, when it comes to ball dresses, I am certainly not. The brand always has a great selection to fulfil the black tie criteria. Selling mostly cocktail dresses, these can be accessorised on the night but also worn again on crew dates and Clems outings.

White tie events don’t let us off so easily. When you hand over your £200 or thereabouts for the ticket, consider it a down payment on a much larger sum of approximately £500 which will include the dress. Again, get yourself to London or befriend a survivor of last year’s ball who happens to be the same size as you and doesn’t mind adopting a ‘wear and share’ policy.  This is one of the more morally acceptable ways to wriggle out of ball-bankruptcy. The other is a road travelled only by the bravest, that of the ‘wear-return-and-run’. Not for the faint hearted, a few preliminaries need to be observed before an operation like this can be successfully carried out.  Watch the way the sales assistant folds the dress into the bag, do not break the sticker which seals said bag, safeguard the receipt, stay away from anyone brandishing a ketchupy item on the night and for Heaven’s sake buy a good deodorant. If you remember all this and even re-wrap the dress in its immaculately preserved tissue paper you’ll be fine.

For those with both money and morals Halston Heritage, Antik Batik or Issa won’t let you down for white tie while Acne, Malene Birger or Paul & Joe Sister are go-to labels for black.  Finally, distil your pre-event social circle to avoid additional stress. Aside from those with the larger bank accounts, the most contemptible humans around ball season are undoubtedly the ‘I’ve only got to wear a suit, right?’ men-folk.

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Street Style – #002

Matt – student reading Law at Trinity College

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Rebecca - student reading English Language and Literature at Wadham College

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Tom – student reading History at Lincoln College

The Street Style team will be next out and about in Oxford on Saturday 4th June, so if you want to be featured in this section get dolled up and see if you can find us!

Blends of banality from the Queen of the freaks

Lady Gaga’s ability to make an entire dancefloor-full of people shout nonsense at the tops of their voices will never cease to amaze me. It doesn’t surprise me, then, as I listen to Born This Way for the first time in its entirety, that some of my favourite moments of the album include the deadpan chanting of “muh-muh-muh” in Marry the Night, the near operatic drawling of “Gaaaagaaaaa” in Government Hooker, and of course the perfectly-timed, Mean-Girls-esque outburst of “Ew!” in the middle of a song about the betrayal of Jesus Christ.

The best and worst thing about Lady Gaga is that most of the time, she makes no fucking sense. Sometimes this is exactly what we love about her, and it is exemplified in the coinage of terms like “disco stick”, which no-one really gets and yet which ingrains itself so deeply in your vocabulary that you can’t believe Samuel Johnson wasn’t putting it in the dictionary in 1755. And then again, this is what has driven her over the edge on this album.

Wailing “as long as I’m your hooker” in Government Hooker just downright confuses, especially when laid alongside the backing vocals of “yeah you’re my hooker.” These lyrics don’t go together on any level at all, just as the lucky dip of religious imagery that made up the video for Judas doesn’t deliver any kind of satisfactory allegory, or message, or even pun. The Gaga phenomenon always seemed like a joke which it was assumed the Lady herself had the answer to – it’s starting to seem, now, like there is no punch line, no grand reveal, just an artist who has pushed herself so far up the ladder that she may have nowhere left to go.

I think it would be fair to say that this is the most hyped album of 2011, at least so far. The entire world has been hanging on every word Gaga has dared to give us (even when that word is “Ew!”), and now the entire world is listening to the music, the product they demanded, and trying to match up these pumping synthetic beats and nonsensical wails with the expectations they had built for themselves. Some moments on the record are euphoric, capturing the explosion of energy that will come with its eventual, globally anticipated, counted-down-on-Twitter release. Gaga is, objectively, an incredibly talented vocalist. Listening to this album, there is no doubt of that in my mind. She shifts liquidly between belting her notes on The Edge of Glory and huskily talk-singing on Scheiβe – and of course there’s the entirely artistically justified and sensible use of near-Jamaican patois in Judas.

Some lines hit the exact right note of insanity that reminds the listener of the old disco-stick-Gaga – “I don’t speak German but I can if you like, OWW” Gaga shrieks at the beginning of Scheiβe. Essentially this means nothing, but the drive in her voice and infectious way the line injects itself into your ears makes you want to jump around the kitchen, shouting along with fragmented bits you remember from your German GCSE.

That being said, there are times on this album when Gaga achieves something I never thought she would. She bores me. Bloody Mary is boring. Bad Kids is boring. I can’t figure out whether it’s an inherent problem with the music, or a disparity between expectation and reality, which has me reaching for the “skip” button, but whatever it is, these songs are dull. Not to mention the fact that a lot of Born This Way repeats itself like a great uncle at Sunday dinner constantly complaining about buses and politics. Oh, blaspheming again, are you Gaga? Excuse me while I turn the telly up a bit and pretend I didn’t hear you. Not to mention the fact that the intro to Heavy Metal Lover sounds almost exactly like the intro to Born This Way .

Gaga seems to think that the thing she does best is inciting unity and solidarity in her audience, expressed nowhere more explicitly than it is in Born This Way – both the album and its title song. “Whenever I’m dressed up cool, my parents put up a fight” she spits in Hair, clearly pre-empting the thousands of teenagers she hopes will growl along to this line as they apply their heavy eyeliner and Doc Martens.

In my eyes, though, the thing she does best is communicating simple ideas in the form of simple songs. The best moment on this album, for that reason, is The Edge of Glory. When she talks about this song, there is no grandiose extrapolation of themes and allegories and imagery.

Born This Way is a fun album, but its problem is that it was created by someone who was trying much too hard to push far too many boundaries. Gaga needs to realise that her brilliance lies not further outside, but inside, in her simple ideas, her impulses, her emotions. Because, after all, she is brilliant, and songs like The Edge of Glory prove it.

En-Tyler-ly inappropriate?

“Rape a pregnant bitch and tell my friends I had a threesome.” Unless you’ve been living under some sort of wi-fi-less rock over the past few weeks you’ll be aware that this lyric comes from Tyler, The Creator’s new album Goblin, an album that must rank amongst the most hyped of 2011. Tyler has found himself plastered across as many news outlets as Gaga, and perhaps comparisons with the planets biggest pop-star are apt. Both seem to be on a maniacal mission to offend as many people as possible, whether that comes from proclaiming yourself ‘Queen of the Freaks’ or calling your child a cunt.

Unfortunately there’s only enough space to deconstruct one bête noire, so Tyler I’m afraid you’re going to have to put up with my wrath. So please excuse my middle-class angst for the next 600 or so words. Yet the lyrical content of Tyler’s recent work, and his tweets, has got me worried. So dark is the content of Bastard and Goblin that I have been wondering whether things have finally gone too far.

Rock, hip-hop and even pop music have been offending people for decades, from ‘Sympathy to the Devil’ to ‘Kill You’ via ‘Margaret on the Guillotine’. But rarely has anyone revelled quite as much in offending people as Tyler. Perhaps the last person to really cause such a stir in popular music was Eminem and indeed the chief similarity between the two has been accusations of homophobia. But whilst some of Eminem’s lyrics were undoubtedly offensive, it always seemed that the press were over-reacting. Tyler, on the other hand, seems to be on a rampage, offending someone in every song. In a musical culture in which so much has been said before artists have to keep pushing the boundaries and perhaps Tyler is guilty of no more than continuing this trend. Perhaps…

Tyler and the rest of Odd Future have been responsible for some of the most exciting hip-hop in recent years, with Bastard in particular demonstrating Tyler’s ability to craft magnificent beats based around warped vocals and lounge stylings. And indeed Tyler is a superb lyricist; Pitchfork picked out a couple of lines from ‘French’ that they claimed summed up the album, “Cruisin’ in my go-kart at Walmart selling cupcakes/ Go ‘head, admit it, faggot; this shit is tighter than butt-rape.” The first line is a brilliant piece of absurdist writing yet it is that second line that has me so worried.

Yet it is lines like this that sum up my problem with Tyler. So many of his defenders have said that lines like the one I began this article with are hilarious and at first they can be, in the same way that any off-colour joke can be funny. But ultimately tales of how you locked Goldilocks up in a basement and raped her and references to the alleged assault of Rihanna by Chris Brown start to feel rather unpleasant. On the title track of Goblin Tyler desperately tries to justify himself in another of his encounters with a psychiatrist, claiming “I’m not a role model”, “I’m not a fucking rapist or a serial killer, I lied” and “I’m not homophobic…faggot”. And hopefully he is right, but surely the fact he needs to justify himself suggests that criticism of his lyrical content has stung him.

Since I started this article Tegan and Sara (a group who have been publicly gay since the start of their career) penned an open letter criticising Tyler’s homophobia, to which he replied “If Tegan And Sara Need Some Hard Dick Hit Me Up!”

Such hideous language towards people raising a valid objection shows just how puerile Tyler is. Age is often given as a defence for Tyler’s attitude and language (he is 20) yet even this doesn’t stand up to any sort of justifiable defence. He is of a pretty similar age to most people reading this article and I would hope that everyone reading this knows that such language is not acceptable.

Maybe I am being easily offended but it seems that Tyler has found the borderline on which intriguing popular music exists and run so far in the opposite direction as to make some of his work unpleasant. Undoubtedly a hugely talented musician but until Tyler starts acting his age, not his shoe-size (11.5), listening to his music will always be a grim and squalid experience.

33 Reassessments per minute

Throw together the words local, independent, vinyl and rarities and one the one hand you’ve got latter-day punks of the 70s living in the leather jackets which were made in the 50s musing over some Clash bootleg or a Beatles b side. On the other hand you get said purists along with an assortment of adults, young enough to not remember the hey-day of the indie record shop, but old enough to feel a level of antipathy towards the impersonality of the digital revolution.

Record Store Day is the outlet for this second image, the brainchild of Chris Brown, former employee of a store much like Soundclash, the one I frequented on April 16th in Norwich. Now in its fourth year, the day sees vinyl lovers unite in their local independent record stores to get their hands on specially released singles, EPs and LPs from bands as big as Radiohead and Foo Fighters. Last year’s event saw Blur release their first new material in 7 years via the 1000 copies of 7” ‘Fool’s Gold’ scattered across the world in various music stores…not one of them an HMV.

Now personally my vinyl experience as a teenager was being given my dad’s old record player, and then frequenting the local HMV for their small but solid stock of mainly 7”. In a pocket money passion, every week I would go to the back of the store and usually find at least one single that I could take away for the maximum price of a measly £3.50.

The HMV eventually stopped stocking 7”, clearly not benefiting from the ever increasing sale of vinyl nationwide, which is spurning a steady revival of the independent record store. Numbers have increased (for the first time in a generation) by 4% in the last year, including Oxford’s very own Truck records. So rather than bulk ordering 7” periodically from online stores (prices of which have increased slightly in the past few years) instead I took the opportunity to travel from my hometown of Peterborough to the closest participating store in Norwich.

After arriving at 9:30 and waiting in the queue for 90 minutes, I finally entered a small typically authentic record store, complete with vintage CD racks, posters, stickers and the bargain crates. The queue led up to just three almost empty boxes at the front, being greedily pored over by those hungry for a slice of vinyl nostalgia that was never theirs or mine to claim. The manager informed those unsatisfied about how the record they has hunted for was “one of the first to go” along with his apologies and how he was annoyed that he couldn’t snap it up himself, as a loyal servant of the customer. After emerging with two EPs, one not a Record Store Day special, its safe to say that I was left thoroughly disappointed in the yield and the general experience. The offer of a free doughnut was much appreciated though not quite consolation. It wasn’t the record store itself. Its in fact the opposite. It’s not that I have a problem with schemes that celebrate independents. I applaud them. It’s just that specifically, Record Store Day almost epitomises what record stores are NOT about.

In my opinion the benefits of the record store as opposed to a chain can be summed up by the difference in community, atmosphere and discovery and the aspect of local ethic. Yet at Record Store Day the community is almost invisible, with a few apparent locals greeting the owner, though dissipated by hordes of people like myself, who had frequented Soundclash maybe a few times in their lives, though would opt for the online store or download due to price and convenience.

The atmosphere rather than being relaxed whilst browsing, say, ska records for purely inquisitive purposes, was mission-orientated. A conveyor belt of punters steadily snaked through the small store. Everyone there had seen the online information on the treats on offer. Some had jotted down their own hit-lists.

That brings me onto the next problem, discovery. A record store “find” should be a treasure-hunt through the endless shelves, culminating hopefully in a gem. But instead of finding such a gem that I was previously clueless to, there was a feeling of denial of some form of right. A right for the rarity the occasion (and the online stocklist) had promised. With only a few of each record going out to each store, it was inevitable that few would be able to capitalise. The fact that one could work out the frequency per store of various records from their quotas online meant the hunt for a rarity was reduced to clinical calculation and probability.

Finally , the local ethic. Whilst not being an exclusive problem of Record Store Day, the local aspect of the independent record store can slip into being an excuse for compromise and an unsubstantiated feel-good trip. Whilst not wanting to feel sorry for big chains, Virgin Megastores and HMV are more likely to have been the sources of our generation’s music pre-internet than the ultra-slick zeitgeist arenas of Sister Ray or Rough Trade. And now these chains are failing. On the other hand,  independent stores are holding their own and increasing. Is it time to stop feeling good about ourselves for contributing to some vague definition of the word local? A few doors down from Soundclash was a Pizza Express, a classic monotonous chain, standing against everything that independent stores champion. Yet the company was founded by a fellow Peterborian, Peter Boizot. Does my support for a business founded by a Peterborian (and whose profits contribute to my city) supersede Soundclash, an independent local store, but not local to me at all. When these boundaries about what is “local” are blurred, supporting the “little man” needs to be looked at more critically as opposed to being a stock response to the threat of the mainstream.

And what of the image of the “little man.” The main sounds of Soundclash that day were that of the hi-fi system and that of the tills ringing which makes one recognise that these stores are by no means charities. They are successful economically focused enterprises with no shame to be felt about their financial intentions. An independent record store should be visited because of the unique experience and enjoyment evoked, and not for any level of pride or pleasure gained from purely going local. Supporters of these stores often pile criticism concerning the impersonality and the lack of expertise on chains and online stores. Yet people also seem to forget the boundaries of the record store in breadth of choice (which can never aspire to that of the internet, and often falls short of chains) and prices (an important and not heartless concern from a consumerist perspective, and almost always beaten by online retailers.) Also the sheer inaccessibility of many people worldwide (Record Store Day is a worldwide institution) to these stores means that many rely on online stores and downloads to access the music they want.

So to conclude, the record store, the online retailer and the chain all have their advantages and disadvantages and so should be able to exist together. The convenience, price and choice of the online store. The personality, experience and thrill of the independent. The chain sitting somewhere in between. But back to the original impetus for this article. Record Store Day. After purchasing some of the dregs of the limited releases I went into a Starbucks, sipped their conglomerate coffee and took advantage of the free wifi. I then found a store in Ireland who participated in Record Store Day yet not quite acting in the spirit of things, sold the records online as well. They had some of the records I had looked for in stock. So I ordered them. Ordered them without the queuing in the cold, without the travel, without the potentially fruitless wait. Many would view it as wrong and unsporting. But when Record Store Day serves to undermine the true appeal of a record store even with its valiant intentions, and whilst viewing the record store as a business rather than as a charity, is it not my consumerist right to take advantage of what is available to me rather than participating in a pointless lottery based on how early you could get there and thus where you were from. If the record store is as great an institution as many believe it is, it does not deserve the local/independent/twee façade to bolster it up. Nor should it have the aspect of exclusivity to the lucky few that Record Store Day gives it. As a business model it deserves to be treated with the same respect for competition as any other.

New directions – 4th week

Oh the horror! The unmitigated horror. Ok, so perhaps not horror. But it’s close. Due to what will admittedly be an extremely fun study trip to the Lake District, I am to be out of Oxford for a grand total of four days. And what that means is temporarily abandoning my directorial duties. I swear to God it’s like leaving a child. I’m missing meetings. I’m giving my cast the week off. Perhaps most terrifying of all, I won’t have a computer. And that means no emails. It feels as though the world may implode.

Writing this the night before departure, I can’t help but feel that I have missed something. I’ve messaged the production team begging them to fill me in on anything they decide. Or discuss. Or even hint at. I’ve organised weekend rehearsals and booked a fight choreographer for my first day back. I’ve done a week’s worth of organising in a matter of hours. Yet the dramatic umbilical cord is still proving difficult to cut.

I am, however, aware that I am leaving my show in safe hands. Lighting plots can be charted. Posters can be ordered. Lines can be learned. And it appears that my little drama world will continue turning for a few days without me. The show must go on, and go on it shall, despite my brief absence. So off I shall go to Northern (and somewhat chilly) climes and focus on Wordsworth, Coleridge and the like, secure in the knowledge that theatrically all will be well. But I might sneak a peek at Nexus on my friend’s phone. Just to be sure.

– Caitlin MacMillan, director of Blue Remembered Hills

Preview: the UEFA Champions League Final

Sam Quicke

This year like no other, the final of the Champions League could hardly do more to reflect the pattern of dominance present in the domestic game. Where the early 2000s saw Bayern, Madrid, and the Italian sides regularly define seasons with their success, the last six or seven years have unquestionably been the era of Barcelona and Manchester United. Serial winners of their respective domestic leagues, these two European giants have also started sprawling themselves over the latter stages of the Champions League year in year out.

It seems more than two years ago that this fixture last drew the domestic season to a close. So much has changed within that space of time. The omnipresence of Xavi, Iniesta and Messi at Barcelona’s core should not obscure the subtle changes to the Catalans’ 2011 mould. Messi himself has risen meteorically in stature. His rebirth as a false #9, the spearhead of Barcelona’s attack, and his subsequently remarkable goal-scoring achievements, has surely seen him complete his previously inevitable procession to the pantheon of inter-generational greats. Elsewhere, Sergio Busquets has matured in his defensive-midfield/centre-back hybrid; Pedro has cemented his reputation as one of the best forwards in the game; David Villa has added a certain sharpness to the striking trio which, although hardly lacking before, has been valuable; and Guardiola himself has gone a long way to proving himself as one of the greatest innovators of the modern era. They are also a much, much better side, and a side that’s full to the brim on confidence.

Clearly though, the changes are far more obvious within the United set-up. The team itself has been very hard to predict; Ferguson rarely elects to play the same XI in consecutive games. The obvious catalyst was Ronaldo’s departure, making the talents and temperament of Wayne Rooney far more central to the side’s functioning. But if ever a team was struggling for an identity it would surely be this side. Over the last two seasons it’s been near-impossible to identify what’s been consistent about United, let alone what’s been so consistently good about them. This season, the breathtakingly mercurial performances (7-1 at home to Blackburn and the two Schalke ties) have juxtaposed awkwardly with some atrociously lacklustre efforts, but most surprising has been the uncharacteristic defensive frailty and mental fragility that’s occasionally crept onto the scene (think back to the leads thrown away against Fulham and Everton last autumn). The one constant factor, and probably United’s biggest asset of late, has been Ferguson, who above all else seems to get his players to perform when the situation requires.

What to expect

Whereas the 2009 affair was billed as an advert for the beautiful game with attacking starlets lining up on

either side, this time around we can expect a far less exotic display.  Barcelona are probably one of the most consistent teams of all time in terms of their approach to the game; the following passage isn’t just lazy journalism. They will hold a high line, dictate the tempo and shift the ball around until an opening arises. It will be all Barcelona from the off, and their self- imposed quest to better their possession statistics in each game will undoubtedly be on show. They will couple this strategy on the ball with possibly the most intense off-the-ball pressing game football’s ever witnessed (just ask Michael Carrick).

More interesting will be the approach Ferguson elects to pursue. In 2009 United were the favourites.  They had Ronaldo, they had Vidic and Ferdinand, they had the experience of beating Barcelona the previous season and, of course, were returning Champions. Barcelona were unproven. Guardiola was still in his first season, and the glaring deficiencies of Madrid and every other Spanish Primera side made it hard to gauge the extent of their successes in La Liga and the Copa del Rey. Ferguson got arrogant; he departed from the tactics inherited from his deputy Carlos Quieroz (employed against Rijkaard’s 2008 outfit) thinking he could better Xavi and Iniesta at their own game with Carrick, Giggs, and Anderson. Since then, Barcelona have been widely recognised as one of the greats, the core of the Catalan club effectively won Spain the World Cup last summer, and one man has persistently illuminated the way to beat them. Real Madrid may not have defeated Barcelona in the semi-finals, but if the recent succession of riveting clasicos has taught us anything it’s that Mourinho’s strategy is as good as gold when it comes to halting Guardiola’s men. In style, Mourinho hasn’t really done anything that Ferguson didn’t do in the 2008 Champions League semi-final, nor has he improved much on Guus Hiddink’s tactical approach utilised by Chelsea in their semi with Barca back in 2009. Mourinho has, however, done it consistently (barring the monumental blunder back in November after Ferguson-levels of tactical arrogance were unwisely pursued) and he’s done it against a much better Barcelona outfit. Last season’s showcase of defensive majesty in charge of Inter was something to behold, even if it provided a fairly dull neutral spectacle. Sitting deep, allowing Xavi, Iniesta, and Messi time and space on the ball only in unthreatening areas, pressing full-backs Alves and (probably) Abidal fiercely from the front, and relying on the central midfielders to intercept and track runs from midfield while preparing to hit them like a bullet on the counter seems to be the modus operandi when it comes to toppling Barcelona.

But will Ferguson’s arrogance get the better of him again? The signs are unclear: Sir Alex recently departed from the tried and trusted 4-2-3-1 formation so regularly employed against Arsenal so as to accommodate the talents of Javier Hernandez. As expected, Arsenal’s superior manipulation of the newly-afforded space left United losers for the first time in 5 games against the Gunners. Such a move against Barcelona would surely condemn the Reds to another obliteration at the hands of Messi and Guardiola. But it is a genuine selection dilemma. Hernandez has been one of the top performers of this year’s campaign, scoring goals against opposition of all quality. Leaving him on the bench along with (as appears to be the trend in “big” games) Nani will leave United slightly shy in the goal-scoring department.

Prediction

Ferguson won’t risk starting Hernandez, and will set out in sensible fashion with the following side to counter the predictable Barcelona XI:

Van der Sar; Rafael, Vidic, Ferdinand, Evra; Carrick, Fletcher/Anderson (pending on Fletcher’s fitness issues), Giggs; Park, Valencia; Rooney

Valdes; Alves, Puyol, Pique, Abidal; Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta; Pedro, Villa, Messi

It probably won’t be a classic, but if United follow Mourinho’s example they are capable of causing an upset, and what an upset it would be.

We survived the Rapture- so did Mick

‘Survival Sunday’, as Sky billed the final day of the 2010-2011 Premier League season, proved to be a prophetic title in more ways than one. Having escaped almost certain destruction less than a day earlier it may have appeared to Harold Camping, as his personal jet was forced to hotfoot it to Hawaii rather than the plains of eternal salvation, that the “rapture” had indeed struck across the Atlantic. Fans all over the country whispered prayers and sunk to their knees in desperation, or instead shouted abuse at a lazy winger failing to track the full back, all for the right to sing the most cherished words in English football: ‘We Are Premier League…’

Rarely does the superlative-filled build up to ‘Super Sunday’, or whatever word Jeff and the team pluck from Microsoft Word’s vast bank of synonyms for ‘good’, manage to fulfil the hype; the apathetic turnout for Match of the Day in the Balliol TV room would suggest so. But in reality fans had simply retreated to their rooms in exhaustion after, with eyes diverted from an eventless top four, the teams scrapping for survival and desperate to avoid the estimated £40 million shortfall lurking through the Championship trap door managed to spectacularly meet the quota of thrills, frantic calculations and middle aged men sobbing into their replica shirts. Once the drama had played out and fingernails were all but gone Wolves survived by the skin of their teeth and all 10 of Wigan’s supporters were elated with their survival, while Blackpool and Birmingham joined the hapless West Ham in slumping into the second tier of English football. Of the three, Blackpool return after a fairy-tale season that even in relegation defied all the odds. ­

The Tangerines game against champions Manchester United exemplified what the Premier League has lost; entertainment in abundance, and a determination to enjoy their time in the spotlight. With 55 goals Blackpool are the highest scoring team to ever be relegated from the Premiership and their haul of 39 points would have been enough to secure safety in each of the last 7 seasons. But underneath all the statistics a special mention, a Premiership obituary, has to be reserved for manager of the year Ian Holloway; a man who has battled with the English language as well as the seemingly impossible task of keeping a side of Blackpool’s limited resources in the Premier League. Press conferences in which elaborate metaphors have compared himself to characters like Crocodile Dundee may have amused and bemused journalists and fans in equal measure but are nothing compared to the amazement at how he managed to convince players like Gary Taylor-Fletcher and David Vaughan that they are of Premiership quality. So much so that with Euro 2012 round the corner, DJ Campbell has announced highly questionable international aspirations that are unlikely to survive in the Championship, especially with Grant Holt set to storm England’s top tier. The Premiership will certainly mourn the loss of Holloway more than the dour Ancelotti who after less than two seasons with Chelsea will pout and shrug all the way down the Fulham road, and if Abramovich is in the market for a constantly jilted and entertaining West-country bumpkin prone to bouts of inspired fiction, the league would be better for it.

Along with Blackpool and West Ham, Birmingham City, suffering from one of the longest cup hangovers in history, failed to secure a third consecutive season in the Premiership. Their final day meeting with Tottenham could have been very different had fifth place not still been in the balance with Spurs overcoming Liverpool on the road in their penultimate game; as it was a brace from Pavlyuchenko, who in different circumstances would probably have spent the afternoon ambling lazily round the centre circle, secured European football for Tottenham and doomed the Blues to a summer of uncertainty. A side that have been over-reliant on the left foot of Craig Gardener looks set for a torrid time in the Championship with a bloated wage bill and few marketable assets; although Ben Foster and Roger Johnson could attract big money moves. Birmingham must be careful to avoid the path treaded by Leeds and Southampton in previous years, but whilst the future remains uncertain this season will not be remembered for relegation but for one glorious day under the Wembley arch, an inspired performance full of a desire that was conspicuously absent from their relegation battle.

For the newly departed, there appears to be no salvation from the hell that looms in front of them… the Championship. Ultimately, after surviving eternal damnation on Saturday the Championship cannot appear quite so timeless or painful to Alex McLeish, Ian Holloway and co., who would do well to appreciate that at the end of the day, relegation is not the end of the world.

Ben Allen

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