The Last Word: McCarthy tests Santa's reserves of goodwill

Wolves manager and whingeing Wenger knock the stuffing out of game but neither deserves the sack
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"No mucking about today lads," whispered the Chief Elf. "Santa's had a gutful. And we're not talking mince pies."

It really did not need saying. The elves could always tell when the big man was losing his festive spirit. Those dazzlingly white whiskers would suddenly turn a dank grey, while that cheery red countenance would be transformed into an angry scarlet. He would go from looking like Santa to looking like Ken Bates in a few seconds flat. Not pretty. Not pretty at all.

In fact, when it came to his management style, Santa made Tony Pulis and Jim Magilton look like David Brent. So instantly the little fellas with the trembling knees and tinkling boot-bells went back to working their baubles off. "So much for the Elf and Safety regulations," grumbled one.

It was a good job Santa didn't hear as he was in pixie-crushing mood. He had just received the Christmas lists from the Premier League and was infuriated with the demands. He suspected the PGA Tour would be the problem this year but all they wanted was Tiger back and all Tiger wanted was his mobile back. If only English football was so straightforward.

Rafa from the Wirral asked for another Fernando, Alex from Wilmslow pleaded for another Cristiano, Carlo from SW9 begged for another Didier, while Mark from Manchester asked for a book for his club's owner called "Knowing The First Thing About Football". Santa chucked their letters on to the pile marked "rejected" – on top of a rather hopeful request from Gordon from Downing Street – and moved on to the wish-list of Arsène from Finchley.

"Dear Santa. Please get rid of the chap who compiles the fixture list. Yesterday he made us turn out against those giants from Hull having played 90 more minutes than our opponents in the last seven days. I mean, what chance did that give my group of multi-millionaire internationals?"

Santa crumpled up the note in disgust. This is exactly what grabbed his goatee about the top football managers: they always wanted everything their own way, even though everything is racked up in their advantage anyway.

As it was, the fixtures man wasn't doing a bad job from where Santa was sitting (which, admittedly, was in Lapland, although even they get five live Premier League matches a week). Not only would it be a logistical impossibility to make the ever-compressed schedule totally balanced, but coping with the anomalies has always been part and parcel of winning football's most demanding league. Santa thought back to the days when cold snaps would lead to weeks of postponements and how teams from the frozen north would sometimes have to play four times in a week to catch up. Few moaners back then. To Santa, the farcical events of the previous midweek had summed up the sorry state of modern sport.

Wenger's latest whinge came in response to Mick McCarthy sending his reserve team to Old Trafford as he sought to keep his first-choicers fresh for League matches he believed they wouldn't automatically lose. His Suicide XI was plain wrong.

Santa didn't blame McCarthy particularly. He recalled the Yorkshireman's last experience in the Premier League with Sunderland and appreciated how such a humiliation could turn a gaffer cynical. Santa understood this season is all about survival for Wolves and not about a heroic goalless draw at the home of the champions. Yes, Santa agreed with the columnists who pointed to the usual case of double standards – that the big clubs routinely rest players when it suits their priorities. But Santa couldn't help figuring that in this outbreak of pragmatism a wider point was being missed.

How has football reached a point where a club basically concedes a game and the overwhelming reaction is "ho hum?" How can it be deemed acceptable when fans have been sold a dream and then, after they've dished out their hard-earned, be informed the dream isn't worth a damn? English football is at a stage where the financial differential between the Premier League and the Championship, between the haves and have-nots, is so great that almost every principle is expendable. Even one as pure as always trying the very best you can.

"Everything is about money nowadays," said Santa. "Even Christmas."

'Braver' for Thomas to come out years ago

Brave. That was the word being used to describe Gareth Thomas by friends, peers and sports fans everywhere in the wake of the former Lions captain admitting he is gay in a national newspaper. No doubt he is brave. But exactly how brave?

Thomas is at the end of a wonderful career. His international days are already behind him and it is assumed he will call it a day for the Blues at the end of this season. Thomas is one of the most admired persons in rugby.

If he hears more than a handful of negative comments in his final half-season as a professional, I will be very surprised. Alfie, as he is known, will be cheered on his way and, one day, may well consider these months of being openly gay to be the most enjoyable of his career. Good luck to him – a great player, a great captain, a great guy. He deserves this time to hold his head up high and say: "This is who I am."

But remarkable bravery would have been to come out when he was still proving himself. Or even to do it when he published his biography two years ago. Thomas's personal reasons for not doing so must be respected, but the suspicion is that a principal factor in keeping the closet door shut was one of fear of what people would think and, yes, shout. Whether they be opponents, fans, or more probably men and women in the street.

The sad truth is that until a prominent young figure competing in one of Britain's main sports "outs" himself then other gay men will continue to be who they are in secret – and in many cases refuse to be who they are in secret. Alfie's brave confession will make no difference. It confirms the pathetically macho world in which he felt forced to live his lie.

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