Not Big Sam offers some advice for Paul Lambert in his Paddy Power Blog column as Aston Villa prepare for a home game against West Ham
I know what you’ll all think. I know the derisive thoughts that will be percolating around your rancorous minds before I even broach the subject. I know what they’ll be before they’ve even ascended up your gullets, and been spat out of your wretched mouths.
“Who the hell do you think you are Not Big Sam, you patronising barbarian? Your career has been a magnificent procession of exhilarating highs; you’ve done nothing but soar, like a Golden Eagle, around the mountainous slopes of footballing excellence for the best part of two decades – what the hell do you know about being under pressure?!”
As I sit in my chic, minimalist-inspired (particularly the work of Anne Truitt, if you’re interested) London apartment, drinking gourmet Vietnamese coffee – whilst being resplendently dressed in an array of colours and silks that would make an African king look about as stylish as a butch lesbian from Florida – it may, ostensibly, be difficult for me to refute such allegations.
Big Sam has, however, also endured his fair share of professional low points. Being sacked by Newcastle. Being sacked by Blackburn. Being forced by Karren Brady to draw a detailed picture of my genitalia during my interview at West Ham. These events threatened to despoil the very spirit that courses gallantly throughout my cyborg-like frame, sending me sprawling into a mangy pit of anguish and despair in the process.
It is such experiences of wallowing in the filthy managerial mud of misery – and the peerless adroitness employed to escape such depleting metaphorical dungeons – that marks Not Big Sam out as the country’s foremost authority on coping with pressure in football. It is within this prestigious position that I look towards Aston Villa’s Paul Lambert, with a mixture of fear, hope, sympathy and the sweet, ibuprofen-like relief that it is him with his balls plopped precariously in the centre of the chopping board, and not me.
It’s an awful situation… Birmingham
Lambert finds himself caught in the ruthless cross-hairs of public perception; pinned helplessly to the ground, under the crushing, immobilising burden of being shite. It’s an awful situation, and one that will no doubt be causing him countless sleepless nights, and precautionary trips to The Money Shop. His Aston Villa side lie just above the foot of the table, with a winless streak that stretches back to December 2012. They’re in a worse state than Stephen Hawking’s toes. As a result, Lambert now inhabits an existence where he faces a chorus of boos every time he opens his front door, and steps into the harsh ghetto lands of Birmingham.
Everywhere he goes, he’s met with the jabbing scalpel of disappointment and anger. I’ve heard one horrifying story about him having a full can of Lilt sprayed straight into his face by a nun outside Argos, while there have also been murmurs about some form of toxic gas being secretly pumped into his house in tiny amounts that can’t be detected, but will, like, totally kill you eventually.
As I take my all-conquering West Ham side to Villa Park this Sunday, I find myself in the difficult position of wanting to heap even more misery upon Lambert’s bruised and fragile shoulders, while also yearning to reach across the dugout, place my hands tenderly on his hips, and pull him gently towards my breast to reassure him that everything will be okay. I want to simultaneously break his spirit and tear at his flesh like a rabid honey badger, and also comfort and pamper him with all the sweetness of… an ordinary badger.
If I could offer Paul Lambert just one piece of advice, it would be to just be himself; don’t abandon your ideals and convictions just because things aren’t currently going well. I still remember Pato Banton – another son of Birmingham – knocking at my door one night in the late 90s, in absolute floods of tears. Pato had been riding high on the success of 1994′s crossover smash, Baby Come Back, and thought he owned the world.
Subsequent offerings, however, didn’t quite live up to his previous success, and he began to doubt his entire approach to music. As he opened up to me that night, over an incredible plate of jerk chicken he – rather strangely – had been carrying in his pocket, he told me of his plan to bow to the pressure of outside forces, turn his back on his reggae roots, and record an album of Shed Seven covers.
I looked him deep in the eye for several penetrating seconds, before slapping him full on the face. Jerk chicken was flung violently around the room, like a gerbil in a blender. Over the next few hours, and with the aid of a rather relaxing bag of sensi that Pato had brought with him (he’s like a waking tuck shop, that boy), I explained that a life without principles, is like a life without blood. Or oxygen. Or a willy. It’s simply no life at all. If those whom you serve expect you to just capriciously disregard everything you hold dear, simply to assuage their short-sighted demands, then you have two choices: either you dig your heels in, hold your nerve, and trust your own ability, or you walk away with your head held high, and let the vampirific ghouls feast upon another man’s veins.
I don’t know Paul Lambert very well, and I have no idea what kind of temperament the man has (he looks a little like a surly geography teacher, who just can’t forget the night he watched his friend die on an oil rig). When I greet him this weekend, however, I’ll tell him the tale of Pato Banton, and remind him that every angel must go through many an ordeal before he earns his wings. Facing my rutless gang of crack soccer assassins on Sunday, just might be the last one he has to endure. Do not go gentle into that good night, Paul. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
You’re still getting f***ing hammered, mind.
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