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A football fairy tale: Foxy and the Funny Old Italian Man

Let me tell you a sad story about someone I once knew. I’ll call him Foxy. And when I say I knew him, I thought I did.

When I first met Foxy he was a humdrum individual. Most people would say the same. To call him harmless would be unfair – harmless is one of the worst things to call someone, as if you’re describing bacteria. But some people called him harmless all the same. He kept himself to himself, at least most of the time, and never really made much noise. Nobody really disliked him, because he never really did anything to dislike (apart from that time he started hanging around with Robbie Savage). He just hung limply in the background, like peeling wallpaper.

Then one day I heard a strange thing: Foxy had met a funny old Italian man and they were spending a lot of time together. Some people (including a fool nobody really sees any more called Richard Keys) disapproved. The relationship, they said, would be over before Christmas. What did this funny old Italian man want from Foxy? Foxy didn’t like exotic things. Foxy liked struggling along in life, usually with silly old English men telling him what to do.

But as the weeks turned into months, Richard Keys started to look like an even bigger fool than that time he was caught on camera talking about smashing women. Foxy and his funny old Italian friend were getting on famously.

Together on days out, they started to outshine the big boys. They would be on such good form, some people thought they must be taking drugs. But because it was such a novelty seeing sad old Foxy happy, nobody really minded. It was just so lovely to see this humdrum individual with a big smile on his face. And, oh how we laughed at his funny old Italian friend and his silly English! Such a lovely, funny old man! He was like a favourite uncle and granddad for everyone.

Of course, being the doubting bunch we were, nobody thought it would last. Even when it was approaching that time of the year when the really big days out happen and Foxy was still outshining everyone, we all thought he’d fall on his face and become humdrum again. But here’s the amazing thing: with his funny old Italian friend by his side, it never happened. And on the final really big day out of the year, he had his most glorious triumph – Foxy became a champion!

Do you want to know an even more amazing thing? Nobody begrudged Foxy his most glorious triumph. The big boys, usually so mean-spirited about other people’s success, doffed their caps, grinned and slapped him on the back. Everybody else looked up to him and revelled in his success, because if humdrum old Foxy and his funny old Italian friend could do it, so could they.

Then we started to hear strange things. Foxy, we were told, had lost some of his sparkle. “How could it disappear so quickly?!” people asked. When the big days out started again, we discovered the rumours had been true. Foxy wasn’t outshining the big boys any more. He wasn’t outshining anyone any more. He was almost back to being his humdrum old self. Even his funny old Italian friend had lost his smile. Something was up and nobody was happy about it.

After a while, everybody started to wonder why it seemed Foxy couldn’t be bothered any more – after everything the funny old Italian man had done for him! Once in a while, on a really really big day out in Europe, such that Foxy had only ever dreamed about, fun Foxy would return. But a few days later he’d be moping about and looking rather dejected again.

Then we heard strange things happening in Foxy’s house. Some people said he was building a statue of the funny old Italian man, which made perfect sense. Some people said he was roaring into a mirror for hours on end, telling himself to stop letting his funny old Italian friend down. Then, one night, Foxy suddenly appeared in front of his house and started rambling like a madman.

The funny old Italian friend, he said, wasn’t his friend any more. Yes, the funny old Italian man had done a lot for him, but it was time for a change. When people asked him why, he started saying something about Alan Pardew and Gary Rowett being a better fit. The people sniggered, before becoming angry and drowning him out with their jeers.

We never saw Foxy and the funny old Italian man together again. The funny old Italian man continued to be everyone’s favourite uncle and granddad but he was a bit sad now and didn’t say “dilly ding dilly dong” any more. As for Foxy, he went back to being that humdrum individual we used to know. But now it was different: Foxy wasn’t harmless anymore, because he had betrayed the funny old Italian man who had worked so hard to transform him into a champion. Now everybody just hated Foxy and wanted him to disappear.

Where, I hear you ask, is Foxy now? The honest answer is nobody really cares. But somebody did tell me he was last seen wandering the streets with a bag of broken biscuits, mumbling about really big days out. He won’t see them again. The moral of this story? Don't be an ungrateful prick.

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