Today at around 7:25 AM Eastern Standard Time in the town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, a groundhog named Phil will emerge from his habitat. According to tradition, if he sees his shadow and retreats, there will be six more weeks of winter, but if he stays outside, spring is here!
These days, the process is even more arbitrary than that. Phil is pulled out of a large fake stump and asked to choose between two scrolls, which the MC will then read from. If he shows no obvious preference, the President of the Groundhog Club's Inner Circle, which is as much of an old boys' club as you'd imagine, makes an "interpretation." You can see the 2008 interpretation, the best representation of its arbitrary nature that I could find, here.
The tradition, which basically exists because February 2 is halfway in between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, has been ongoing at Gobbler's Knob (no, really) since 1887. It's goofy and light-hearted fun on the order of an octopus predicting the outcomes of World Cup matches, but at least the octopus' handlers aren't wearing top hats. Presumably they weren't in 1887, either.
Such is the setting for Harold Ramis' 1993 film Groundhog Day, in which the uncomparable Bill Murray, a grumpy meteorologist who hates that people enjoy such buffoonery, is stuck reliving the day over and over again.* The film is a wonderfully constructed commentary on the droll of day-to-day life. There are numerous scenes that pack an emotional punch, but none better than when a distraught Murray whines about his predicament to some fellow barflys in a bowling alley: "What would you do if you were stuck in one place and every day was exactly the same and nothing that you did mattered?" The drunk's response? "That about sums it up for me."
*Some people estimate that Murray's character Phil Connors spent over 10,000 days repeating the same day over and over, given his expert piano playing (with just 1 hour lesson a day!), ice sculpting, familiarity with every person in town, etc. Ramis himself estimated 10 years.
Punxsutawney Phil has a horrible track record, having predicted the state of the local climate correctly just 39% of the time in a coin flip proposition. Ramis, on the other hand, has managed to correctly and unwittingly prognosticate the state of being a Newcastle United fan 20+ years in the future. On this Transfer Deadline Day, which happens to coincide with this peculiar holiday that has somehow transcended Polar Bear Day (February 27) and National Mincemeat Day (October 26) on the American calendar, our own groundhog will emerge from his habitat. He will be wearing a yellow tie, and he will either tell us that Newcastle United have done nothing or that they have sold one of their best players. Tomorrow, we will wake up, the clock will hit 6:00, Sonny and Cher will be singing, and then we'll hear some banter that isn't any different than it was the day before. Some of the details will change, but
Ned Ryerson Lee Charnley will always be there, ready to sell us life insurance a line about the attractiveness of the January window.
Nothing ever changes. The way Mike Ashley's Newcastle United conducts business is well-documented and in some ways admirable. That business model will not translate into appreciable success on the pitch, at least not from February through May. Phil Connors was a fool to expect anything different, and eventually he accepted his fate. The analogy breaks down here, because once he finally made a personal breakthrough, Connors was released from his personal hell. There is no indication that a return to transfer window glory is anywhere close to the horizon, and so Newcastle fans must continue to suffer. If he really relived Groundhog Day 10,000 times, then there are only 7,189 left in Mike Ashley's reign.
That's just enough time to learn French.