Massacre in the goalmouth

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The Independent Online
Yoicks] Tally ho] Yes, its the Glorious Ninth of May, and the open season on football managers starts today.

As ever, the preparations have been thorough. All year, club chairmen have been fattening up their managers for this very moment. Offering them their full support after disastrous 3-0 away defeats to their local rivals, giving them shiny new tracksuits when the television cameras come round to film training sessions, even letting them spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on clapped-out midfield players with long- term groin injuries - and now it's the moment every chairman has been waiting for.

At six this morning, the managers were set free from their generously proportioned four-foot-by-six-foot pens and at this very moment are frantically scrabbling across bleak patches of dank Scottish moorland, pursued by men on horses blowing silly horns and a pack of hounds that haven't eaten since February. By lunchtime today, the first managers of the season will have been tracked down and captured, to be served up this evening in a red wine sauce at a host of expensive London restaurants.

Of course this is not the way the press releases will have it. Manager A will be said to have 'resigned'. Manager B will have 'left by mutual agreement'. Manager C will be quoted as having 'expressed a desire to move on after four very successful seasons'. But the result will be the same. In a week or two, the club chairmen will start interviewing potential replacements, and the whole thrilling process will start again.

Hardly surprisingly, some people regard it all with distaste. How can simple, defenceless creatures like football managers be treated in such a cruel and ruthless fashion? Traditionalists, though, point out that this is the way it has always been. The May cull of managers has traditionally prevented them from over-breeding, and has provided entertainment for thousands of football fans all across the country.

And it's not just the kill that gives such widespread pleasure. It's the trappings. Who can fail to enjoy the sight of committee members driving away from emergency meetings at high speed, screaming 'No comment' at waiting reporters? And let's not forget the damaging leaks to the press, denied by everyone and then instantly forgotten when another, even more damaging, leak is made the following day. After all this, the actual sight of managers being ripped to pieces by a crazed, starving pack is but the icing on the cake.

Some managers, of course, are lucky. They escape the annual slaughter. Some kindly chairmen even take theirs in to live out a long and happy life as a much-loved family pet. But even the most adored manager becomes a bit mangy and flea-ridden in the end, and regrettably some of them have to be put down. This can cause problems. Some managers simply won't go quietly, and insist on reconsidering their 'retirement'. As a result, these poor deluded wretches have to take their chances with the hounds, like everyone else.

There are signs, however, that public approval of this age-old practice is beginning to wane, and calls have been made for these harmless beasts to be disposed of in a more humane way. Poisoned pellets in their Shredded Wheat, perhaps, or a swift bullet through the brains. The club chairmen, though, are unabashed. They didn't build up thriving road-haulage firms and international crime syndicates by being humane. So, for the time being, the open season on managers is here to stay. Yoicks] Tally ho]